Life is an experience. That's all It is. 

You can hate it, you can love it, you can take it for granted, but at the end of it we're all reduced to the same fate. For anyone to take anything so serious that it completely thwarts their vision to the fact that it's okay to wake up and not know what you're going to do that day, or that it's okay to wake up and hate everything, or that it's okay to be a little different, is only fooling themselves. 

Experiences are good and bad and life is a conglomeration of all of them. Don't ever expect that you're privileged enough to not experience one of the two. 

I work at a peer run mental health respite house called Second Story. In the state of California, they were the first mental health respite house. In the United States, they were the seventh. They've been open almost six years now. 

It's like an alternative to a psychiatric hospital, except it's voluntary and we have nothing to do with emergency services. But, if you're struggling and you're connected to the county coordinators, you have the opportunity to stay with us. 

We have a "WarmLine" phone number you can call and talk to someone 24/7. It's not like a suicide hotline where the people just ask "do you have a plan?" or "will you be safe tonight?". No, this is a line to call when you're looking for someone who understand what you're going through. It's a line to have a conversation. 

How glorious it would be to have enough money and be big enough to open the doors to people who are not connected to the county. 

Come and go as you like, just let us know if you're going to be back late because we require you stay in house over night. We can be flexible depending on the circumstances. You can stay for two weeks, and if you seem to be working on your goals and participating in the house, we are always open to granting an extension. Once again, it's all depending on the circumstances. 

We're all peers. We know how depression feels, or anxiety, or the experience of hearing voices or feeling manic or whatever else you can think of: PTSD/Trauma, addictions, general mood issues, confusion, e.t.c.: I'm not going to list every human emotion for Christ's sake. 

Because that's basically what it is. Anything a human can or has experience: we've hopefully got someone who has experienced something similar. 

So we don't go prodding around your "diagnosis". Because we don't really talk about diagnosis: it's not the point. I've very, very rarely heard words like "Schizophrenia" or "bipolar" used in this house to explain an experience or a person. 

I've heard the experience of what a professional would probably use to categorize one of those disorders. And as some of you may know, I'm on both sides: the textbook side and the experience side. I've been struggling mentally all my life, I own both the DSM 4 and 5, and I'm studying psychiatry. Sure, I could have gone into this house and talked to a guest and categorized their speech as "loose association" or their thoughts as "delusional", but doing that meant saying that 1) someone could judge me the same way, 2) this person is only saying these things because of this disorder and 3) it's not worth my time to listen to "rambles" because it's the "disorder" speaking. 

That's how the mental health system handles people. That's how I learned to talk and see things. It's not what I've ever believed, but it's how I was taught. 

One thing I love about Second Story is that it's not "anti-psychiatry". It's completely distant from all that extremist stuff where people rant all day but really do nothing to impact anyone, which was where I was heading very, very quickly. Instead, it's focused on real people, it's focused on working together. We're in the bottom of the industry's mixing pot, but from being with these people I see none of that bullshit matters. None of it. 

Fuck the money. Fuck all that negativity. It's not about your disorder or your doctor. It's not about telling psychiatry that it kills. It's not about any of this monopoly, industry, fake bullshit. 

It's about getting through the experience of life together. It's about being able to share your story and have it be heard and feel that relief when someone else says "I know how you feel because I've been there myself". 

Watching these guests come in and out and face their demons head on, whether they want to or not, has given me the strength to try and do the same myself. Because now that I see it in them, now that I see they're struggling right beside me and still moving forward, I know it's possible. 

And that's the power of Peer Support. 

Published by Alishia Dauterive