Mental Health Talk: Peer support can be essential

Published 2:01 pm Tuesday, May 16, 2023

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Following are some personal reflections of Melissa Wells, who has transitioned through the mental health system to become a peer support specialist.

The first time I can think back to and realized I was experiencing depression was after my mother died. I was about to turn 10 years old. The world became a scary place without her. The days were long and dreary. Nothing interested me anymore. My beloved yellow banana bicycle now laid in the yard rusting.

The bicycle that my mother said I would ride all day. Not wanting to eat, watch television or sleep. I outgrew my clothes due to weight gain from not being active. The nightmares were awful. My young brain was just trying to figure out where my mother was.

I needed someone to talk to about my mother’s death. My father and I lived alone together for several months. He started drinking heavily and staying out at bars all hours of the night. So he was not emotionally available. Neither was the family I was close to. Death wasn’t something to be talked about.

My father eventually got caught drunk driving. This was not his first arrest for DUI. In the end he decided to run from the law and basically abandoned me.

I was left to live with my maternal aunt, her son and my grandmother. Just another dysfunctional household. Of course my depression worsened. Crying myself to sleep countless nights hoping God would call me home. I tried reaching out to my aunt, telling her I didn’t want to live anymore. She told me it was the cowards way out and that was all that ever came of it.

I lived in this household about five or six years. During my stay I tried reaching out to a counselor. She asked me do you have food to eat? I said yes, even though we only ate once a day. Then she asked do you have clothes? Of course I said yes.

Lastly she asked do you have a roof over your head. Yet another yes. So I knew this was going to lead me to no where land.

Things transpired and I moved in with another maternal aunt and her husband. Guess what? Yet another dysfunctional home. By this time I was driving. Some how I wound up going to a psychiatrist on my own. All the stress and depression was nearly too much to bear anymore. The psychiatrist wanted me to go into the hospital. I said why? I would just go back to what is causing me to be miserable again. She prescribed some meds. Honestly, I don’t think I even tried them. I talked to my aunt and uncle about my appointment. My memory is fuzzy sometimes. I don’t remember what was said but know I never went back.

After graduating high school I moved out on my own. The depression lifted for awhile. I got a decent job. Things were going ok. Then a major life stressor hit. I was sent into a tail spin. Racing thoughts, feeling depressed yet feel like making laps around the yard. Sleeping was hard. But when it was time to wake up it was also hard. So I set out to see my trusted general practitioner. He actually listened and asked if I had ever heard of bipolar disorder. I had never heard of that diagnosis. I was scared but yet relieved I had an answer. He advised me to seek out a psychiatrist.

Phew, was that a task. So many came and went. So many different medications. Ugh the side effects. Finally I met the psychiatrist that would help me change my life. We worked together finding the right meds. She let me know that I did have bipolar disorder and psychosis.

I stopped drinking alcohol and started exercising regularly. That along with medication really helped the depression. Came across a great counselor. That helped me greatly. The sun came out. Colors were brighter. Seems the birds were louder. Things were looking up.

Now here I am at 52. I obtained an associate’s degree. I am now a Certified Peer Support Specialist. At a good base line in my recovery, I am living proof that recovery is possible. The important thing is to have hope that things will get better.

In the end, I hope sharing my story helps at least one person.

Certified Peer Support Specialists

A CPSS is someone in recovery from a mental illness and/or substance abuse disorder. They provide support to others with mental illness and/or substance abuse disorder.

In North Carolina you must be in recovery for one year before becoming a CPSS. You must be: at least 18, have a high school diploma or equivalent; take an approved 40 hour peer support clas; take a 20 hours of classes on subjects such as wellness recovery action plan, person centered thinking, crisis prevention; show proof of education two personal reference forms; and pay $20 with the application forms. Visit Approved listings of classes and CPSS jobs are also on the website .

“I enjoyed the classes that I took,” Wells said. “I got to meet some very nice instructors and other peers. My 40 hour class was given by Pamela Goodine in Winston-Salem. I took a Wellness Recovery Action Plan class for my extra 20 hours. That class was given by Susan Wheeler at Forsyth Mental Health Association.