As many of you know, I recently got a job at the VA hospital as a Peer Support Apprentice. I started this week and, even though I have only just begun to uncover what my new career entails, I learned more than I thought I would at this point.
New Employee Orientation
For starters, as with all other government gigs, the first 2 1/2 days on the job was…death…by…PowerPoint. I learned more about the fire suppression system than I ever really need. I also listened to a germaphobe, even for a nurse, talk about how we were all going to die from infectious disease outbreaks and AIDS…I kinda faded out, but I pretty sure that’s what she said…maybe not. Those were some of the more memorable boring parts.
It wasn’t all boring, though. There were opportunities to talk to doctors, nurses, dental techs, social workers, cops, and house keepers, and hear a bit of their journey to working at the VA. About a third of them were fellow veterans, but the cool part was meeting two veterans who were working on their own post-military mental health recovery. One was in and out of jail and was currently enrolled in some pretty intense treatment. We talked a lot about struggles that we both shared and how we let it take control of our lives. The other was married, and he and his wife had been working on their recovery together for years. He was mostly curious about what I would be doing as Peer Support and thought it might be something his wife would be good at.
On that note, yes, everybody there knew I was Peer Support…which was a bit uncomfortable. That fact added an amount of stress and some off-and-on anxiety. Most people didn’t know what that meant, but the social workers, doctors, and a few nurses did. They knew exactly what that meant. The gut reaction was…”crap, I just told a room full of strangers that I have mental health problems”. The second, and more thought out, reaction was, “If I can get through telling a room full of mostly non-patient types that I have successfully gotten through a big part of therapy and intensive treatment, then I will be even more comfortable when the time comes to tell a room full of patients that I don’t know.” That is a HUGE part of my job. A Peer Support Specialist uses his/her experience and story to help guide others in their own personal recovery. It is kinda hard to do that if you can’t be confident enough in your recovery to tell people about it.
HOLY CRAP, I WORK IN A HOSPITAL?!?!
That was literally a thought that finally SLAMMED into my mind when I realized that I was inprocessing with DOCTORS and NURSES. Growing up I never imagined that I would be working in this environment. In fact, I was completely turned off to the idea because I immediately imagine gore and surgery when I think of “hospital”, not recovery and psychosocial mentorship. Either way, there I was, staff.
Working 9 to 5 (Working 7:30 to 4 isn’t as catchy)
Being an NCO (sergeant) in charge of over 100 people, I’ve had my own desk for a while. Now, I have my own office with a nice little sign my the door that says “Peer Support”. I have my first picture on the wall(above). It was a gift from my Wednesday Crew friends at Fontenelle. They got it so I “wouldn’t forget them”, as if that were possible. I even threw my old Air Force patch collection on the felt section of my desk. This is MY office…there are many just like it, but this one is mine.
Back to the Learning Bit
I’m beginning to get settled into my spaces. My coworkers and supervisor, who used to be MY treatment team, have gone out of their way to make me feel welcomed and…part of THE treatment team. They’ve helped me navigate databases, get signed up for relevant classes, and prepare for the idea that I will be leading classes and helping lead people. I’ve “mentored” people before, but “facilitating” recovery is not even close to the same as being “in charge”, which is what I’m more accustomed to.
Instead of guaranteeing that very quantifiable tasks are not missed by my subordinates, I’m providing an optimal environment for peers (remember I’m also still in recovery) to come to very deep, unquantifiable realizations and breakthroughs. I’m also helping them plan their own calculated and reasonable tasks, none of which are marked as a complete failure. I’m learning how to lead from a very different position than I’ve ever been in. I mean, military supervisors are also mentors, but the processes are different and the timeline is longer and more personalized.
You Can’t Force People Down the Path…
The final thing that I learned is a bit of bitter truth that will take some getting used to. With all of the time, effort, and sincere desire to help on my part, there are people that are going to be unwilling to make the effort necessary to change their own lives, and I can’t control that. My job isn’t to control people or “fix” them. My job is to help provide a clearer path for them to take. …I can only show them the path I’ve taken and the path I’ve seen others take. They have to do the walking.
Final Analysis of the Week?
I am so excited to have, yet another, amazing opportunity. I legitimately love the idea that I get to help people like myself. I get to get paid to put myself out there and hopefully be an example that shows how important doing that is to personal recovery. I get to get paid for being me and doing the things I love. How lucky is that?