Commentary by Grace Walter

Performing a job that is based on “lived experience” at the young age of 23 has been difficult but rewarding to develop.

For a period of time when I first began this job I was dealing with impostor syndrome, the feeling that you are not good enough for a role. In this case, I had the thought that because I was so young, I would not be taken as seriously as someone with lived experience.

For someone my age I have lived darker days than most, but I am adamant about healing those pains from the past and helping others.

Before I had accepted this, I was less confident in my interactions with peers. I had in my head that I was being looked down upon, and I felt inferior, because a lot of the people I was working with were older and lived through much more than I.

Note – I have never had a peer tell me this, but that’s how anxiety works, your brain twists the way others perceive you and allows you to act from that place of inferiority.

After a couple of months in this position that anxiety began to loosen when I realized how in-my-head I really was. A peer I had been working with who was about 60 years older than me said, “You are really easy to talk to and I look forward to our conversations.”

Such a small compliment went such a long way in my head. I could really see where my position has benefited another just through my words and experience. I no longer felt like I hadn’t lived through enough.

It became clear that it does not matter how much life experience you may have, but instead your kindness, vulnerability, and attentiveness do. These are all attributes that I have kept close throughout my lifetime and have been highlighted through this position. Over time I have realized that no matter your age you always have something to offer. I have become a better person based on the interactions I have had in this job.

Although I have had my downs, I am very fortunate for what I do have. To see the resilience of so many peers throughout their life has made me appreciate the people in my life that love me and the resilience I have inside of me.

This role has highlighted human connection for me and sharing words with people from all walks of life. Humans innately are social creatures, and connection is one of the things that I believe keeps us going.

Living in the generation of social media our society has lost the emphasis on face-to-face connection. This job allowed me to find that again, and gain a confidence in myself that I had never had before.

Grace Walter is a patient representative at Vermont Psychiatric Survivors, serving northern Vermont.

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