My Fitness and Mental Health Journey
Hello everyone, my name is John Joshua William Oxenford, and I work for The NAN Project as a Lead Peer Mentor – I’ve been working with TNP since August of 2020, and find that it gives me (and all of us involved) a platform to give help to people who are struggling with mental illness. The NAN Project helps me reconnect with my acting skills while presenting my own personal story of crisis and recovery. I have been acting since I was eight years old, and have been in a few plays (around 2008-2009) including The Boys of Winter at The Boston Playwrights’ Theatre and Romeo & Juliet for the New Art Theatre in New Hampshire. Music is another huge element in my life. I have my own solo project in the metal genre, and I am looking to expand into other genres by collaborating with other musicians. I just got my very first demo recorded at Chillhouse Recording Studio, and am trying to reach out to other musicians to play with. But my main focus in my life, and something that connects very closely with my mental, physical, emotional–and even spiritual–stability, is fitness! In this story I will discuss how fitness was (and is) a main focus in my life, and how it changed and evolved throughout my life until now; and mainly, how it positively effects and supports my mental health (as well as my physical, emotional, and spiritual health, which in my opinion are all closely connected).
My first form of fitness was soccer. My mother got me involved with Cambridge Youth Soccer at age eight, and I started as a defender on the ‘Ebony’ team; I remember the first time I kicked a soccer ball in a game; the ball came rolling to me, none of the other kids were near – I thought, “What should I do?”– and I made the decision to run up and kick the ball as hard as I could! And that’s when soccer started being a huge part of my life.
My next team was ‘Ivory.’ I was playing with a lot of higher skilled kids, and did what I could when I was on the field, but I didn’t do much. In the last quarter of the season, our extremely supportive coach made it his dedication that my friend and I would each score our very first goal. Believe it or not, before the season was over, we both did! It gave me the idea and understanding that through setting goals and having support from others to accomplish them, one can complete seemingly unreachable ambitions. What a motivation to keep playing my favorite sport.
‘Sky Blue,’ my next team, was a completely different experience… we were losing every game, by massive goal differences. However, even from ‘Sky Blue’ I had a learning opportunity. It must have been one of the last games of the season. All of my teammates had stopped playing, and were literally just standing still (who could blame them?). The other team was kicking the ball around effortlessly, bringing the game to a close… Even though it seemed the match had come to a close, I had not stopped trying. I chased the ball as fast as I could and yelled at my teammates, “Come on guys! It’s not over yet!” And even though they didn’t seem to take any notice, I learned something about myself that day… I am not someone who easily gives up.
Today, as we at TNP present to schools, I remember that moment in my life, and search to convey that life experience to students who might be going through a similar time as I did. Even though I could have seen that game as another hopeless loss, I gave all that I could until the very end; it reminds me of times in my life when I didn’t feel like there was any hope for me; that memory, of not giving up, helps and has helped me know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and there is hope – sometimes you just have to wait it out until it arrives. And even though that season of seemingly endless losses didn’t feel good, it gave me some emotional and mental endurance, for when I was on other teams, that some players had never been through. This endurance is important for me when accomplishing my fitness goals, and something that I carry with me through other challenges in my life.
In high school, I was a starter as a defender, on my school’s, Cambridge Rindge and Latin (CRLS), soccer team, and later transitioned to midfield. Trying out for the team was a heavy challenge, where we had to complete 12 laps on the field’s track (the center field at Danehy Park, that CRLS used for home games and most of the time for practice) in a short amount of time. Even after making the team, the new requirements for midfield were another challenge. Midfield required me to keep my head up and aware, to pass to my teammates as well as still play defense if my team needed it. This required new effort, but it also gave me new self esteem, as I was able to accomplish new challenges that seemed daunting to me at first. Being on this team, from Freshman to Junior year, was exciting, and brought on an event, in my Sophomore year, which is now my favorite memory of playing soccer.
