In the early 2000’s, in East LA's Maravilla Projects, a resilient individual named Mary faced the challenges of growing up in a low-income area. From early on, she confronted the harsh reality of poverty, dealing with food and clothing insecurity, as well as neglect while living with their grandparents and father. The struggles extended beyond the confines of home, as Mary faced bullying at school, adding to the layers of trauma. Their home environment wasn't safe either, with instances of violence, making it hard for Mary to find solace anywhere. The culmination of these experiences led to the development of anxiety, PTSD, and borderline personality disorder.
Fate took a turn when Mary found themselves in a foster home due to their father's involvement in street activities. This unexpected change brought a silver lining – access to counseling services. In a safe space, Mary opened up about their experiences, discovering coping mechanisms like deep breathing and journaling. Joining the marching band in high school provided a sense of community and friendship, offering a glimmer of hope.
In their early twenties, facing financial struggles, Mary found herself making difficult choices, eventually leading to a dark path. Selling their possessions became a means of survival, but it escalated to a point where she began selling herself.
Life took a decisive turn for Mary in 2017, she was invited to do a turnaround trip to Sacramento for Mental Health Matters with PRPSN. Here she was introduced to the concept of peer support and she was able to connect with peers all across California. It was a revelation that one could use lived experiences to help others without needing a traditional degree. Joining the Warm Line, Mary started facilitating online groups, sharing tools and experiences to support others in their mental health journey.
The journey continued as Mary was internally promoted to a program manager during the COVID-19 pandemic. Leading regional coordinators, Mary utilized her lived experience to support volunteers and oversee programs across different areas. Peer support groups flourished, connecting people from various backgrounds who found solace in shared experiences. She has been with PRPSN for seven years now, and has graduated to being a training instructor with California Association of Peer Supporters (CAPS) Academy.
As she reflected on their transformative journey, she recalled attending a training with Mental Health America Los Angeles (MHALA), where she trained under the now Director of CAPS, Kerry Leonard. Inspired by her authenticity, she aspired to follow suit.
“Bringing things full circle. I am now a trainer and I dress like myself and I come up and I show up authentically and I'm praised for it. I feel like I'm sort of passing the baton to our students and our graduates to be authentically you because the people that we serve also look like us. And so it's important that our community is able to identify with duality,“ Mary said.
Mary expresses her commitment to sharing her personal story to show others that they too can have a full life despite past trauma and mental health challenges. “I hold this hope for others, even when they don’t hold it for themselves. I know that we can bring hope to our community through the skillful sharing of our stories as Peers and help change perspectives and lives one share at a time.”