Paths to Passageway
Paths to Passageway
Article by: Julia C.
"The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice." -Brain Herbert
Last Spring I was in my quarterly review when Nicole Davis, the Assistant Director of Eyerly Ball, suggested to me that I take a training course to become a Peer Specialist. I didn’t know what a Peer Specialist was, but I was intrigued. I looked it up and found that the University of Iowa’s Department of Health and Family Services was offering a week-long training course for Peer Support Specialist funded by the Department of Human Services.
I looked up this training and found out that Peer Specialists were a specific type of counselor, one who was themselves a person with a mental illness who is trained to work with other people with a mental illness to assist them in their recovery. In this, they differ from most “regular” counselors who are trained in the symptoms and nuances of the disease itself rather than its recover. The course manual says that “recovery is the process of gaining control over one’s life after a mental illness diagnosis.” There are five stages each person goes through to get to recovery, according to the manual:
Often, this recovery can be a long haul, sometimes covering years. I found out there was an application for the training, so I practiced by answering the application questions used by the clubhouse in their employment process. It was proper training because both were about 20 pages long! They asked questions like, “What are your strengths?” “How would you describe your recovery,” and so on. It required a lot of thought and practice.
I learned that the training was in Council Bluffs and I was ready to take it! When the people sponsoring the event told me that they were holding one closer to Des Moines in September, I said I would prefer the latter as I would not have to stay in a hotel, and transportation would be more feasible. They said they would contact me in August. In August, I reached out to them right away. They had accepted my application, spoke to my references, and gave me a reasonably straightforward interview over the phone. They told me the training was a Prairie Meadows and I was set to go! I budgeted for my meals and Eyerly Ball said they would provide transportation. They had made reasonable accommodations for my legal blindness by enlarging the manual that was to be used after consulting with me about the size of the font to be used. One thing was left to do before I went to the training and that was an on-site visit by myself and the director of my house who was providing the transportation.
We went to Prairie Meadows and wound up at the hotel only to discover the training was in the casino building next door. We went there and found the large room where it was to be held, all set up with covered tables. We traversed the elevators and escalators and found the restroom, so I knew just where everything was. Although I wasn’t sure how it would work to have our training in a casino, it was quiet and serene during the day. It didn’t become lively until Friday night just as we left.
Monday the 11th arrived, and I found the Prairie Rose Room without difficulty. There were four presenters for this training: Diane, David, Sara, and Brenda. They were all engaging and very knowledgeable. There were about 20 participants, most of whom were already working as peer specialists, sent by their employers. They were lively, personable, and seemed to enjoy talking to one another. I watched it all with great interest. I spoke a little to the woman next to me, Susan, who wasn’t a Peer Specialist yet either.
The training was held September 11-15 from 8:30 am-5:00 pm. We had an hour lunch break each day, and I went with the presenters or other trainees to the 2nd floor where there was a snack bar that served delicious food at a reasonable price. I had hash browns and sausage omelets most days. You had to go through the slot machines to get to the snack bar, and some concessions sold fudge and ice cream along the way. Some trainees brought their lunches and sat outside on a bench to eat. I found it a long walk from the snack bar to the Prairie Rose Room on the fourth floor.
During the sessions, there were about thirty topics that were discussed. We had two courses that covered the purpose of a Peer Specialist and how they fit into the framework of Iowa’s mental health system. We were given a book of over 200 pages, a folder detailing the mental health services in Iowa, a key ring with study cards to help prepare us for an exam to be given two weeks after the class ended. We were also given a box of goodies that included index cards, a bottle of bubbles, silly putty, and a stress ball – just for fun! (And to safely relieve stress.)
We studied the WRAP plan on Thursday which was a bit of a review for me since I’ve studied it before. But the rest was new and incredibly interesting. We learned about what kinds of questions elicited what types of responses and how to respond to different variations of statements. We practiced these in pairs and groups of three. We learned how to problem solve and had a homework assignment in which we had to look up community resources for a variety of situations from housing to emergency mental health hotlines. Fortunately, I had asked about writing assignments in advance, so I came prepared with booklets that had this kind of information in them. I wrote an article dealing with these community resources for this newsletter a few months ago. We learned about how to help people with negative self-talk, writing health goals, relaxation and stress responses, how to make choices, identifying support systems, the difference between empathy and sympathy igniting the spark of hope and learning when to use our own recovery story to help people grow and change.