I was a starter in a game, playing midfield, and the ball came to me, and I looked up, seeing that I had some time; I was at the half field line, and found some comfort in kicking the ball a few paces, thinking about what I should do… All of a sudden, I felt an inspiration to kick the ball, and I just let that feeling guide me as I gave everything I had at that moment to kick the ball. I saw it leave my foot, and it soared far over all of the other players and curled smoothly into the upper left side of the other team’s goal, as their keeper dove as far as he could to try to stop the goal. That experience helps me find hope and confidence in myself when I am going through moments of depression or low self esteem, when I feel like I can’t do anything good enough or it’s just not worth trying. I think it is important for people to make note, and remember, those moments in their lives, when they did something that helped them feel good about themselves, when they accomplished something that made them feel really proud – especially when combatting moments of sadness or hopelessness.
And yet, something changed during my senior year of high school. I think it was mainly through my increasing use of substances – that I’d done to try and socialize and have fun and feel confident with other kids – that really brought me down. I became isolated and angry, and doubtful of even my family and friends. Out of nowhere, I decided to stop playing soccer – my only source of fitness. It wasn’t all terrible… I joined the dance club, and was able to perform for the school in their modern dance performance; I was still playing music with friends, and even writing my own songs; I was also winning awards in acting competitions. However, another result of my symptoms, which now I am certain came from substance abuse, was that I decided not to join the school’s theatre department in that year’s play, the play that they were taking to the Massachusetts High School Drama Guild’s Theatre Competition (something that, since Freshman year, had been a main point of every year for me). My symptoms were taking over, and I began to become skeptical of everyone around me, antisocial, introverted, and angry.
This only increased during my first year of college, and led me quickly to make a decision to drop out. I wasn’t playing soccer, and I wasn’t exercising in any way. I tried my skills in the professional acting world, but dropped out of that too. I stopped communicating with friends and family, and, all of this doubt in the world and anger of things not going my way and lack of trust in people who could have helped me, led me to attempt suicide. The first thing I remember, after waking up in hospital, is seeing my mom; and that was a very appropriate experience, because it was mainly through her advice and encouragement that I began to incorporate fitness into my life, again, in other ways.
After my recovery in hospital, I began living in a group home in Somerville, MA, and was just beginning to put my life together again, more independently this time. I began to trust my mother (again) and we regained our close bond that we’d had before I began substance abuse. She advised me to get a membership at a gym, and I began to research gyms that were close to where I lived. It took a few years of trying out different gyms, with different locations, different trainers, and different vibes and environments… Eventually I found a gym that was, appropriately, in the same building as the Mass Rehab building that I was going to to look for work and train for job interviews – just a 10 minute walk from where I was living. I got some lessons with a trainer there that helped me get comfortable with the gym, as I began to decide what workouts I wanted to incorporate into my routine. I started to feel like a real gym goer, and so I also began to acquire the feeling of being in another community, one that was focused solely on physical health. However, I was still trying to find the correct medications for me, and thus was going in and out of hospitalizations. The decision I made after my final release from hospital, was a milestone in my fitness lifestyle.
With the exception of “Fresh Air,” time (when we were taken outside for an hour twice a day, in a fenced off area, to shoot some hoops and get a breather) I was stuck indoors for about a month. My mother was very worried about me not getting any exercise, so, she bought me some pushup rotation handles – and even bought a treadmill for the ward! So, I became accustomed to counting out some pushups, when I felt like it, and getting a good 20-30 minute fast walk when the inspiration called. So, it was out of hospital, after my last hospitalization, with my medications finally set in a way that was comfortable for me, that I began to make some consistent fitness goals for myself to accomplish. Every day, I did 10 pushups, and jogged to the bridge and back (about 30 minutes). And, I did this routine, practically every day without fail, for a year. Once I got comfortable with that routine, I added 5-10 more pushups, and jogged a little bit further, on the Boston esplanade (about 45 min).
