To Spread the Peer Mission Overseas…

Sometimes, I wonder if my fervor for mental health awareness will wane.  That it will become a topic that I am tired of talking about.  Truly… how can I continue talking about this for years on end, in the same way that I did when I started?

I am always in awe of people who endeavor towards a singular goal for so many years.  With tenacity, they utilize the same steadfast approach, slowly swimming higher and higher through the waters of preparation, enjoying no reward or recognition.  And then, if lucky even… one day… poof!  They break through to the surface of the water, finally becoming visible to the drier half of the world.  Only then, is there tangible success.  In my mind, this applies to both those who seek personal success, and also those who want to invoke social change at large.

I suppose I’m in both categories.  I work as a mental health peer specialist, which is fundamentally a philanthropic profession.  I draw on my past experiences to empathise with others in need, and hope to make a change in society as time passes.  And for personal, selfish success… I am starting to envision my writing as something that can reach a lot of people, certainly beyond my immediate waking life.

But even my desire for eliminating social stigma against those with mental illness is a selfish one as well.  First off, I don’t want to be stigmatized myself.  I don’t want to feel obliged to have to “hide” my illness, so as to avoid shameful ridicule.  But we all get this.  This is nothing abnormal.

But there is another selfish motive as well… let me explain.

I am fully committed to the mental health peer profession.  Over the years of my professional life, I hope to climb up some sort of career ladder.  I’d like to have promotions, raises and greater responsibilities.  But as of yet, pee rwork is a new profession, and there is not much of a career ladder.  And another fear of mine is that peers will continually be underpaid for their services.  Granted, only a high school diploma is required, when compared to other professionals with graduate degrees.  But still… is not personal experience with mental illness considered “training,” albeit nontraditional?

I hope this latter attitude will catch on.  We peers fully deserve respect amongst our work colleagues.  I personally like to say that I have a doctorate in insanity, because it started at a young age, and it crippled me until I was about 28 years old.

Even though there is no career ladder for me as of now, I still dream and try to think outside of the box.  I would love to become a consultant, where I travel all over the world to help communities build networks of peer specialists.  Here and there, I have heard that various European countries have taken interest in the peer activity in New York City.  Previously, I attended a peer specialist training school called Howie the Harp Peer Advocacy Center.  People from the Netherlands have in turn founded a few Howie the Harp schools in their neck of the woods too.

The mission of peers needs to be everywhere.  And I hope to help in this effort someday!  I also just have zeal for other cultures and languages.  For several years, I have working on my German language skills, and now I am at the point where I am conversationally fluent.  It’s a wonderful feeling, speaking to people from another country in their native language.  Because… even though English is a world-language, it shouldn’t replace other peoples’ languages.  This certainly encroaches on other cultures’ ways of living, and at worst can erase cultures.

As a person of words, I truly believe that… language influences how we think, and even how we experience emotions.  For me, German is such a beautiful language, with its complex grammatical rules and colorful, soothing sounds.  It’s a very musical language, and also invites greater pensivity than does English.  Do note that many of the greatest composers were German-speakers: Beethoven, Bach, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms of Germany, and Mozart and Schubert of Austria.  Certainly there were others, but to me the German style of musical phrasing mirrors the language itself.  An interesting notion, certainly.

Also for me, speaking German allows my English-speaking brain muscles to take a break.  English is very cerebral for me, while German is more spontaneous and relaxed.  While in English, there needs to be an answer for everything… German sort of allows for things to remain unspoken and anonymous.  I speak completely from conjecture and opinion here, but these are my heartfelt feelings.

I would love to appropriate these ideas into my peer work, if ever I had the opportunity to travel abroad to spread what we do.  I would love to go to a country, and learn their language as I assist them.  I don’t want to be this in-and-out consultant who pops in, gives the low-down and then leaves, forcing the people to make frantic sense of tons of information, and then build up their system on their own.  No way.  I want to live there, and help them as they create their program.

By learning their language, I would be able to really understand the mentality of the people.  I would see the world the way they would.  I don’t want other countries to try and imitate a program they learn about in English.  This results in deculturalization, and causes other places to become “Americanized.”  I don’t want that.  As beautiful as I find Germany for its culture and people, I always worry when my German friends have enthusiasm for learning about my American ways.

I’m not trying to make a political statement here either, where I downplay the United States as some evil entity.  That is a topic for another article, and one I don’t care to write about in the first place.  Instead, I just want to imparthere, that … the work of peers can help people all over the world.  But it is also important for each country, nay… each community, to appropriate the peer system in a way that is organic and congruent with their own customs, social conventions and values.

Although perhaps seemingly unrelated, I think that the work of Christian evangelists and missionaries is parallel to my vision.   They have a specific mission to promote (the gospel of Jesus Christ), and then they travel to all corners of the world in such effort.  And they are experts at this endeavor!

Observe: they move to a location for an extended period of time, and then preach to all who will listen.  They often learn the language of the people, and then train and ordain various locals to become pastors themselves.  Many of these communities do not have bibles in their native language, so missionaries then endeavor to translate the bible for them.  After years of such endeavoring, the community gets to the point where they have fully absorbed the gospel and teachings of Christ, and is now able to team with the missionary as spiritual equals.  Certainly it must be a fulfilling experience for any missionary to facilitate this process, seeing it unfold over the fullness of time.

What I write here… this is what I gleaned through personal experience, from when I attended an Independent Fundamental Baptist church devoutly for six months, a few years ago.  At the time, it was a thoroughly enriching experience.  But again, another story.

I think the evangelist approach to spreading a message can be appropriated by peers.  As charged it is, the topic of Christianity… it cannot be disputed that it has significantly influenced countless corners of the world.  I am always in favor of looking at the good in every situation, and so I glean my above statements from this positive sentiment.

Perhaps what I write is unpopular.  But it is simply what I observe.  I would rather be true to myself, than write what is popular.



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