Social Inclusion means that we all matter – every person has value, and each of our contributions are important to the wellbeing of the community. Those of us in recovery from mental health or substance use, can inspire others to move beyond misperceptions and the nuances of exclusion when we speak the truth of our recovery experience. We are led by our vision of a welcoming community in which we are all equal and free to live, love, learn, lead, work, pray, and play.
The goal of the Alameda County Social Inclusion Campaign, led by PEERS, is to create these welcoming communities throughout our county. Our work is eliminating mental health stigma and discrimination. As a consumer-run nonprofit, most campaign staff and volunteers are people who have discovered our value and gifts in spite of our mental health challenges. The authenticity of our lived experience of mental health recovery is expressed through three core modalities in our campaign to change hearts and minds toward inclusion and social justice: Empowerment, Spirituality, and Outreach & Education.
Our Empowerment events, such as Empowerment through the Arts, Mindful Movement, and Sisters Circle introduce innovative wellness practices to people who want to heal, find their voice, and give back. Focusing on personal wellness and peer relationships, we open our doors to interested community members for an array of open events that promote self-awareness, build confidence, and foster connection.
Spirituality and spiritual practices are often a key component of wellness plans. Through the Spirituality link of our campaign, we provide a safe space for consumers, family members, providers, and representatives of faith communities to dialogue and learn together how to open minds, expand hearts, and increase access to culturally responsive mental health and wellness services each month.
The Spirituality work has been a key to engaging mental health awareness in the African-American community. Though our work with the African-American Action Team and the Mental Health Friendly Churches project, we are reaching out and teaching about mental health recovery and resources to empower communities to access care and support.
Our Housing Action Team unites representatives of 11 Alameda County housing programs to collaborate with mental health advocates on projects, raise mental health awareness in housing programs, and educate consumers of their rights to affordable housing. By developing a class to promote skills and resources for shared housing, we will offer WRAP for Housing as support. Our speakers bureau Lift Every Voice and Speak regularly delivers mental health recovery presentations at housing sites to educate residents and staff.
When one of the Outreach Peer Educators from Lift Every Voice & Speak courageously shares her personal story of overcoming stigma and challenges to live a life of service and connection and giving back to their community, we connect with our audience through our shared humanity. When a person with a mental health label claims his wholeness, value, gifts and commitment to creating welcoming spaces for others, everyone who listens is inspired to let go of common misperceptions and see the person behind the label.
In the Fruitvale District, we are working with volunteers, community members, veterans and immigrants to design and build a Peace and Wellness Garden on the grounds of the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park (PHHP). The garden features a paved storytelling circle with a flagstone bench-in-the-round. It will be inscribed with hope-filled messages of healing from trauma, finding and sharing our voices, and connecting with community. We broke ground on the Peace and Wellness Garden on February 12th. We are hosting a Community Storytelling event at the PHHP site on April 20th. The opening of the Peace and Wellness Garden in May will be a festive celebration of the resilience of the human spirit and our shared commitment to creating peace and wellness for ourselves and our larger community.
Stay up to date on the many monthly activities of the campaign by visiting the calendar at www.peersnet.org/calendar. Or subscribe to our monthly updates by e-mailing your request to Christal Byrd at email@example.com.
This year Peerlink National Technical Assistance Center hosted Alternatives 2012 in Portland Oregon, The theme of the conference was "Honoring Our History, Building Our Future." As a returning participant of such an innovative peer-nun system of change for mental health recovery, my involvement was different this year in comparison to last year’s Alternatives Conference. Last Year, I was a presenter of a workshop. Whereas this year, I volunteered as an onsite worker who ensured that the daily workshops ran smoothly. Each morning, all of the volunteers met to receive their assignment. I was fortunate enough to be assigned to work workshops I was interested in.
However, there was one group in particular that was the highlight of my Alternatives 2012 experience. The workshop that I am referring to was entitled, "Mindfulness, Trauma and Mental Health Recovery" by Jim Probert.
Jim Probert, the facilitator of this workshop is presently a psychologist. In addition to him being a licensed professional who clinical psychology received special training to work with individuals that have mental health issues in a variety of settings such as private practices, county mental health, community mental health, or hospitals, he is a person who identifies as experiencing mental health challenges.
As far back as 1982, Jim Probert is someone who has been hospitalized and prescribed psychotropic medications. He has traumatic experiences and continues on his healing journey of recovery every day.
