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From Challenges of Change to Blessings in Disguise

t’s been a year. A year of panic, hyper vigilance, anxiety, disappointments, frustration, grief, uncertainty, isolation, loneliness, boredom, apathy, depression, and battling what experts now refer to as “COVID fatigue,” (having both physical and/or mental symptoms caused by either contracting the disease itself or resulting from the feeling of “being over or done with IT” due to the long-term frustration of coping with mitigation mandates).

It’s also been a year of overcoming challenges, discovering creativity, learning technology, and virtual living. For many, it’s become a year of embracing the simpler pleasures of life. For everyone, it’s been a year of challenges and change.... As a Certified Peer Specialist who has been supporting my peers face-to-face from the beginning of the pandemic, I have been striving to help them cope with many of these aspects of “doing life” in the context of what is now widely called our “new normal,” which is anything but normal. Having worked with individuals of all ages and backgrounds over the years, one common characteristic many of us have in common is, we do not like change that brings limitations and which has been forced upon us such as job loss, illness, divorce, unplanned pregnancy, death of a loved one, etc. Some people even struggle to accept change which brings new opportunity and which we choose; such as a new job, new relationship, marriage, a planned pregnancy, moving to a new home, returning to school, a much anticipated vacation, a well-earned retirement, etc. Experts agree that ALL change, whether perceived as good or bad, is STRESSFUL.... Certified Peer Specialists help their peers cope with their stress by working on goals to improve their lives in the following areas: coping with and preventing a crisis/ individual advocacy/ community involvement and developing natural supports/ achieving and maintaining overall wellness/ improving self worth concepts and self-help skills/ and building and maintaining positive relationships and supportive social networks. Although not all peers choose to work on every goal area, there is a “flow” between all of them and so we can choose to focus on those most important to the peer while still being able to “touch upon” all areas as needed. One thing I have learned over the years is that the more one’s stress (whether good or bad) increases, the more one can feel a loss of control and so one begins to appreciate routine and knowing what to expect. This pandemic has disrupted the basic routines for most and many can no longer anticipate what is coming next, therefore losing their sense of having control over their lives. Because I do not meet with three of my four peers in their homes for a variety of reasons, the biggest disruption to my work routine was finding an alternative place to meet with my peers because the library and restaurants where we typically met were closed to indoor services and continue to operate at reduced capacity and hours of operation. After getting permission, I began meeting with my peers at my small church located next to an Amish school nearly ten miles outside of town. The extra driving has caused schedule changes resulting in longer work days and quite a bit of planning because we have to take our food and drinks and things to work with during our four-hour sessions. The church has a radio and so we have it playing while we do session much like a person living alone has a tv or radio on all the time to give one a sense of connection with the outside world. Meeting at the church is not like being in the library or a restaurant with the bustle of people all around and the brief interactions with staff and, possibly, other patrons. At the church, we are ALONE. And in the evenings when it gets dark, that aloneness can feel somewhat “creepy.” Therefore, the radio is a welcome companion! However, we began to notice that when the news comes on, the negativity it broadcasts tends to agitate our moods with increased frustration. Now we usually switch over to a contemporary Christian music CD and so the uplifting songs immediately lift our spirits, giving us an energy boost! Singing along or even engaging in music and movement activities can be so therapeutic! I’m toying with the idea of taking the peers into the sanctuary and encourage them to sing with the microphone as a self esteem-boosting activity.... When I think of self esteem and self worth concepts, I believe that the lack thereof is the main “driver” for most of our life challenges across all life domains: choice of classes in school, choice of clubs and organizations joined, choice of hobbies and interests pursued, whether one participates in sports or other such activities, choice of relationships, choice of career path, choice of life partner, choice of whether to have children and how to bring them up, choice of where to live, and even choice of religious and/or political party affiliation. When one has a low sense of self worth, one tends to “settle” for what one thinks they can comfortably achieve and maintain. One also tends to go along with expectations and demands of family and friends instead of choosing to pursue that which one truly wants in life. Perhaps if we all had a healthy sense of our self worth, there would be far less unplanned pregnancy, divorce, domestic violence, bullying, crime, unemployment, disability, poverty, addictions, malaise, mental and physical illness, discrimination, suicide, and overall apathy. Therefore, I attempt to hone in on building up my peers’ self worth in hopes of helping them to improve upon their overall mental, physical, and spiritual wellness. I interview them to