Reflections of a new Peer Worker

Lauren Nolan and child.jpgABOVE: Lauren Nolan with her daughter, Hunter. PHOTO COURTESY LAUREN NOLAN

By Lauren Nolan

I started at Flourish Australia in February 2019, so I am very new to Peer Work, and support work in general. My background is in copywriting, content writing and marketing. About a year ago I started rethinking what I wanted to do as I was feeling incredibly unfulfilled at work.

At the time, I had a little side job as a Holistic Coach where I would support people who were stuck creatively, at work, or at home. I helped them develop tools to manage their lives better. It was great, however I felt limited with how far I could help them. It was then I decided to study counselling. I then stumbled across the Peer Worker role at Flourish Australia. It sounded too good to be true because it was so aligned with what I wanted to do. I had to apply!

Starting at Flourish Australia felt like a breath of fresh air after the suffocating corporate environment. From day one, I felt welcomed and supported. Buddying with the HASI (Housing and Accommodation Support Initiative) team at Marrickville was so valuable in shaping my understanding of peer work. Very quickly, I felt that this is what I’m meant to do – and I’ve never felt that before.

It took me a while for my own lived experience to come up because, initially, I didn’t really understand exactly how to use it in my work or what would be appropriate. How to do this is covered in Flourish Australia’s training course, Peer Work: Using Lived Experience in the peer space, which Flourish Australia provides for new staff.

To give an example of how I use my lived experience, a woman I support was explaining how she tried going to the shops by herself recently but was so anxious she had to go home. I listened and told her that I understood, as I too used to experience high anxiety in similar situations, specifically food courts. I offered a suggestion where we could work towards a goal of her going to the shops by herself. 

I told her of a strategy that I found helpful, which is having an anchor point at the shopping centre, somewhere a bit away from the busy energy, where she can feel okay and regroup when things get overwhelming. Then once she was calmer, she could attempt to continue. I explained she could go back to the anchor point as many times as she needs to. 

This strategy helped me a lot, and she said she would really like to try it. 

What I would do differently would be to reassure her that I no longer get anxiety in food courts, because she asked worriedly if I would be okay to go to the food court for her to get lunch. Next time, I would be sure to clarify that it’s no longer an issue and definitely not something for her to be concerned about!

Yesterday, I used my lived experience chatting to a person who said the main emotion he feels every day is anxiety, but that he would like to feel joy and contentment too. I let him know of a way that would help me move towards joy when I was really suffering.

“I’m learning that using my lived experience doesn’t only have to be about “strategies”, but simply understanding, listening and being able to read people and situations in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to if I hadn’t experienced it myself.” 

I told him that I discovered that you can’t feel anxiety and gratitude at the same time. I explained that by simply shifting my perspective to feeling grateful for simple things, like the tea that I was making, to be in my home, about to have a warm and comforting beverage, I began to feel less anxious. 

I said that gratitude doesn’t have to be huge but making it about small things – tea, clothes out of the dryer (which he said he likes), sunshine on your face – it can seriously shift how you feel. He really liked this way of looking things and he said he wanted to try it.

I’m learning that using my lived experience doesn’t only have to be about “strategies”, but simply understanding, listening and being able to read people and situations in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to if I hadn’t experienced it myself.”

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