Aisha is the Director at the Peer Support and Wellness Center in Decatur, GA. 

Aisha: I was hospitalized for a suicide attempt when I was 17 and that's when I received my diagnosis of bipolar depression. I didn't want to hear it. I was so afraid of the stigma. I was afraid to be anything other than "normal". I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be like everyone else. 

I was in Grady Hospital on the thirteenth floor and I was there for a week or two. There was no hope given. There were no alternatives. It was pretty much, take your medicine and be quiet. You'll be doing this for the rest of your life.

BW: Is that what you've experienced?

Aisha: No. I've actually experienced something different. I will say that it took several years for me to get the courage to try something else. I started connecting with people who live with a mental health challenge, and were living well, and thriving. I thought, oh, there's recovery for this? I can really live a full life and be OK and thrive? It was new and it was different, and I was very nervous, but I just started connecting with people.

Today I do a lot of things to take care of myself and medication is not one of them. When I was taking the medication I lost two jobs because I couldn't wake up in the morning. I couldn't function. The medication required at least 12 hours of sleep and if you didn't get it you would  be groggy.

BW: Are you able to recognize when you're getting into a depressive or manic state?

Aisha: [Yes]. Now when I feel myself getting manic I clean. It works to my advantage in a way. I've learned to channel the energy for something positive, because it's just energy. I burn it off and then I'm OK.

BW: How do you deal with the depression?

Aisha: I used to push it away, but that didn't help at all. Today I give myself permission to feel whatever it is I'm feeling. If I'm sad, I'll cry, or I'll just say I don't want to be bothered right now.  Sometimes I'll become really quiet, and that's not my personality, so when I'm quiet people know to just give me some space, and I'll allow myself time to feel it. Afterwards, I dust myself off, I get up, and I get back to it.

BW: Is there a downside to not being on the medication?

Aisha: The medication did kind of suppress my mood swings and keep me kind of even, but for me the cost was way higher than the benefits. I work. I'm a fulltime employee. I would not be able to get up at six or seven o'clock in the morning and do the things I do if I was on medication. I just couldn't. To me medication is like putting a bandage on a wound. There have been times throughout the years where I'll call my doctor and say hey, I haven't slept for three days. But I tell her what I want, and the milligrams that I want, and that is what she has to give me. I've changed doctors because they didn't want to give me what I asked for. I know what works for me. 

I had this really great therapist. She told me about the Certified Peer Specialist project and said she thought I would be great. I went to the training. Everywhere I turned people were talking about the Decatur Peer Support, Wellness, and Respite Center. I was like, wow this place sounds amazing. I think I should check it out. I did and I’ve been in love with it ever since.
What I’ve found is that it’s just a conversation. I do have people who come here, who sometimes see things, or hear things that are not there. A lot of times, because they are so comfortable with us, they’ll pull one of us aside and say, hey this is what’s happening. We’ll ask them what they need, or we’ll just sit and talk with them, and by the time we’re finished we’re laughing and they feel better. A lot of times they just want an ear.