The Torch in the Tunnel: How Peer Resources Can Empower

We’re here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.
— Whoopi Goldberg

Being part of the peer led movement to advocate for mental health services has given me valuable insight and vision on the path to my own recovery. At times this path has seemed rather dark and unlit; both in a figurative sense when, for example, depression has made my world seem distant and hard to identify with and in a literal sense when needed, quality healthcare was out of reach and difficult to find in my locale. 

These conditions were frustrating to say the least and also contributed towards my desire to somehow escape from my mental health disorder and history of trauma. For some time, I had been striving to remove what had become a core piece of my identity; one that was defined by my disorders and traumatic experiences. This dance with stigma and this process of trying to remove socially constructed labels are experiences that can be especially pronounced for those with lived experience and traumatic histories and can further hinder access to healthcare for those in need.

Today I consider myself doing well in recovery and this path is not so dark. I still experience some of the symptoms associated with my diagnoses, but I am more stable and independent of medication than I have been since experiencing the major traumas in my life. Along with a series of fortunate events and circumstances following my misfortunes, I have been able to gather a solid set of recovery supports through connection with friends and peers. 

Among these supports, the most valuable have proven to be knowing when and how to take care of myself, remaining engaged in the advocacy movement for quality mental health care, and being in a supportive community of peers and allies to those with mental health and substance use disorders. I have found this latter support to be especially available through NAMI Wisconsin’s Consumer Council (NWCC) and Policy and Advocacy Committee as well as the Recovery Implementation Task Force. Being part of these peer- and advocate-led environments where I can express myself, talk about my lived experience, and seek advice and support has helped me define myself on my own terms and not the ones associated with stigma and society’s negative labels. Moreover, these supports have served as the “little torches” to light my path when it gets dark, helping me to see with clarity the support around me. They have provided me with a vehicle to transform my lived experience intoa story of empowerment through directed advocacy efforts and a means to stay engaged while, at the same time, allowing me to remain connected and aware of what I have been through and I am up against. 

When I think back to some of my more dark days, it would have been difficult for me to imagine that I would someday be both proud to be defined by my trauma and my mental health condition and that I could be involved in efforts that could make a difference and improve care for others with similar experiences and diagnoses. Though, through my experiences I have come to understand that even if things do get dark again, there is light at the end of the tunnel and that there are others along the way to throw the torches to light the way.

So with that said I present a challenge to you to those doing well in recovery and looking for an active and supportive peer environment: consider joining the NWCC. If you would like to enhance the quality of life for people affected by mental illness and are driven by unity, self-determination, empowerment, and inclusion then the NWCC may be right for you. We work together to provide opportunities to develop our skills as a leaders by enhancing NAMI Wisconsin's efforts toward supporting recovery and creating meaningful opportunities for participation for all NAMI Wisconsin consumers and by providing meaningful input to NAMI Wisconsin by serving on an advisory committee to the Board of Directors.

If you would like learn more about the NWCC and it’s activities, please reach out to the NWCC Chair, Chris Keenan at cbkeenan44@gmail.com or NAMI Wisconsin’s Executive Director, Nate Schorr at 608-268-6000.

Written by Chris Keenan, NAMI Wisconsin's NWCC Chair and Board Member