DBSA Albuquerque is launching several new public education programs over the next two months. We’ve already premiered one of these, “Laugh It Off,” at the Turquoise Lodge Hospital, and we’re actively expanding this to both inpatient and community presentations.

The one I’m very excited about is “Milestones in My Recovery Journey.” With each of these educational programs, the idea is for peers to share their life experiences because we’ve shown time and again that this is the best way to help those who don’t live with a mental health diagnosis understand what it’s like to contend with challenges and what’s it’s like to celebrate triumphs. These are “milestones” in a life journey that is always moving forward.

I’ve been a NAMI In Our Own Voice presenter for several years, and while I very much enjoyed talking to peers inpatient at Kamp Kaseman, I did find myself constrained by the strict protocols and structure of IOOV. Sadly, I found myself apologizing for sections like “Acceptance” because it didn’t fit with my idea of what it’s like to become AWARE of the detrimental symptoms. Acceptance means I didn’t want to acknowledge the bipolar symptoms, and that just wasn’t the case. It meant I was denying that bipolar existed, that I was in DENIAL. Not so. For me, “Acceptance” is best related as “Awareness.” Awareness is truer to the peer experience than acceptance. If I can’t see how detrimental the symptoms are “from the inside out,” how can I deny what I’m not aware of?

So, the spirit of peers sharing their stories like in IOOV is the same. We are seeking to help others understand what it’s like to have a mental health diagnosis.

There’s more than that, though. We are also training family members and friends to share their stories because if a peer is lucky enough to have a family supporting them, then the whole family goes through the recovery journey together. It’s a great program we’ve developed, and I’m quite proud of the progress we’re making.

And there’s even more than that. Connecting with other peers is crucial, and peers hearing that others have the same challenges as they do, and that there are peers who have created ways to deal with the adverse symptoms, brings hope and strength to other peers. I’m really going to get into this more in its own article later this month.

With our “Milestones in My Recovery Journey” program ready to go, this model for peers telling their stories is much more open to each peer’s individual life story. It is structured yet flexible. Peers are trained in what is appropriate to share and they are given the room to tell the story they want people to hear.

I know that I got to a point where I was starting to feel too rehearsed and I’ve been telling the same stories so often it’s rote by now. I’ll be telling new stories that I haven’t found the space to tell before. It’s exciting. I’m excited.

Here are some of the new stories I’ll be sharing (from the experience of an individual with bipolar):

– The “fun” of financial strife and the consequences as a direct result of hypomanic spending… both in the my past and my very current present.

– The horror of hypersexuality as a direct consequence of hympomania. This isn’t expressed often enough, and it’s one of the most destructive symptoms of bipolar.

– Tempting death and inviting others to do so with me… again, as a result of hypomania.

– The impact of repeated suicide attempts. It’s easier to destroy myself than drag others with me.

– Psychosis that is temporary in duration but permanent in trauma.

– Trauma. Lots of it.

– How do I cope with each of these issues? What can I do to safeguard myself and others? This is an essential component of “Milestones in My Recovery Journey.”

Like I said, I’m excited. And, we’re training peers with a very broad range of symptoms and diagnoses, from bipolar to schizophrenia to autism to traumatic brain injury… it’s all an important story for our communities to hear.

The DBSA Albuquerque website will be showcasing each of these new programs as they come online. I’m excited to be sharing my story in a most useful and successful way!