Peer-to-Peer First Impressions

Last May, at Sadie’s suggestion, I signed up for the local NAMI Walks.  Then I signed up to receive their e-mail newsletter, in which I learned about a Christmas dinner they were having at a local restaurant.  NAMI in my area only holds programs for family members, not for the mental illness sufferers themselves, so I didn’t expect to be welcome when I asked if I could attend.

The dinner was a little overwhelming.  I knew two of the attendees from doing the walk months earlier, and another one because she was in my DBT group for a while.  As the only other diagnosed person there, we ended up seated together and she talked non-stop.  One of the topics was about the NAMI Peer-to-Peer class.  I was planning to register for an upcoming session, but it would be at a location 45-minutes (by interstate) from my home.

Sadie and I planned a series of steps to work on my driving anxiety, with the ultimate goal of attending the Peer-to-Peer class, and I joked to her, “I can’t drink and drive!”.  As it turns out, I completed 1/3 of the steps in the first week, and then was unable to continue.  First, Oops, I Did It Again – totaled my car for the second year in a row.  Then I got locked up for a few days, as covered in my Inpatient Summary.  Then a few days later I took off for my vacation and was gone for a week.

The Peer-to-Peer class started last night.  I thought I would be able to quash the anxiety and make the drive on the first night, but I was having a bad day and didn’t even want to go (after being excited about it for 2 months), and I worried about the drive.  Mom volunteered to drive me there the first time, so that I could see how to get there before doing it myself.

We followed the Garmin’s directions fine until we reached the destination.  The church where the class is being held has multiple buildings, and we followed the Garmin to the main building.  I went to the door where there was a sign that the NAMI classes were being held in the “Healing Center”.  I had to go in and ask how to get to the Healing Center, then a woman offered to have her husband take me there, but mom insisted we had to find it ourselves so she’d know where to pick me up.  When we looped around and found the right building, I went to the main doors which were locked and had a sign pointing to a creepy side door.

Once I made it into the correct building, the classroom was right by the entrance.  Everyone was having trouble finding the location so we started a few minutes late to accommodate the stragglers.  Someone from the NAMI office came in to welcome us and give us his e-mail address in case we have any problems with the course, then he left and turned it over to the “mentors” who are leading the class.  These are people who also have mental illness themselves and who have been through the class before.

There were 3 of “them” and 10 of “us”.  We went around the room for introductions, and that’s when things got a little uncomfortable for me.  We were supposed to say our name, something we hoped to learn from the class, and something about ourselves (such as a hobby).  However, everyone was going into detail about the nature of their mental illness and what they’d been struggling with lately.  None of the mentors stopped them, so it seemed like they considered this appropriate, and I was dreading my turn.  Apparently I can run my mouth about anything and everything to anyone and everyone until it comes time to talk to people who will actually understand what I’m talking about.

I was relieved when the girl before me (Lori, who gets a name because she’s the person I was instantly drawn to and will therefore likely be mentioned again) did not state her diagnosis.  I omitted mine as well, saying that I wanted to learn to make better use of the resources available to me, and that I work a day or two per week in a hospital but spend way too much time just hanging out there off-the-clock.  The girl after me started by saying her name and was halfway through her diagnosis when one of the mentors interrupted and told her they weren’t asking for that, and there’d be a day later when we’d have the opportunity to tell our stories.  They said the same to everyone who followed.

I thought perhaps we were pressed for time, but we ended up only using 1 hour of the 2-hour time slot.  After introductions, the mentors went over some information about the philosophy of the class, emphasizing that it is educational – not therapy or a support group.  Some of the people’s introductions indicated they were looking for support so I hope they don’t bail on the class as a result.  I was confused as to whether this information was supposed to be in the binders we received.  There was some general information and material for class #1 in the binder, presumably with us receiving more pages at each class.

We ended by watching a video with quotes from the creator and past participants.  A major aspect of the course is going to be creating a relapse prevention plan, which is similar to some of the paperwork I’ve filled out in the past, where we’re asked to identify signs that trouble is a’brewin’ and what we can do to prevent it from escalating.

I’m not sure how I feel after the first class.  I read through the outline of what happens each time, and it seems like some useful material will be covered, but I’m not sure about the other students.  There were 6 men, 4 women, but around 25 people registered and only 10 showed up, and the mentors said they usually lose a few people after a week or two.  One person I’m hoping to lose is the girl who sat to my left.  She’d just finished partial hospitalization at a well-known facility I would sell organs to be able to afford, yet she spent the entire hour playing on her iPad and only looked up long enough for the minute it took to give her introduction.  I kept waiting for the mentors to ask her to put it away and they never did.  I will not be surprised nor saddened if she doesn’t show up next Monday.

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