A few weeks ago at a staff meeting, our Executive Director Khatera Aslami announced that she was facilitating a Two-Day WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) Training at the Mental Health Association of San Francisco (MHASF) with fellow advanced facilitator BJ North. She had a few spots open and asked if any PEERS staff wanted to go. My hand shot up without me even thinking about it. Since working at PEERS, I've heard that if you have a chance to attend a ) training with Khatera or BJ, jump at it. Two dynamite facilitators in two days? I couldn't resist. And, I love San Francisco. I didn't even care where in San Francisco the training would be held, I just wanted to spend some time in the city.
A few of my colleagues and I attended the San Francisco training. We all live across the bridge in Oakland and visit the city frequently. But some of us almost had a tourist type of enthusiasm in the city. I even jokingly suggested we go to Fisherman's Warf. Our Communications Manager Shannon Eliot described it best. She didn't go but said we sounded like excited kids on a field trip 20 minutes away from our school. I laughed because she was absolutely right.
MHASF is located right in the heart of Downtown San Francisco and just a few blocks from Union Square. We had time to raid the Gap during a break (they had an additional 40% off clearance price sale). One day for lunch we walked to an Indian restaurant. We made it to Happy Hour in no time because there were so many bars nearby. And I got in some shopping at Burlington's Coat Factory and Ross. Plus it was exciting to see city workers set up decorations for the Giants World Series victory parade. Unfortunately, our last WRAP session was the day before the parade.
I felt so good those two days. I was feeding off the buzz of the city. But it wasn't just San Francisco that was making me happy. I was using some of my wellness tools over those two days: walking, shopping (in moderation), socializing, healthy food and wine (in moderation). But what's really great for me is walking. At PEERS' location, there's nowhere to really walk and the street is not too pedestrian friendly. So walking to all of these destinations or just walking with great scenery gave me more energy and a mood boost. I was already in a good mood, but being in San Francisco really elevated my mood. I think another reason why I was in an extra good mood is that I was getting air. Usually I'm inside during the eight-hour workday. After being in SF, I decided to start taking breaks outside while at work.
Our WRAP training also made me content. I learned a lot about myself and my health. BJ and Khatera were great facilitators and a lot of fun. Many people who visit PEERS use WRAP and say it's beneficial to their mental wellness. Earlier this year, I went to a one-day WRAP orientation. I learned about WRAP but I have a new found appreciation for it after developing my own WRAP plan.
I may have left my heart in San Francisco, but I returned to Oakland with a WRAP plan in hand.
Alternatives was a beautiful experience. People from all over the nation gathered for this groundbreaking progressive mental health conference in Portland, Oregon and it was a wonderful thing. I had the opportunity to listen to stories throughout the conference and get to know people as we conversed outside. Pretty soon I had a picture of just what this was about. It was about mental health, it was about fighting for our basic human rights, but mostly it was about coming together as one for a greater cause.
If you asked me what one highlight would be, I probably couldn't answer you. There were so many highlights! I sat in a meeting with Mary Ellen Copeland where we talked about restraint and seclusion in the mental health system and ways in which we could change that. I was proud when she enlisted our help because changing that system is something I am very passionate about. I listened to Will Hall talk about coming off medication, and I learned a great deal about it. I had the opportunity of meeting him personally and giving him my business card in the lobby. Will’s keynote and workshops were really popular and after attending it myself I could easily see why.
I had the unique pleasure of listening to two presenters, Sharon Kuehn and Grace Sweet, practice their presentation in the room with me and I took pictures as they followed through with their presentation. They showed a powerful video that really made us think, and they spoke of having good intention. One of the participants wrote, "My life will never be the same after this presentation" and I would have to agree. MY life will never be the same after this conference!
From the ice cold lemon water at every floor to the beautiful waterfront view, staying at the Marriott Waterfront really made me feel like a queen. The bellhops would run to open the door for you, the maid was really kind, and anything I needed was a call away. I enjoyed the pool and Jacuzzi, and lived life lavishly for four glorious days. I enjoyed my experience so much that I didn't want to come home. But, I realized how blessed I was to be a part of this, and just how blessed I am to be one of the Community Liaisons for PEERS. PEERS is where I belong!
