During a recent peer discussion, certified peer specialist (CPS) Rev. Ronald Boykin brought his insights to a timely topic. Many individuals with behavioral health problems feel marginalized, stigmatized, and even discriminated against. Often these feelings are due to public misunderstanding about the nature of mental illness. Additionally, many of the peers participating in the Perry Wellness Center recovery program are racial minorities, a fact that can further contribute to a sense of “otherness” in society. Whatever the causes, Rev. Boykin feel that individuals must take responsibility for their own feelings and celebrate their cultures and identities.
In the discussion, one peer shared her perception that people look at her differently because she attends Perry Wellness Center. It was stressed that nothing is wrong with a person attending a wellness center in order to receive help, but there is something wrong when people don’t admit that they need help. Rev. Boykin urged peers to take the focus off what other people think of them -- or what they perceive that others might think, and place the focus on getting well and celebrating who they are.
The CPS facilitator spoke from his own experience, sharing his personal recovery story. After a promising beginning as a straight “A” student and an Ivy League graduate of Princeton (fourth in his class!), he found himself in battles with depression and finally went to prison after his life fell apart. Rev. Boykin related that, after the loss of four children to miscarriages and premature birth and a troubled marriage that twice ended in divorce, he attempted suicide. He said that the felt marginalized by the very doctor from whom he sought help, as the doctor did not seem to believe anything that he shared with him. From that moment onward, he realized that he possessed the ability to help himself without the assistance of drugs.
Rev. Boykin informed the group that he loves his life now and makes every effort to enjoy life on a daily basis without giving power over to others. Rather than throwing a “pity party” due to current custody battles, for example, he tries to take inventory of the positive things he still possesses that no situation or person can ever take from him. He also pointed out to his peers that it is not his business what others think of him, noting that if he could touch one life by sharing his recovery story, it was worth any stigma he might face.
The group session included positive interactions among peers as they shared their own recovery stories. A peer discussion group such as this relies upon an accepting and sharing atmosphere. Individuals are more willing to share their own feelings and concerns when such openness is modeled by staff and peer leaders. Rev. Boykin’s willingness to share his own story in front of visiting nurses from the local university spoke volumes to the assembled peers.
The group discussion ended with an emphasis upon celebrating our diversity. Rev. Boykin strongly believes that individuals must understand and accept their own identities before attempting to understand other cultures. Too often, judgments are quickly made about others on the basis of race, class, sexual orientation, or belief system. He encouraged peers to get out and experience other cultures, ethnic groups, and belief systems, while at the same time being proud of the person God created them to be. Rev. Boykin found that this attitude has kept him going strong even in the worst imaginable environments. He challenged the group not to wear a mask of happiness while silently remaining angry, depressed, and despondent because of feelings of victimization. Instead, individuals can remove those masks and celebrate their differences while not comparing themselves to others.
Ronald Boykin’s powerful words were a testimony to the power of a positive attitude and self-management in the recovery process. We know his words will continue to resonate for many listeners.
In the photo above, Rev. Ronald Boykin, CPS, shares his story and challenges other peers at Perry Wellness Center.