This edition of Peer Support IRL comes after an interview with our friend, Anginet Page. After completing training with CMWN, Anginet has been able to put her training in practice and even start her own peer support organizations!
First off, can you tell us about your background and how you got involved with peer support?
Prior to becoming a Peer Support Specialist, I worked as a wedding photographer for 15 years. Around the 14th year of my career, I started to experience increased anxiety and depression. I had lived with these symptoms the majority of my life, but they were becoming intolerable.
I began to manage my symptoms through spiritual practices. Then, something happened. I started feeling euphoric. My depression and anxiety were nowhere to be found. I didn’t realize this at the time, but I was entering what the medical world calls “psychosis” (I prefer the term “out of consensus reality”). I was hearing voices and seeing people others could not. Essentially, I was experiencing a different reality than those around me. This led to two hospitalizations, and I was ultimately given the diagnosis of Bipolar 1.
During my first hospitalization, I was introduced to the idea of Peer Support. I didn’t feel supported by the majority of the hospital staff, but I liked a Peer Specialist who volunteered there. He talked about Peer Support, and somewhere in my mind, the idea of becoming a Peer Support Specialist was filed as a future possibility.
After my hospitalizations, I learned the value of working with people who had similar experiences as me. We shared our stories with each other and offered support as needed. With the help of my peers, I began leaning into my strengths. As I focused on my talents and strengths, I found a way to tell my story. I created a personal blog and puppet show called The Bipolar Puppet.
After about a year in recovery, I applied for Peer Support Specialist training with Colorado Mental Wellness Network. Once accepted into the training program, everything fell into place. Through their training, I gained the knowledge I needed to become a successful Peer Specialist. After the training, I quickly became employed. I currently work as a Peer Specialist for a local mental health organization, and I recently started a company focused on story sharing and online peer support groups. The company is called Heartfelt Peer Support.
Tell us about this side project. How did you come to create/think of Heartfelt Peer Support?
Heartfelt Peer Support was created as a result of The Bipolar Puppet. When I share my personal story, The Bipolar Puppet gets to the heart of my unique experiences, talents, and personal perspective. In other words, it really is about me.
As I started to build peer relationships through The Bipolar Puppet and peer support, I realized I wanted to be a part of something bigger than me. I wanted a community. I tried fitting into a few different communities, but I was met with judgement over my methods of sharing my story. I decided the best thing I could do was create what I wanted to experience. I wanted to incorporate aspects of the things I love (like puppets), and I wanted my fellow peers to have a place to share their own stories and strengths in a way that felt right for them.
I was pretty stumped on how create this community I wanted. So, I turned to my voices. As I have been in recovery, I have learned how to efficiently work with voices I hear. These voices are not a burden, but a blessing. Now that we understand our roles and boundaries, I feel safe turning to them when I could use some extra guidance. Together, we brainstormed ideas on how I could bring mental health and puppets together in a way that could create a community. I allowed all my voices to be present and give their input. One voice, Andrew, pointed out that puppets are made of felt, and “felt” is a powerful word for emotions. Andrew inspired me to think of words that paired with “felt”. Soon, I heard from a choir of voices; “Heart!”, “Felt!”, “Heartfelt!”, “Heartfelt Peer Support!”, “Heartfelt Puppet-Peers!”. I soon recognized how there really could be duality within the company.
From there, the idea evolved. Heart shaped finger puppets with different emotions were created (out of felt of course). Then I started building the website. Soon I recognized I wanted to help share peoples’ stories; and I wanted to create a place where Peer Support Professionals could run groups centered in their own passions. These groups not only support the community, but also the mental health of Peer Specialists.
What are your goals and mission for Heartfelt Peer Support?
The mission is to build a community where we are free of stigma and support each other’s individual journeys in the way that each person feels best supports them.
It’s very important to me that Heartfelt Peer Support leans into the self-driven aspect of peer support. I say this because I have been criticized for telling my story the way that feels true to me. I don’t want peers within the Heartfelt Peer Support community to feel that same way. I want to create a safe place where peers can feel free to be themselves. I want to celebrate the journey of peers by giving them a space to participate in peer support in the way that works the best for them. Within our groups, peers find support and acceptance without judgement.
Other than the groups, how else does Heartfelt Peer Support work with the community?
One thing I really like is that we give individuals in recovery the opportunity to tell their personal story. On the website, peers may submit their stories in writing. We allow contributors to use a pen name if desired, as confidentiality is very important to us. This gives contributors the opportunity to share their journey in a safe way.
Sharing my own story has been so good for me. I know it has helped others. I’ve had people who come to me saying they had the same experiences that I had. Story sharing allows us to create a community of solidarity.
By hosting groups online, resources are accessible to a larger radius of people. Services are able to be offered through generous donations. As we build the community of peers, we increase the impact we have on peers working on their recovery.
Outside of your work, how has being a Peer Support Specialist impacted you and your life personally?
For 40 years I struggled with depression, anxiety, self-loathing, suicidal ideation, extreme behaviors, and more. I couldn’t find a way to manage it. Then, I was given a diagnosis that helped me untangle the web I was stuck in. I talked with peers who had the same diagnosis, and I discovered I wasn’t alone. The support of my peers helped me accept these parts of myself in a new way.
I owe a lot of my growth to my peers and “parts work” (Internal Family Systems). This work has taught me that the different “parts of me”, my experiences, voices, and emotions, have a place with me. I have all of these things in order to live a more fulfilling life. In the past few months, I’ve gotten to a place I never thought I would: self-love. I had heard all of the cliches, but I’ve now come to a place where I actually understand what it means to truly love myself.
I don’t think my healing would have been possible without peer support. I needed support from people who understood. I needed to share my story with others who experienced similar things. The power of peer support is priceless in my personal journey. I want that for everyone.