I walked into the main office at PEERS one chilly winter day not knowing what to expect. I was nervous and excited about beginning my first day of working for a consumer-run agency as the Project Coordinator. In my postion, I work on statewide projects that help eliminate stigma and discrimination. As I waited to get set up in my new office, I heard voices of laughter coming from down the hall, and noticed how people appeared to be happy as they came into work to start their day. I was quickly oriented to the workings of my new office and before I knew it, I was ready to begin my first day. I was quickly booked into multiple meetings from San Francisco to Sacramento to learn all about the various projects I would be working on and met many people I would be working with.
Over the next several days I found myself increasingly impressed by how PEERS manages to be a friendly, fun, and professionally- balanced work environment. I’m pleased to say that as I sit in my office writing this blog one month from the day I started, I really appreciate working at PEERS. I'm happy to be a part of an organization that has the capability of making a real difference in the lives of people with mental health issues throughout the state of California.
Also, since coming to PEERS, I've experienced some mental health symptoms, which for a short time were affecting my ability to sleep. Throughout the experience I felt very much supported and understood, and I appreciated that. I have never worked in a consumer-run organization before and I didn’t know what to expect at first. PEERS has so far exceeded my expectations. I am grateful to be working with the PEERS team who has come to make me feel very welcome in my new job.
On behalf of our staff and Board of Directors, I am delighted to celebrate PEERS' 10 years of community service, empowering individuals and advocating for a mental health system that focuses on wellness and recovery led by consumers.
Fortunately, Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services has valued, supported and collaborated with PEERS since our inception in December 2001. We would not be here today without them by our side. We also would not be here if it were not for our past leaders: our founder Tracy Thode, Sydney Loggins, Andree Reyes, Harold Lowe, Katrina Killian, John Woodruff, and many more who planted and watered the seeds of our growth.
It was while reflecting on this momentous event, that I was reminded of the principles that motivated not only me, but many of us to get involved with PEERS.The principles that PEERS was founded on and continues to drive our success today are:
1. Building positive relationships
2. Fostering collaborations between consumers and the community
Through these principles, we are reaching out and improving the quality of life for so many struggling with mental health challenges. We are self-determined and empowered to share both our personal experiences and expertise about our health.
Ten years ago, I was a person who feared sharing my experience within the mental health system. I had seen several psychiatrists in my lifetime and struggled with isolation, extended periods of sadness and sudden mood changes. I was ashamed and worried that others would think I was incompetent and therefore discredit me.
Luckily, I was introduced to PEERS through my work at Villa Fairmont, a mental health rehabilitation center. I attended one of the monthly Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP) orientations and was hooked from the beginning. WRAP fascinated me. Its focus on hope, personal responsibility, education, self advocacy and support was exactly what I needed. The orientation brought together individuals with unique life experiences and different views of wellness. The common thread was that we were there with a willingness to learn. We shared our wellness tools and began developing action plans to address our challenges. I remember leaving that orientation with a sense of renewed hope and commitment to my wellness. The most important detail to me was that the staff modeled the principles PEERS was founded on, positive relationship building and community collaborations. They also created a space that was safe, welcoming and treated everyone with unconditional high regard. It was powerful!
Clearly, our founder had a vision and emphasized the need for the inclusion and leadership of people with mental health challenges in transforming the mental health system. It’s an enormous accomplishment that we are standing here 10 years later with all of our success.
In the last four years, we have grown 300% and touched over 11,500 lives.
We are also making waves in the media/marketing world and have established an unwavering commitment to quality, innovation, and partnerships when bringing positive changes to the mental health system.
Some of you may have heard the African proverb which says, “If you wish to go fast, go alone. But if you wish to go far, go together.” Together we will build, create and lead a community where we live, love, learn, work, play and pray together in safety and acceptance.
I look forward to the next 10 years and hope you will join us in spreading wellness and recovery.