It was around then that I began working as a cleaner for Boston Sports Club, and later, Boston Racquet Club. Through being immersed in the gym experience, and seeing other people’s routines, and experimenting with different workouts, I found my own routine. Now, I write down a percentage of how much I worked out every day; with my main routine being, given enough time, 4 sets of 10 pushups, 2 sets of 10 situps, 2 sets of 10 crunches, and a 30 minute jog on the treadmill. I also do some cardio on the row machine sometimes, as well as some calisthenic cardio (like high knees or fast feet). Sometimes I do some free weight work, or a few sets on the gym machines. And if I don’t have enough time to do all that, I do the most that I can. I’ve been more than happy now that we are into spring, and I count that my jog (around the Charles River in Cambridge) clocks from 40 min to 50 minutes! And it was only through first completing my smaller tasks that I am now able to accomplish these larger tasks, so something I always say is, “10 steps is better than no steps.” When I started working out, of course I had my dreams and ambitions, but I also knew that I wasn’t going to get there in one day.I think one should always feel good about accomplishing the basics first, and set the greater ambitions after one has achieved those smaller, more basic goals. With fitness, this is especially important in order to exercise safely. Also, living (finally) in my own apartment, nearer to the river–and in a healthier environment–has increased my motivation for fitness exponentially. So make sure you are feeling good about what you are doing, because emotional support helps physical achievements greatly.
Another compliment to my mom! She offered that we work out every Sunday with a friend she met at work – who worked out at gym classes all the time! I said yes, and we take turns every week on leading the workout for 45 minutes; we do leg work, with some activities like lunges, monster walks, and jump squats; fast interval cardio, with fast feet, high knees, and jumping jacks; abdominal work, with bicycles, planks, and standing crunches; I otherwise would not have added these workouts into my workout routine – plus I get two fitness trainers and get to be a trainer myself every third week as well! On rainy days, I stay in and do some fast feet, high knees, jumping jacks, and jumping rope, with some pushups and crunches and situps.
On days where I don’t have the energy to complete my goals 100%, I do the most I feel I’m motivated to do (10 pushups is better than none); and if I were to recommend some ways to workout on “not-motivated days”, I would say, get a trainer at a gym, or set up your workouts with a friend, to hold yourself more accountable and not to have to rely wholly on yourself every day, you don’t have to be down on yourself for not accomplishing 100% of your goals every day. I remember at work (with The NAN Project), me and another coworker found out fitness was a mutual element in one another’s lives – so we set up a pushup contest, at lunch! So, on a day where I would have otherwise not done too much fitness activity, I got to check off my pushups goal–as well as others that I did after the motivation I got from the pushup contest.
Fitness meets my physical goal, but it also meets my emotional, mental – and even spiritual – goals. Maintaining my fitness routine helps me feel good about myself, emotionally, of the fact that I met an important goal in my life. Even if I don’t look like a first place body builder (yet?..), just the fact that I accomplished something that means a lot to me helps me feel happy and proud of myself every day I accomplish it. Mentally, I am sure, fitness is a requirement; oxygen and blood circulation going through my entire system keeps me in a good mental state, and helps keep my thoughts on a healthy track. And, lastly, spirituality… I used to think, being diagnosed with a mental illness contradicted spirituality, and I would self diagnose any event (that I used to think was spiritual) as a symptom. I often get feelings, sensations, or thoughts when I work out that I would call spiritual, and, through therapy, I am now able to be with those events without diagnosing them as symptoms, and be aware of symptoms as separate from those experiences. Jogging around the Charles River (in the city I grew up in, living in my own apartment, and being in a healthy environment) helps me have faith, that, through consistent dedication to the things that matter to me, I am seen as a person who can help this world, by a power that looks well upon a person who cultivates healthy energies to make a healthier world.
Keeping up with consistent exercise has physiological benefits that can improve one’s mental health, but it is also the routine and discipline in meeting my fitness goals that has helped me keep on my path to recovery. Whatever your level of motivation, I encourage you to start a goal on something that matters to you in your life. It is both the effect of doing something that matters to you as well as the pride you feel in achieving a goal, that can help you in improving your wellbeing.
The NAN Project Celebrates Pride Month 2022
June is celebrated as LGBTQ Pride month across the world. In recognition of LGBTQ Pride month The Nan Project would like to highlight five mental health resources that LGBTQ youth can access year round. Throughout the article, we will be mentioning “drop-in centers,” which are places for people to hang out, connect with others in a variety of groups, and access resources such as healthcare supplies and food.
One center LGBTQ youth can go to is BAGLY in Boston, MA. BAGLY (The Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth) is a drop-in center that is a part of the AGLY Network, which has locations across Massachusetts that offer resources and programs for LGBTQ youth. BAGLY specifically offers group therapy, a narrative art therapy group where youth create art based on therapeutic prompts, and free 101 therapy sessions affectionately called “Tea Time.” Therapy services are free and open to LGBTQ youth under the age of 25. You also do not need to have proof of identification or health insurance to receive these services. BAGLY also offers a variety of non-therapeutic social groups and programming as well as HIV/STI testing for LGBTQ youth under the age of 22.
