Over three-and-a-bit years ago, I somehow fell into the position of Peer Worker, months after exiting from being a participant in a Wellways residential program. I am forever grateful for the team leader, who was also my worker during my stay, and who asked me to apply to be a peer worker.  

My experience as a peer worker, participant and a person within the community has shaped who I am as a person. There have been significant challenges throughout my life, which have seemed mostly negative. However, even though my preference would be for them not to have happened, there are a number of learnings that have lead to me being proud of who I am today and where I’m heading tomorrow.  

My life is pretty simple for now. I have a couple of close friends, also with a lived experience, who I can really be myself around. If you saw us walking down the street you might think ‘what an odd bunch’, as we all come from different walks of life, yet deep down I don’t know where I’d be without these guys. Kayaking is a recent hobby, which I’m thoroughly enjoying, as it’s great getting out on the river and helping out at the club. There are nine children in my family and I’m the third youngest. Boy, there are some interesting dynamics going there! However, it’s probably like this for most families. 

My intentions at this current time are to offer hopeful thoughts and reflections to whoever might be out there reading, ignite discussion around current relevant topics, and see how we can all move forward together. These areas of focus might, and I’m sure will, change as time moves on. But whatever direction, the values of acceptance, resilience, flexibility, honesty and equality will always be woven into the fabric.

Although it can be easy and no doubt still inspiring to look at some of the material successes of others around me, what really gets to me is when someone grows out of experiencing anxiety. During my time as a Peer Worker, a young woman entered the house too shy to speak and needed her mother to communicate on her behalf. Gradually, as each day went by, then each week passed, she slowly began interacting with others. Then one day when I arrived, the stereo was playing loudly and she and other participants were openly singing together with joy, seemingly without a concern in the world and right in the moment. Without a doubt, this young woman’s courage and resilience filled me with the belief that, not only could she make improvements in her life, but that I, too, could overcome my anxiety to live a full and free life.

There was also a time when I was chatting over dinner with another male within Wellways, which really gave me a pleasant reminder of why my place as a Peer Worker can be useful, along with other roles in the team. It just so happened that we not only had the same mental illness, but we were also residing in public housing and interested in fitness! We shared experiences of when we’d been…let’s say, ‘more excited than the average person on the street’, over water-spitting laughter. Mentioned were various exercise escapades involving usually far too much exercise and insufficient nutrition to achieve our optimal shape. This conversation helped him and me create a comfortable space to discuss experiences that often ignite strong feelings of shame and guilt. We also both had encountered some significant issues with neighbouring housing tenants, which had instilled some fear. We were able to speak about different solutions that had worked and could work for both of us moving forward into the future.

What are some positive experiences or interactions that have inspired you?

Jesse Bryl