Specifically in this workshop, "Mindfulness, Trauma and Mental Health Recovery," Jim put aside some of his professional training and offered more of his personal experiences of dealing with terrifying experiences and his spiritual trek of their being a common ground for all of us as human beings. Jim offered each participant a different way of looking at painful, distressing, and hurtful happenings. First, he encouraged everyone in the training not to see trauma as random experiences of something that happened to us, or as events that we cannot recover from. He suggested that we allow trauma to be metaphoric situations and/or circumstances that we learn from, "stand up to" with our emotions, and push through so we can experience healing.
The way in which Jim offered this was by implementing a very useful tool. The tool he provided was creating a mindfulness journal, and on each page of the journal each person would have two columns, (one entitled Emotion/Experience and the other column entitled Intention/Purpose), and in the notebook each side of the page would allow a person to acknowledge each category, not trying to make away with what happened but instead deal with the emotions in order to have healing and self-love occur. From there, each person could then start with developing positive statements of self-acceptance for him or her, in turn beginning to practicing valuing ourselves and believe in our own basic potentials.
Jim projected these tool offerings by openly and honestly sharing is journey, and how it's helped him. He also kind heartedly listened to others share, honoring their experience. While actively listening to each person express themselves, Jim held each person in high regard, no judgment, shame or blame. As a result of Jim being authentic, the room the workshop was held in felt like the safest place to be.
Overall, the order and process of the workshop was extremely empowering and healing for me. I am very thankful to the space he created and the transformative healing tools he provided.
I look forward to next year's Alternatives Conference, and I hope to attend more workshops facilitated by Jim Probert.
I am so not a morning person. And it took every drop of energy in my body to rise from my warm bed and make the 7am Day of Prayer. However, I was in for a lovely surprise. The Day of Prayer takes place in communities across the country for National Mental Health Awareness Week. As stated on the event's flier, at the Day of Prayer we "send prayers and inspirational messages to restore mental wellness in our communities."
When I arrived to the plaza in Downtown Oakland, there was a peaceful energy blanketing the streets. Our video specialist was quietly setting up for his shoot. I watched participants decorating a statue with bright-colored paper cranes. And the sun was just starting to peak over Lake Merritt. Then a blessing arrived in the form of a Noah's Bagels deliveryman. The bagels and coffee seemed to taste even better that morning.
We heard from people of various spiritual practices: Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, non-religious faiths and others. All explained how spirituality helps them get through their mental health challenges. While snapping pictures I couldn't help but notice all of the people from various faiths praying together. It was beautiful. So many people throughout the history of humankind have been persecuted for their religious beliefs. Yet we all came together with our Qurans, crosses, chants, beads and sent up our prayers for one common cause: mental health. We prayed for peace. We prayed for the ones living and suffering. We prayed for the ones we lost, most recently Black Men Speak Founders Dewitt Buckingham and Darnell Levingston. And we prayed for ourselves. If only the entire world was just like this moment, this peaceful space. There would be less trauma, less wars. Peace does wonders for wellness.
I was so moved by the unity and religious acceptance that when the day's organizer, Minister Monique Tarver, opened the floor for us to make comments I went to speak. I saw a look of surprise on Minister Tarver's face. She told me later she was pleasantly surprised to see me come up because I usually work behind the camera at events. Honestly, I was surprised I went up to speak. I didn't have much to say to the crowd. Okay, of course I pitched our podcast (my colleagues tease me because I do that anytime I'm in in front of a crowd). Honestly, I just wanted to express how I valued the beautiful moment and that spirituality has benefited my mental wellness.
Mindfulness meditation slows down my racing mind when I feel anxiety kicking into gear. Prayer eases my worries and uplifts me when I get a case of the blues. Gospel music takes me higher and fuels me through tough times. And it manifests the joy in my heart when I'm feeling grateful. Then there's nature. Gloriously tall trees, the smell of fresh leaves, bright flowers, quiet streams — all ground me. Being around nature reminds me that there's something greater than myself, my problems and my joys. It truly puts me in a peaceful state of awe.
The Day of Prayer was a nice start to the rest of the day. Our Empowerment Coordinator Yaffa Alter writes beautiful prayers that I think just about one from any faith can appreciate. She read the event's invocation. Her closing verse sums up what I took away from the day:
Let us unite peacefully with compassion on the whole human family; take away the controversial teachings of arrogance, divisions and hatreds. Let us not only stay alive but be alive bringing the body, mind, and heart together, having wisdom to govern among the conflicting interests and issues of our times and live life with justice, peace and harmony. ASE!
by Allan Goldstein, Associate Director of the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness.