Another drop-in center LGBTQ youth can go to is Boston GLASS (Gay & Lesbian Adolescent Social Services). Boston GLASS caters to LGBTQ people of color ages 13-29 and offers HIV/STI testing, PrEP access, as well as sexual wellness counselling. Additionally there is virtual or in-person therapy, in-home family therapy, and therapeutic monitoring offered. Similar to BAGLY, youth do not need insurance to receive services as all GLASS services are free. Youth can also attend a variety of social groups and events hosted by GLASS that cater to different interests and needs of the LGBTQ youth community.
Other Community Resources
One resource that serves both youth and their loved ones or caretakers is Greater Boston PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), where folks receive support and education around their/their child’s sexuality or gender identity. These support groups are run by parents of LGBTQ youth or adults and take place across Massachusetts. They also have a helpline people can call for resources and to have their questions answered if they cannot attend an in-person support group.
A favorite for healthcare across the local LGBTQ community, The Sidney Borum Jr Center in Boston provides mental health counseling, support groups for transgender youth and adults, substance abuse treatment, STD testing and treatment, and medical care. The Sidney Borum Jr Center takes most insurances.
Finally, a virtual resource LGBTQ youth can access across the country is The Trevor Project, which has a helpline folks can call for support, as well as a text line and an online chat room they can use if they aren’t able to make a phone call. The chat room has a private feature that enables the user to close the tab with three taps of the “esc” button if they cannot show their family their computer screen for safety reasons. The Trevor Project also has online chat rooms that LGBTQ youth can use to connect with each other.
These are not the only services available to LGBTQ youth in Massachusetts. There are a lot of organizations able and ready to serve the extensive and varying needs of LGBTQ youth, and we encourage you to reach out for either yourself or someone you know if you need it.
Links to These Resources
Greater Boston PFLAG
Sidney Borum Jr Health Center
The Trevor Project
Peer Coordinator Spotlight – Erica
Meet Our New Peer Coordinator, Erica!
Please join us in welcoming our newest Peer Coordinator, Erica, who came to The NAN Project four months ago. They have stepped right in to connect with students in the classroom and have begun shaping a new project with local colleges!
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up outside of Washington DC, went to school in Cleveland, and then moved to the Boston area. I’ve been here ever since and love it! I’ve been playing ultimate Frisbee for a while, it’s a big passion of mine. I also like learning new recipes, looking after my many houseplants, and playing with my cat, Julep.
Does the Peer Coordinator position at The NAN Project fit into your personal goals?
I always knew I wanted to work face-to-face with people in a helping role. What better way to do that than to share my mental health journey with others to make them feel less alone, and perhaps get people to seek help earlier? It gives me hope to hear the way students speak about mental health in the classroom. I think that self-awareness, especially when practiced at a younger age, gives people a greater chance of leading healthy and balanced lives.
What strategies do you employ in managing your own mental health?
I love this question because I think it probably changes from year to year as I get to know myself better. Currently what works for me is going to bed on time, leaving time and space for me to feel my feelings, exercising regularly, and talking to my therapist.
What has been notable in your presentations to students in the classroom?
The first thing I notice is that students are much more aware of mental health in general than when I was at their age. There are a lot of student questions wondering what will happen once they ask for help, and worries that reaching out might not help them. We encourage people not to give up, to keep reaching out and fighting for themselves. Everyone is worthy of help, and no one is beyond help. I tell students, “While you might not get exactly what you need right away, help is out there for you.” I think the Comeback Stories we share in schools reflect that learning what you need and how to get it is a process, and does improve over time. Another common theme among student questions is how to help a friend who might be struggling, which is something we do cover in our messaging. It’s encouraging that so many people want to be supportive friends!
How do you like to spend your free time?
I play for a few ultimate Frisbee teams in the Boston area throughout the year. When I’m on the field, I am fully engaged and focused on what I’m doing. It gets me running around outside (in the warmer months), and I get to see old friends and meet new people. I also have an ever-growing houseplant collection–I love watching my plants change throughout the seasons, and learn what they need by paying attention to them.
