As an Intentional Peer Worker at Wellways, I get to spend some quality time analysing my recovery journey, which is considering with intent. This helps me continue moving forward in reclaiming my identity and leading my meaningful life, and sharing the learnings with others as part of my work. Lately, I have been focusing on the five processes of personal recovery, or CHIME (Connectedness, Hope, Identity, Meaning and Empowerment) Model.

I have only recently been able to identify what it is that has helped me be consistently well and focused in the last few years—more so than ever before in my life. In reclaiming my identity as a spiritual person, integrating my experiences into my identity as a whole person, rather than as person with a mental illness, I have found peace.

As a child and young person I experienced clairvoyance, clairaudience, clairsentience, and claircongnizance. This was different to those around me, but it was how I interpreted the world, how I made meaning of it. It was a protective factor. Later, as I became unwell, very unwell, I had hallucinations of all five senses. My spiritual experiences were pathologised away, melded into a medical model that did not have room for them as anything but symptoms. They became part of my mental illness identity. Speaking of them lead to some severe medical responses (fear based) and hospitalisations, rather than prompting a whole person health approach to my experiences. This was very much a ‘what was wrong with me’ rather than ‘what is happening for me’ approach.

As a vulnerable teen, I soon learned to cauterise these experiences along with my feelings and emotions to cope. With this defensive mechanism I rejected my own healthy identity and internalised the stigma.

Over the next 26 years, my mental health fluctuated despite hospitalisations, taking my medications, and practising meditation and mindfulness. It was while walking through Tasmanian wilderness that I had an epiphany and suddenly understood what I had been missing—a massive chunk of who I am that I had lost, pushed away and ignored. I had done it for so long that I wasn’t even conscious that I was doing it. That was 2012, and a pivotal moment in my recovery journey. 

As I tentatively reopen myself to who I am and re-establish the trust I used to have in what I feel and experience, I become more whole. This reconciliation process is a long one. The good news is it’s up to me—the hard part is, it’s up to me.

How does this inform my peer work? This experience reinforced how culturally defined mental illness definitions are, and how crucial culturally appropriate understanding is in the health sector—something I can explore with individuals, families, community and professionals. I have even managed to use my understanding in a successful Disability Support Pension application for a loved one, by explaining the trauma a person experiences when treatments lock out the meaning they make of the world, and who they are.

By reconnecting with my spirituality and identity, I now have a beautiful sense of belonging in my community. While my work, family and study responsibilities are far beyond anything I could ever have imagined being possible for me, I continue to thrive and grow.

Charlie Anderson
Wellways Intentional Peer Worker