I'm Ryan Christman. I'm a peer group facilitator at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. I teach expressive writing to disabled veterans like myself. I have bipolar disorder.
Four or five years ago, I didn't see how there was any possible way that I was going to be able to start to regain what I felt I have lost and my life has come around in full circle.
The community Mental Health System is linked up to the VA System that I'm a part of and people are getting training as peer professionals to go back and start working
with their peers because who knows a illness better than somebody who has actually experienced it. We can empathize with the folks that we work with and just try
to listen and understand where they are coming from, not that a trained clinician can't do that.
But when you've actually been there and you've actually experienced it especially a psychosis which is something that is often considered so strange that most
people wouldn't understand it, it helps tremendously have that background. The expressive writing group started I proposed it in late 2007, beginning of last year is when we
held our first meeting and it has grown since then. When people are training for -- to work in peer support, one of the first things they teach you is to value your story.
And cultivate your story and learn how to tell your story because that's how you're going to be able to connect with another human being is going through the same
experience that you've already had. And a lot of the folks coming into my group, they don't they've never really taken the time or understood how valuable it can be to work on your story.
I was also an alcoholic, you know which only contributes to the thing and it exacerbates. It's even worst.
I teach a lot of traditional literary structure, you know the ancient literary structure and I use that as a way of helping people structure their thoughts because when you have mental a illness,
a lot of times there's a lot of confusion and there's thoughts are going in all different directions and there's no structure at all. And so, this process allows people
to take their story which maybe confused in their mind, put into something that's manageable that they can kind of get a hold of and start to understand a little better.
It is especially important with psychosis. Psychosis is the element of mental illness that I think is the most misunderstood. What I try to convey to them is that
it's okay to have those thoughts and it's okay to think about those things because a lot of times what people will tell you who have never experienced psychosis is,
â€œDon't think about that because that's a wrong thinking.I don't think it is.
And I think it's something that could cause problems in your life because you're thinking in such a way that you have a hard time fitting in with the people around you
and all of a sudden this thing that was alien before -- you know, I think people are like, â€œYou know, it is okay.You know, and you don't want to feel that way.
but you don't have to beat yourself up over it. So, it releases a lot of the guilt and the shame and the bad feelings that often drive
the symptoms of mental illness and I think it really helps with the recovery.
And if you guys take nothing else from this group, you're normal. We are all absolutely normal.
For years and years and years, I would isolate because I would try to explain myself just over and over again to folks who didn't have the illness and I would be like,
"This is what I experience. This is what I felt. This is what I was trying to tell you." And they're like, â€œThat's ridiculous.They didn't get what I was trying to say to them.
So, to sit across from somebody who has had that experience and can really relate on that level is tremendously rewarding
because I consider myself to be fairly at progressed stage of my recovery. When I see them start to take the same steps that I took to get to that point, it makes me feel really good.