Out of the Mental Illness Closet

As a mental health peer specialist, the crux of my job is that I openly talk about my personal experiences with mental illness.  By doing this, my clients feel that I understand where they are coming from.  Because… even if you’re a psychiatrist or a social worker, years of school cannot give you the perspective of a person who’s ACTUALLY BEEN THROUGH IT.

I love this job.  I’m basically being paid to be myself!

But an idea occurred to me today.  If, in the event that I wanted to switch careers, and no longer work in the mental health field… what do I put on my resume?

I mean, do I write that I was a peer specialist?  Do I truthfully describe my job duties?  A lot of the world is not forward-thinking, the way we wish.  If a potential employer sees that I was a “peer,” that might turn him/her off to inviting me to an interview.  And what if I wanted to be a teacher?  Or a cop?  Would this sabotage my chances completely?

I don’t know.  There is always the option of leaving the job off completely.  But then… there’d be a gaping hole in my resume.  They’d wonder… “What did this person do during that time?  Were they *just* unemployed?”  No matter how bad our economy gets, those who are unemployed are THEMSELVES blamed for not working.

How disgusting.

So of course, I can’t do that.  What if I lied about what I did as a job?  I could maybe write that I was a “mental health specialist,” or a “recreational director.”  When I talk to strangers about what I do for work, I’ll sometimes use these terms.  I do it less for privacy’s sake, and more because it takes a few sentences to describe what a peer does.  And sometimes… I don’t feel like talking to people for that long.  Because I’m tired, and sometimes anti-social.

I don’t think I could lie about my job on a resume though.  I could ask my job in advance if they’d permit that, but… then again, it’s LYING.

That’s the thing.  Being a peer specialist… it’s not only about sharing experiences.  It’s also about living a life of integrity.  Practicing what we preach.  We speak to our clients about recovery, and we LIVE recovery in our own lives.

It goes beyond this too, I’ve discovered.  After thinking about this resume conundrum, I realize that being a peer specialist… it is a LIFETIME COMMITMENT.

For me though, this is not so bad.  Because, for the first time… I’m not living in a closet with my illness.  I’m open.  I’m out.  I’m disclosing, and I’m not forced into shame about it either!

So why would I ever want to go back into the closet?  Being “out” now, I discover that there is power in it.  I can unite with others who are out, (no quotations needed here!) and we can …

Wait, what can we do?

Change the world?

How do we change a world that doesn’t want to be changed?  How do we change the opinions of people, when they are too numb to know that it is possible to change an opinion at all?  “Me, a republican?  Hell no!”  What…?  Liberals don’t know shit.”

We are so inflexible-minded.  We are so confident in who we are, that we fail to question ourselves.  This is what the peer profession does.  As a peer, I question how I got “well.”  I question everything that happened to me, so that I can be wise.  So that I can help my clients as best as I can.

There’s no going back.  There’s no hiding in the closet anymore.  I’ve got a mental illness diagnosis, and I’m proud of it.  I can’t be anything except proud.


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