We learned a lot, and for me, the training was a life-changing event. We learned about Trauma Informed Care, which helped me become more sensitive to the all too prevalent role of trauma, both physical and psychological, that pervade our lives. I found this last to be the most helpful as I have a roommate that went through a traumatic situation and I was able, in some small way to help her through it by listening and being supportive of her through this process. It has made me want to study more about these topics, and I have started by involving myself in classes taught by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI. NAMI is an organization for adults living with mental illness and gives them a platform to advocate for themselves and educate the general public about mental illness.
I hope I will have the opportunity to help a lot more people in the future.
My Story. My Recovery. My Life.
Mary did not struggle with mental health issues until her early forties. She is a happy, easy going person who at the time was working as a nursing assistant and living with her sister when she began to notice that she was crying a lot. She started reaching out to her parents to figure out what was going on as she did not know what else to do. It was then that Mary was first admitted to the hospital for suicidal ideation and depression. While on the locked unit at Mercy Franklin Mary met new friends and started to learn more about herself and depression. This was a sad time for her, and she wanted to isolate and be left alone.
Mary first started attending Golden Circle and then was referred to Passageway in the ‘90s. Mary was attending Passageway but eventually stopped coming to the Clubhouse. In 2008, Mary was contacted by a staff member Gary and encouraged to come back which she did. She then started attending Passageway again on a regular basis and also receiving the monthly newsletter. Mary says the newsletter is helpful for her because it lets her see all the activities that are going on in the Clubhouse and to stay connected with what is going on in the community. Despite being very lonely at the time, Mary continued to attend Passageway and did make a lot more friends and has been coming to Passageway on a regular basis ever since.
When asked about how she thinks she has changed since becoming a regular member at Passageway, Mary says she works more during the Work Order Day. She volunteers for some assignments such as lunchtime cashier, checking our daily attendance and data entry, counting money, answering phones, reception where she greets people, cooking for lunch, special meals, and late night dinners. Mary feels like she does not cry nearly as much anymore when she has more people to be around, people to talk to, and other things to keep her busy which allow her to use her skills. Mary’s daily routine starts with getting up each morning and then either getting picked up by the Passageway Shuttle or working with her Eyerly Ball staff. Mary enjoys attending Late Night, some out of club activities when she can, and various events at Eyerly Ball.
Mary’s parents say they are happy she comes to Passageway instead of isolating at home and being sad. Mary is not currently working, but she did receive supports from staff and members by having a place where she could talk through work issues as they came up and also by encouraging her to stay connected with her friends. Mary would like to continue to keep busy, be involved in more activities, stay true to her friends. Mary continues to manage her physical and mental health by participating in Passageway’s Walking Club using pedometers donated to the clubhouse. With help from Passageway members, staff, her family, and friends, she is eating less junk food and choosing smaller portions.
(Shades of Red)
Poem by Cille G.
Ladies in ruby petticoats
Dancing at the Moulin Rouge
Kicking their legs clothed in black fishnet stockings
Toes in the air
Smiling at the crowd
Taking my seat at the bar
A dame with tousled scarlet hair notices me
My face blushes rosy red
I watch her and sway to the music
The ladies dance and grin
A wink comes my way from the scarlet lady
I’m too shy to reply
I go for my drink
Taste my maraschino cherry
It’s too sweet
I down the bourbon alone
As the clock chimes midnight
I shout from the berry velvet chair
Ladies come dance with me
With an angry glare
The proprietor looks my way
I cover my mouth with a burgundy napkin
Not to yell out again
Cardinal corsets twirling and spinning
I’m dizzy from the drink and imagined love
Keep me awake and inebriated all night
To play in this endearing dance of shades of red
for game winners and then predict the scores. It gives members something to look forward to and they love to follow their teams on the weekends. The football pool sheets become available on Monday mornings. The winners are announced at the Monday Greeting Meeting! This week's big winners are Mary F. with the W and Julia C. in 2nd!
An Angel sitting on top of the tree shinning down on Me.
I’m waiting for old Saint Nick to see
If he put a lump of coal and a stick in my stocking
But that is OK with Me
Because I will trade my stocking with my sister
And she will get the lump of coal and a stick.
And I’ll get all the treats O’ how sweet!
Mary has been a member of Passageway since May of 2003. Mary is a member leader at Passageway. Mary attended a two week training in Worcester, Massachusetts with Sarah K in April, 2017. She coordinates the making of creatures for the Annual Art Gala.
Seth has been a Generalist at Passageway since October 2016.