ascertain what their past interests, hobbies, and achievements were and any sports, clubs, volunteering, and employment in which they were involved. I also ask them if they had no limitations (money, location, health, etc), what do they wish they could do. Then whatever they identify, we brainstorm ways they can try doing these things again within the context of their current ability to do so. For example, if a peer identifies that they always wanted to learn to write poetry, we will research types of poetry and then they can practice writing poems. If they always wanted to go to Scotland, we will research Scotland and discuss things they would need to do to make that trip a reality. If they want to create a serene backyard garden, we research gardening and garden design. If a peer does not identify much of anything mainly due to financial, transportation, and/or health limitations, (which is often the case) I will explore ideas with them that are low cost and which do not require physical exertion or transportation such as adult coloring, bird-watching, social media, low-cost crafts, etc. Some peers have not graduated from high school and so enjoy doing Bible studies to earn certificates of completion which gives them a sense of accomplishment as well as reminding them of their worth and inspiring them that, just as the Bible heroes overcame their life challenges, they also can overcome their own life challenges. There are many free Bible study courses available online, by mail, and offered via local churches which cover a variety of topics. Another good self worth boost involves helping peers submit artwork, crafts, photography, poetry, etc. to contests and shows such as the local newspaper, women’s magazines, local art shows, festivals, and fairs. Even if their submission does not place, they will often receive recognition as a participant. Likewise, participating in volunteer work such as creating and maintaining a community coupon exchange binder for the local library and/or homeless shelter, sending Christmas cards to the military and care home residents, and participating in a community garden effort or simply spreading encouragement by painting and decorating rocks to distribute via a local rock hunting group all can serve to boost one’s self worth. Additional self worth-boosting activities I do with my peers include: doing one’s nails (an easy, inexpensive way to enhance one’s appearance), researching low-cost healthy recipes, researching home decorating and organizing ideas, and playing a variety of games (games serve to distract them from negative thinking, helping them to focus which calms their minds and gives them an extra satisfaction boost when they beat their CPS, LOL!). I also teach them emergency preparedness and how to handle various emergencies and similar self-help skills. One final self worth-builder I will address in this writing is helping the peer learn to advocate for themselves whether with family, friends, agencies, community workers, authorities, and strangers that cross their path. I firmly believe when we feel we do not have a say or control over our lives, we can either become aggressive and possibly act out or passive and possibly become victims of some sort of exploitation. By helping peers learn to write advocacy letters to government officials expressing their concerns and asking for change, appeal letters to agencies hoping to receive services, or letters to family/friends expressing hurt feelings to make their needs known, this important skill can give the peer the needed confidence to make their voice known, which can be very empowering for them and, hopefully, help them achieve the changes they desire and gain some control in their lives. Likewise, teaching peers how to handle “sticky questions” on job, rent, and/or credit applications can be a real life-changer for them. Coaching peers on how to express themselves with landlords, job interviewers, agencies, authorities, clergy, court officials, their children’s teachers, and even their own parents can also empower them, giving them a sense of control during situations that often cause one to feel uncomfortable and inferior. Teaching and/or encouraging peers to improve their technology skills by learning about and participating in social media such as Facebook can help them overcome loneliness, isolation, or shyness and can also serve as a platform for self-expression and/or advocacy. All of these self worth-building activities double as wellness tools. Therefore improving one’s self worth also improves their overall wellness. To summarize, change brings stress whether good or bad. How we cope with change is determined in large part by our self worth concepts about ourselves and our lives. Those with healthy self worth can cope much better and experience healthier overall mental, spiritual, and physical wellness which leads to increased overall life satisfaction. Participating in creative pursuits, engaging in productive activity such as maintaining a healthy living environment, volunteer work, or paid employment, increasing physical activity, healthy eating, and making healthy life choices, and learning and trying new things all contribute to greater overall self worth and overall wellness. Overcoming the stress of change by learning self-help skills and trying new things helps us to adapt to the changes in our lives and so sometimes we come to realize that all change can force personal growth which can result in realizing that our life challenges can bring us blessings in disguise. Disclaimer: Blog posts reflect the opinions and experiences of the specific blogger and do not reflect the views or beliefs of Peerstar, LLC as an organization.

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