By Ana Keck, Afiya The person who answered your call to stay at Afiya could have been me. When I answer the phone at the respite, I often find myself wondering what the caller thinks of me. When I called to stay at Afiya myself, I had a quite radically different vision of what the person on the other end of the phone was like. I pictured someone very much in charge, with their life together, who maybe had some hard times years ago. Now being on the other side of the phone, I can tell you I have not reached some recovery nirvana. I don’t actually want to get there, because I personally don’t think it exists. I could be in the midst of a variety of hard or wonderful or transformative life experiences right now. I just happen to have the emotional space to support other people, too, and so here I am at work today.
The mission statement for the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community’s peer respite (Afiya) is “To provide a safe space in which each person can find the balance and support needed to turn what is so often referred to as ‘crisis’ into a learning and growth opportunity.” Although I sometimes question our choice to use the word ‘safe’ (given how impossible an absolute version of ‘safe’ is to achieve and how saddled with distasteful meaning such a term can be within the mental health system), I’m not sure that statement could otherwise be any more straight forward and meaningful. Yet, so often, It’s unclear what meaning people are truly making of it.
By Dani, Director at Afiya For anyone who’s unfamiliar, Afiya is the first peer-run respite in Massachusetts and it is one of only about 18 in the country. It’s no surprise, then, that people are confused about how we do things. But, it’s not just confusion. I’ve come to realize there is actual defensiveness that arises at times when we talk about what we do at the house. If I’m wearing my activist hat, this can be supremely annoying.
Those of us who are concerned about the state of the behavioral health service system would agree that voluntary, cost-effective services and supports that preclude the need for coerced or institutional treatment should be widely available. Peer respites may be one component of such a system.
While I have lived just a few miles away from the Capitol for the last fifteen years, I have been unsure about getting involved in legislative advocacy. I’ve been intimidated by the complexity of the legislative process, and more inclined to leave it up to others who I perceive as having more experience than me. And honestly, I haven’t felt very hopeful about effecting change. My cynicism had turned to “learned helplessness.” And then along came a mental health bill so destructive, so regressive, that I had to step out of my uncomfortable comfort zone.
Yana Jacobs and I both served at medication free madness sanctuaries. She at Soteria House and I at I-Ward. In this television interview, Yana...