|Print | Back||March 15, 2013|
Pebbles, Potholes, and PerspectiveUsing Peers to Discover Coping Skills: A Valuable Tool
by Sarah Hancock
I went to a group hosted by National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) called "Peer-to-Peer." It was unlike any other group I had ever been to. At all the previous groups I'd attended, everyone sat in a circle and we all seemed to drone on about what wasn't going right with life. By the time I'd listened to everyone around the circle, the group was over and I left feeling more lost and hopeless than I had walking into the group.
Initially I was all about talking about my feelings, but year after year of going to groups of people who were just as stuck as I was, I was sick of hearing about everyone else's problems because they were getting me nowhere. I wanted solutions. I wanted answers. Everyone in the group wanted solutions. Everyone in the group wanted answers! And yet there we sat, week after week staring at one another while we stayed stuck.
As I started attending NAMI's Peer-to-Peer class, I experienced something different. First of all, everyone was in a different stage of their rehabilitation. Some people were unable to work, some worked, some were parents, some were dating, some were going to school and some people like me were sitting there wondering how everyone else did it all! The best thing about that group was that we brainstormed different ways to circumvent symptoms, discussing what worked for us and what didn't. Suddenly I was surrounded by a room full of people who were teaching me tried and true symptom relievers. I was building my tool box of recovery tools I had a lot more faith in because these people used them.
In this group we laughed about some of the advice we'd received from well intentioned people who'd never experienced symptoms (i.e. advising a person with mania to turn their mind off). Some of the ideas were things I'd never even considered. For example, when I am stressed, noise really affects me. It doesn't matter if it is the radio, TV, humming refrigerator, ticking clock or kids laughing. I experience stimulus overload. The greater my stress, the less noise I can tolerate. The more noise, the more stressed I become. It was a horrible cycle, but I never recognized it as such. I knew I needed to turn off the radio or TV, but I didn't recognize I could go a step farther by eliminating ambient noise entirely, enabling my brain to cool off.
As NAMI meeting I met someone who described the same thing and then how she dealt with it: Ear Plugs! Well, Duh Sarah! So, I went to the store and bought myself some. First I tried foam ones and then I tried wax ones. What a difference! Not only did it help me cut out the noise while I was trying to study or read, it also cut the noise when I was facing a meltdown and enabled me to regroup. There are strenuous days when I come home and can't wait to pop in those silly ear plugs. I also noticed that when I am having problems staying asleep, if I pop in those plugs, I sleep better because I no longer hear the dog next door, the person snoring upstairs and the clock on the wall. Sleeping better helps me distress, allows my medicine to reset my brain and allows me to feel like a nicer person when I wake up than I was when I fell asleep. What a concept!
Now that I look back, it seems so simple. Simplistic even. Yet, for whatever reason, I didn't make the connection between my noise problem and my stress problem. Sure there were times when I would turn off the radio and TV at every opportunity I could, yet still have major stimulus problems with stupid things like my watch and that high pitched noise my phone makes when it's charging. Even the smallest noise amped up the problem, rather than relieving it. Doctors didn't recognize it as something that was connected to my stress and behavior, neither did my counselors. But meeting this woman, who used ear plugs, changed my life. She taught me an effective coping skill to which I was previously oblivious. In fact, during the course of the class there were some ideas I shared with others in that class that they had never considered either. It was a very validating experience for me because suddenly I wasn't having to explain my symptoms to someone as though I was talking a foreign language. Suddenly my insight on my own symptoms was helping others as well.
I think that the more we talk about symptoms, regardless of whether or not you experience them, it helps you better understand what it is like to live with the symptoms and help brainstorm ideas which just might alleviate someone's problem. Even if you don't find a complete solution, part of the solution is breaking down the stigma associated with the problem.
If you are interested in learning more about NAMI's Peer-to-Peer class, please see http://www.nami.org/template.cfm?section=Peer-to-Peer
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