Dr. Steven Hickman, Director of the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness, and I arrived at the PEERS office early. We were ready to facilitate the weeklong Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training. From the moment we walked in, it became clear that we had left our institutional, academic offices far behind in San Diego. While sitting in the waiting area's very comfortable chairs and listening to sounds of the door's chimes, we gazed at the brightly decorated walls. The atmosphere felt light and joyful. We sat with a sense of wonder and curiosity, and thought about who would walk through the door and be part of the group we would spend a week with.
To our delight, we found the groups' dedication and commitment to the material and mindfulness-meditation practices to be huge. It is not easy to take a whole week and experience training of this kind everyday, especially when you are not familiar with the territory. In fact, it takes a leap of faith as we ask people to suspend judgment for a week and simply experience all that unfold. Some were more skeptical than others and perhaps more challenged to let go of pre-conceived notions. There were times when the atmosphere felt heavy and sad. Yet the group demonstrated a capacity to hold it all while practicing, reporting on their experiences, or mindfully listening to all that bubbled up for themselves and others.
Being trained in Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBI’s) has two sides. MBI is for oneself and the population that it is intended to be brought to. We teach that in order to bring this work into a community, it has to come out of one’s own experience and mindfulness practice. It was refreshing to be with this group of community leaders at PEERS who are on the front lines helping people in Oakland and beyond.
We are thrilled that PEERS continues to hold weekly meditation sittings at their offices on Tuesday mornings at 8:30m. Several PEERS mentors, caregivers, and community activists frequently report how they bring mindfulness into their work. We continue to support them by holding a monthly conference call and helping with the coordination of professional MBSR programs. We look forward to joining the PEERS staff again, next spring, to continue watering the seeds of their mindfulness – based programs.
Maintaining wellness for me means taking care of my mind, body and soul. For my first workshop at my first Alternatives conference, I decided to get my experience started on a spiritual tip. I attended the panel "Restoring the Spirit: A Celebration of Culturally Diverse Wellness Practices from Lived Experiences."
Catherine Quinerly's presentation resonated with me. She is the community voice policy director for the Transformation Center in Roxbury, Mass. Quinerly is Puerto Rican. Her spirituality is a blend of her Pentecostal and Santeria upbringing. I am a nondenominational Christian. Although our faiths have some differences, we have similar views on living life. Quinerly presented a list of principles to the workshop she lives by which she says feed her spirituality:
- Live your joy
- Take time for self-renewal
- Be Open
- Freedom to Explore
- Inner Goodness
I love these principles because they’re liberating. Quinerly referenced her love for nature when she discussed her principles of openness and taking advantage of our freedom to explore. While attending Alternatives in Anaheim, Calif., last year, she and a friend took some time to hike Laguna Canyon. She said once she reached the peak of hill, she and her friend split off, but not too far and cried. They reconvened. "I can’t believe I'm doing this," her friend told Qunierly. "I can’t believe I’m doing this," she replied.
I know that feeling. I got teary eyed years ago when I arrived to the London flat where I would spend my summer. I was finally living my joy and dream to travel overseas, and giving myself freedom to explore new cultures. And during a time of great anxiety I sought a mindfulness workshop, led by a cool Buddhist priestess, as my self-renewal tool. Everyone in the class took a solo mindful walk in a small garden. The peace my mind and soul desperately needed was truly a God send. That peace allowed me to connect to my inner goodness I had abandoned during all of the commotion in my life. Somehow the silence opened my heart to forgiving others and myself. That moment felt so good, it brought tears of joy and peace.
Sometimes we don't know how our actions will affect others. I never actually wrote down my life's principles. Actually looking at principles on a flip chart that gave both me, and a woman I never met, balance in our lives was a blessing. Thank you Catherine. Thank you God.
I remember it like yesterday. The hurt, the anger, the frustration, and confusion. And then something else. Embarrassment, maybe?
I looked across the table to see if my ears deceived me but was immediately assured that they had not by the deeply furrowed brow of my husband who was obviously experiencing very similar, if not the same, torturous emotions.
I asked the eighth grade History teacher to repeat himself, just one more time. I’m still not quite sure why.
"Maybe your son should just get his GED and forget about going to high school. I mean, high school is not for everybody." There were those words again. Those words that had rattled me to the core and shook loose indignation like I have never felt before. The only thing I felt more than indignation at that moment was my maternal instinct to protect my child. Had he heard?
