In the 26th post in our series #NSUNCovidLife, David Gibbs invites us to think about “restoration” post Covid-19.
Peer Support and the Fight for Survival
David W. Gibbs
Expert by Experience University of Birmingham
As I write this once again I am filled with compassion but words fail me and even this piece will prove inadequate to convey the depth of emotion. Firstly, I am struck by the needless, careless or reckless loss of life that is played out in the lives of many families and conveyed on the media due to the Pandemic. Secondly, once again the ongoing taking of Black Lives in America as if they do not matter. To borrow from Bob Marley; “How long shall they kill our prophets. While we stand aside and look?”. Thirdly, I have mixed emotions – including joy, frustration, shame, empathy – because of the beautiful and intimate sharing of real life experiences on the many posts on the NSUN page. A sincere thank you to all who have and will share their humanity and vulnerability.
In the UK we sit and watch helplessly absorbing the statistics of the disproportionate impact of Covid on the lives of the BAME community and the poor. Then many participate in the 8pm Thursday clap for First Responders or the NHS. What is going on and why am I like many others troubled and concerned by this ‘show of unity’ which seems to have no impact on those at the sharp end who face discrimination or have a history of mental illness or a current mental health diagnosis. Yet from the list of NSUN testimonies, with clarity, honesty and humility, we see recurring themes playing out around what peer support and survival really looks like when we are in need.
My aim is to ask as a network how are we surviving in this crisis and how this grassroots movement may be changing. Secondly, to invite some thought on engaging with “restoration” post Covid 19 so we can extend the reach of the network to create, support and influence and thereby magnifying impact.
Our thoughts, connections and mental health are been collectively tested as never before. A combination of arrogance as demonstrated by some leaders and ignorance of many who embrace conspiracies seems to produce either a sense of ‘the rules don’t apply to me’ or fear. Writing out of the Buddhist tradition Chödrön reminds us of something important and giving us a much needed boost and hope even in tragedy. Her points describe well the reality of good peer support. The author gives a two fold challenge believing that like the rays of the sun our humanity should be diffuse and inclusive. Secondly, when we look in the eyes of peers we should look to see as much as possible the whole person. When things fall apart (title of her book) we are encouraged to stop for a moment and reflect; “It is like the sun in that it shines on everyone without discrimination. It is like a mirror in that it is willing to reflect anything without accepting or rejecting.”Buddhism teaches peace and oneness through generosity, compassion and patience. These are good qualities not just in peer support but with friends, family, colleagues and even strangers. It works to resist oppression, violence and greed helping our mental and physical health.
As listed in the five year strategy NSUN values solidarity, equality, integrity and diversity developing a “ user-led approach and convention- challenging aspirations of our members” which is “ strengthened through information, direct support and connection to others.” But how do we live and do peer support when so many are dying, marginalised, betrayed or exhausted? Even in lockdown or other restrictions on our liberty we must work to allow the nsun (yes, a deliberate pun) to shine in those dark places of oppressive practice. Also, we need to be brave and strong enough to hold up the mirror so people can see truth and the reality of the other – immigrants, LGBT, young people and “complications of peer support” as detailed in a number of resources on the website. This crisis has highlighted inequality and shown us our inherent need for support, equity, mutuality and hope. It shows why what we think, feel and do are important. Further, that the work continues and the passion has not abated.
The 4Pi framework with its focus on principles, purpose, presence, process and impact is robust been tested through much recent adversity. Now we must have an eye on the future impact and shape of peer support. For those in zoom and team meetings, in our research, phone calls, emails or letters we must be the voice of recognition, challenge and compassionate honesty. Our input and participation must continue to be collaborative, supportive and meaningful focusing on how power is acquired, challenged, used or retained. Let our words and actions be making a difference for self and others in our ever-changing context but with a constant need to give, receive or offer support.
As Peer supporters, survivors and an organisation a few things to consider
The need to build and respect work/life/home boundaries.
Our power and influence is strongest within agile and collaborative teams not just a few talented people.
The emphasis is now on influence rather than positional power.
To enhance influence and be relevant we need to be visual, interactive and immediate.
To exercise influence we must be digitally connected and it is not centralised.
We can’t go back to normal and hopefully, we don’t want to because as we plainly see it wasn’t working for many. Is there anything we can learn from Black Lives Matter? Covid has turned many of our opinions, structures, operations and policies on their heads while exposing their discriminatory basis. We are holding each other to account today on how we are using our experiences, resources, time and skills; “to champion resource equity by challenging the racist [oppressive] policies that produce resource inequity. Racial solidarity: openly identifying, supporting, and protecting integrated racial spaces”genuine co-production and peer support. Our reality is encouraging us to visualise a different, better and brighter future while not forgetting the past. We are called to be working together right now. Covid has identified where there is a will there is a way – new ways of thinking, being, doing and supporting. As the Manifesto states; “Promote the validity and vital role of survivor knowledge and research” because “There is no wholeness outside our reciprocal humanity.”
Chodron, Pema. When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (p. 131). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Kendi, Ibram X.. How To Be an Antiracist (p. 180). Random House. Kindle Edition.
Stevenson, Bryan. (2014) Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.Scribe Publishing:Melbourne p290