As we at nOCD have explained in a few of our recent posts, we’re always interested in getting more voices on our blog. So today we’re very excited to share an original blog post from one of mental health’s most active and engaging voices, Chrissie Hodges.
Chrissie is dedicated, full of energy, and well-versed in the latest and greatest OCD treatment techniques; we’re lucky to count her as a key part of the OCD community. She’s an advocate, speaker, author, blogger, vlogger, and licensed Peer Support Specialist.
And now, without further ado, here’s Chrissie telling us about peer support and the value of having experienced people alongside you during your journey to recover from obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental health disorders.
The Power of Peer Support in OCD Recovery
By Chrissie Hodges
Peer support is a term heard more often in the last few years in relation to supplemental support for mental health recovery. It is a form of support where someone who lives with a mental illness and understands the complexity of recovery can help provide hope and motivation for those in crucial stages of recovery. Peer support specialists are trained professionals certified through their state or working toward certification in the state where they reside and practice.
My journey to becoming a peer support began when I saw a real need for OCD sufferers to know they are not alone in their symptoms or the grief of mental illness. I quickly found out that helping others with their recovery actually became a positive turning point in my own recovery. I had achieved symptom management with OCD, but the emotional turmoil was still plaguing me. I struggled with questions of Why me? and What did I do to deserve this? I lived with the sadness, the anger, and the stigma of being someone who lived with mental illness, and trying to find my place in a society that didn’t look fondly on that label.
Mental illness is traumatic in so many stages of its development and existence in the lives of those who suffer. And I believe many of us underestimate the impact trauma has on us in relation to our journey of mental illness. Each time we experience trauma, our physical brain can change, our worldview can change, and the ways we relate to the world can change.
This trauma is prevalent in onset of symptoms, prolonged suffering, diagnosis, and even treatment. Even after successful treatment of OCD, the trauma can linger, and the stigma and fear of expressing those emotions are often kept silent. Therapy is available to help people work through trauma, stress, and even emotional regulation. But what I found in my recovery, and while helping others in theirs, is that a crucial element of recovery is getting support from those who really understand what it is like to walk in the shoes of OCD. There is power in the words “me too.”
In the depths of emotional turmoil during my own recovery, I believed I was the only person floating in that abyss of judgment, rejection, and isolation with the weight of stigma surrounding my mental illness. It wasn’t until I began working with a peer support who helped empower me to give myself permission to feel these emotions. I didn’t know how to feel okay about being angry. I didn’t know how to embrace that I was a victim of my illness. I feared that the other side of that negative emotion would be the loss of myself. I assumed I needed to just be grateful I got treatment and deal with it.
Little did I know, I would have been heading down a path of loss and separation from myself. My peers reminded me that I was actually just like everyone else on this journey to recovery, that I wasn’t alone, and that it was necessary to grieve. It validated me. It made me feel important. It gave my emotions value. It made me feel like the things I had been through really mattered. My peers made me feel like my story mattered, like it had a place of importance in my life and maybe the lives of others.
When I began working as a peer support, I found that walking alongside people and supporting them in the midst of their traumatic emotions and came natural to me. I had been there before, so I could easily understand and empathize. I wanted clients to know that if I had been able to get through it, they could too. I don’t answer the questions of Why? or What does it all mean? I don’t give advice. I don’t provide reassurance. I don’t tell them that it will be easy. I am just a presence with them that has walked the same difficult path to recovery, and just being there helps them feel less alone and hopeful. My job is to hold hope for my clients when they can’t hold it for themselves.
There was a time in my life when I hated the illness of OCD and everything it had brought into my life. I saw it as the ultimate stain on a life that could have been great. But, in the last four years of working as a peer support specialist, I can truly say the suffering and torture I endured from the illness feels rectified by the people I am lucky enough to support in my everyday work. I get to offer them what I believed would have been so beneficial in the darkest of my days. And the most beautiful part of being a peer support is that it is symbiotic. I learn as much from my clients about myself and my recovery as they do from my experience and support.
Peer support is a valuable, supplementary resource in helping those living with OCD to move toward recovery. It helps individuals to sustain hope and to know they are not alone. It helps restore value, importance, and a sense of normalcy to an individual’s experience in the midst of suffering and turmoil. Peer support will hopefully continue to grow and to be implemented in every person’s therapeutic plan in the future.
If you are interested in becoming a Peer Support Specialist, please check with your state credentialing body for license and certifications for more information. If your state does not have a certification in place, other states may accept out-of-state trainees upon inquiry.
Thanks to Chrissie for taking time out of her busy schedule to write this great blog post. If you’d like to submit your own blog post, or an idea of what we should write about, please fill out this quick form. We’d love to hear from people with OCD, their friends, their family members, clinicians, researchers, and anyone else. Check out the form! Do it now! (Please.)
Lastly, if you’d like to learn about the nOCD app, another great way to get the support we all need along the way to recovery from OCD, check out our very cool website!