The Value of Becoming Who I Needed

by Rachel Bonnichsen

Hi, I’m Rachel. I work as a peer support specialist at a crisis center serving the Siouxland area. I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself and tell you a little about why I do this job. Who knows? Maybe it’s a story similar to yours. 

The first therapist I actually liked wasn’t until 2020, years after seeing my first one in 2016. That’s 4 years of receiving subpar therapy because I couldn’t engage with a therapist properly. I always thought it was my fault. It’s a pattern of thinking I catch myself getting caught in, still. It wasn’t until I met the therapist I see now that I was able to practice giving myself the grace to be human.

What does this have to do with why I am a peer support specialist? 

One of the things that we do as peer support specialists is advocate for our peers, and encourage and empower them to speak up for what they really want. If I had had a peer support specialist, I would have been able to find a therapist that I could engage within those 4 years. Can you just imagine how awesome it would be for everyone to have a PSS? That way, it’s easier for peers to be empowered enough to speak up, before nearly half a decade passes where they don’t feel like they are being helped. 

Every once in a while, I find myself being my own peer support specialist. I still struggle with my mental illness- having diagnoses upon diagnoses is so difficult, sometimes. On my path of recovery, I usually feel like I’m in one of those twisty-turny rivers, going around a bend while skating through rapids. Each new diagnosis, new medication, means a new turn. Sometimes, my little buoy I’m holding onto slips away and I have to do my best to keep myself afloat until I reach it again. 

I do what I do because I know I’m not the only one who feels like this. Sometimes, the main thing that I wish I had someone tell me, “Here’s a floaty. It’s not a boat with a motor, it’s not the easiest way out, but it’ll help you keep your head above water long enough to get to shore”. 

So, I do my best to be the person who has that floaty, able to offer it to my peers. 

It’s not the easiest way out, and struggling against rapids is exhausting. I know it’s easier to give up, or wish you could wave a wand to get out of the water. Here’s a floaty. It’s not everything, but I’m here to cheer you on as you kick towards the shore. I’m here to greet you, wrap you in a blanket, and tell you how proud I am that you got here. 

I’m a peer support specialist, because even though we got out of the river, the road is just through a forest. Here’s some good shoes, because the road of recovery is a lifelong journey. Let’s take a walk. 

Let’s walk, and along the way share a few stories. 

Rachel is a peer support specialist with Siouxland Mental Health Crisis Center and works part time with Iowa Peer Network as an outreach specialist. She loves reading, writing, and her cats (not necessarily in that order!) Rachel has many goals for the future. Her main one is to be the person she needed at the start of her mental health journey.

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