Judging by the look on his face he had. With an expression I could not completely read I took in all of him. It was as if time stood still and allowed me a few brief moments to take in this entire scene. My mind drifted and conjured up pictures, flashes of scenes almost in the fashion of an '80s movie montage, I watched the first few years of his life pass by my eyes.
The exciting and very eventful birth, the intense month in the NICU after he was born 8 1/2 weeks premature, thumb sucking, potty training, talking before he could walk...
My baby boy was so cute and very concerned about his appearance (he would change his clothes if he got the slightest smudge). He was funny and an amazing learner with 'star' quality. I mean really, this kid was meant for the big screen. And even though you may not believe me, I really would say that even if he wasn’t my child.
I also remember how tiring it was running after him once I had my younger two children; a boy and a girl 16 months apart. During that time it seemed that I needed to get my oldest child in some sort of activity quick! He had an incredible amount of energy; jumping, running, climbing and oh the talking! He could talk longer and faster than anyone I had ever met. He had so many questions. When he wasn’t asking questions he had lots to say about many things; different unrelated subjects all at once it seemed. It seemed like his mouth, his mind, and in fact his entire body was run by some motor. A motor no one could figure out how to operate or shut off.
And here we were age 14, sitting across from yet another group of teachers saying what we had been hearing from teachers for the last several years, "Your son is very capable of doing the work, very intelligent and articulate, but unable to focus in class. He is often a distraction to others and exhibits very disruptive behavior." So disruptive in fact, that at least one teacher feels he shouldn’t even bother with high school.
But this was our son he was talking about. Not some troubled teen from a broken home, engaging in criminal activity. They were talking about our first born, our beloved, our Elijah.
Although not an 'A' (ok 'B' or 'C' student, for that matter), he still deserved to have the "typical" teenage/high school experience, right?
As that question lingered I looked at my son again, hardly recognizable as the fun loving meticulous child I had once known him to be. His clothes were disheveled; face flushed and eyes burning with anger. Or at least that's what I assumed until I looked closer. There was something else behind his eyes. A certain desperation that reached the very core of me as a mother and human being. A question. My son wanted to know why. Why didn't anyone understand? Why was he different? Why was it so hard for him to get us all to see things from his perspective?
When we got home late that afternoon my husband and I had a long talk with our son. I guess we should really call it a 'listen' instead of 'talk' because we did very little talking. My husband and I watched as our son struggled to stay in the moment and reasonably still. In normal fashion we reminded him to sit still and focus, and then it suddenly hit me. What if we were asking the wrong questions? So I stepped out on faith and I asked, "Son, can you sit still?" I watched in slack jawed amazement as my son's face lit up for the first in a long time as if to say, "now we’re getting somewhere" and he calmly replied, "No." Probing further I said, "I'm serious, answer me truthfully." My son looked me square in the eye and in the most inexplicable way communicated the importance of what he was about to say and replied, "I am very serious Mommy, sometimes I just can’t control myself, I need help."
In that defining moment my husband and I knew one thing was clear; we needed help.
After a referral to mental health from our pediatrician my son was diagnosed with ADHD.
Since then many months have passed and although new to the mental health world my son has welcomed the opportunity to grow through the intense trials he faced with strength and determination to reach his educational and athletic goals in spite of it all. With the spirit of his ancestral heritage of heroism, my son faces every day with courage, love, and laughter that brings "proud mama" tears to my eyes.
I look back at the fateful day of middle school and remember the hurt that has now been replaced by honor to have a son who has embraced his differences and somehow maintains a healthy balance between fitting in and celebrating the diversity he brings to every situation. Embarrassment and confusion are both gone.
Although there are still some days where we experience frustration and anger, they are mostly directed at injustice toward mental health consumers and families.
My son continues to inspire me and is a great demonstration of acceptance and unconditional love. Unconditional love for himself and others. His desire to learn about his diagnosis and use his strengths to overcome the various difficulties he faces due to symptoms of ADHD has taught me so much about my own struggles with mental health distress. He has in many ways ignited even more passion in me to do and support work that sees to the health of the whole person.
My son calls on everything in him to soar above the mountains in his path including discrimination, stigma, misinformation, and misunderstanding. In the process he has helped me to re-discover my own wings.
Indeed, Elijah has taught me soar!
I am enjoying our journey together. I know however, that there may come a day when I will cease to fly as high, and swiftly as his youth and vibrancy will allow him to. My prayer is that he will still be able to hear my whispers in the wind...
"Soar on son, soar on."