Blog: NAMI Peer-to-Peer Course
By: Jeanne Claire, Alumni of NAMI Peer-to-Peer
When my therapist recommended that I attend Peer-to-Peer classes at NAMI, I admit that I was not thrilled about the idea. It’s an eight-week commitment, two hours each week spent with others who are also battling mental illness. It’s led by peers who have already completed the class. Was this really something I wanted to commit to? I’d learned so much about mental illness already, and I was seeing a brilliant psychiatrist. What more could this group really add?
How very wrong I was. And how very wise my therapist was. I was instantly at ease when I walked into the first session. The peer leaders were friendly and welcoming, and, as unlikely as it sounds, I felt a sense of belonging right away. That feeling deepened as the weeks went on and we all started getting to know each other.
There was a complete absence of judgment, which allowed for honest and even raw sharing about our journeys with mental illness. The eight weeks flew by, even with the last few classes being held virtually to keep everyone safe due to Covid.
I had reluctantly started this course thinking I had nothing to learn, yet left each week humbled and excited by how much I was discovering about myself, my illness, and how to better cope with its challenges.
I learned new coping mechanisms, found resources I never knew existed, and perhaps most important, I learned how to set realistic goals for myself. That’s something that sounds easy, but is anything but simple when you are dealing with an unpredictable illness.
I learned how important it is to forgive myself when I’m not able to complete a goal in the timeframe I had planned, or even if I simply don’t have the energy to socialize at times and I need to cancel plans at the last minute.
I learned that taking care of my own needs has to be my top priority in order for me to remain stable and healthy, and that I can’t judge myself based on whether or not I am disappointing or inconveniencing others. As someone who had typically avoided letting others down at my own expense, this knowledge was life-changing for me.
By the final week of the course, I really didn’t want it to end. I exchanged contact information with a few of the participants, and we’ve kept in touch. I’ve even attended a few peer support groups since then.
Looking back, I’m not sure why I was so hesitant to take this course. I guess I was afraid to step out and talk about my illness openly. I couldn’t see yet how much it would affirm and strengthen me to spend time with others who understood what I was going through. My hope is that others who read about my experience will sign up for the course without resisting the way I did. It’s definitely worth it.
NAMI Peer-to-Peer is a free, eight-session educational program for adults with mental health conditions who are looking to better understand themselves and their recovery. Taught by trained leaders with lived experience, this program includes activities, discussions and informative videos. However, as with all NAMI programs, it does not include recommendations for treatment approaches.
To register for upcoming classes, click here.