What do you hope for your future?
I want to learn more about the professional career options in the mental health field, as this is my first time working in the mental health space. Whether I pursue another degree or not, I want to be a support to the communities of which I am a part.
Peer Mentor Spotlight: Alison Sabean
This month, The Nan Project would like to highlight Alison Sabean in our Peer Mentor Spotlight! Alison has been working with us for almost two years now, and her story leaves her audiences with a message of hope. She has presented her story numerous of times to schools all across Massachusetts! Thank you Alison for being apart of this Peer Mentor Spotlight!
Hi Alison! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I was wondering if I could start off by asking you how you heard about The NAN Project, and what made you join!
Hi Elli! Thank you for interviewing me! I heard about The NAN Project when I participated in a young adult program through The Department of Mental Health called GIFT. It stands for Gathering Inspiring Future Talent. Through that program, we all had a common theme of having past histories with mental health challenges that want to get back into the workforce. GIFT had a partnership with The NAN Project, so that’s where I heard about it, and the rest is history!
I decided to join because I was really struggling to hold a job and I felt like this was something that I was meant to do. I am really passionate about telling my mental health story; being able to do it AND get paid is a dream come true!
What have been some highlights/rewards you’ve gained working with us?
One of my biggest highlights was definitely speaking at the Night For NAN. I was really flattered to be asked to speak after working only less than a year with the project. I think it really speaks to me feeling accepted by The NAN Project, and it was a feeling I never felt with any other job.
I think another thing is a highlight is just presentations in general and really getting deep and speaking to the students, talking with faculty, and being able to educate people. I also like being able to meet some really cool people through working at this job.
What was your most meaningful presentation and why?
Definitely speaking at the Night For NAN and specifically because it was an opportunity I’ve never had before. I found it really meaningful to speak to a room full of almost complete strangers, considering there were so many folks who attended the Night For NAN. It boosted my self esteem as well. Also, the Night For NAN is such a meaningful event for The NAN Project, so it felt really good to be chosen to speak at a night dedicated to the project.
For readers who don’t know your story, what are some coping skills you’ve learned over the years to take care and overcome your mental health challenges?
There have been a lot of different coping skills I’ve learned over the years and I use different skills for different situations. I think my main coping skills that I use are playing with my cat, expressing myself by doing art, writing/journaling, and physical activity when I can. I also consider coping and taking care of myself by taking my medication on time, going to regular doctor appointments and therapy, and making sure to keep up with all my requirements.
What are you grateful for?
I am definitely grateful for The NAN Project for giving me a way to be employed. I am also grateful for my family and friends for being supportive throughout my mental health journey and now my physical health issues. I am also grateful for my cat Iris. In 2020 I started my masters degree in social work, so I am grateful to be able to be a part of their program at Boston College.
I know you talk a lot about your cat Iris, can you talk a little bit about her and why she’s so important to you?
Yeah! So I had a cat since I was in the third grade and he lived until he was 19 years old which is pretty impressive. We had to put him down and I was pretty devastated over it. I was really heartbroken after we put him down, so I kept begging my parents to let me get another cat and they finally caved! My cat, Iris is such a joy. It’s kind of interesting how animals react to mental health situations. I know she needed me just as much as I needed her. We are inseparable, to the point where she follows me everywhere around the house! She’s a cutie and I love her so much!
Aw I love that! Iris seems like such a great companion to have! The last question I have is: do you have any advice for students who may be struggling, especially during this crazy time during COVID.
I’d say that if you’re struggling, definitely reach out to someone. Whoever it may be, make sure it’s someone you feel comfortable with. Keep up hope that things will get better. There have been a lot of times where I’ve lost hope and something good can come my way. I also think that if you are in therapy or getting help in some way for a mental health issue, don’t give up. Just remember that you can do this and there’s so much more life to live than struggling with your mental health challenges. Maybe you won’t overcome it, but you will learn how to manage it, and live with it.
Thank you Alison for having this interview with me! I loved hearing a little bit about your life and how much you’ve overcome over the years.
Thank you so much Elli for interviewing me!
Peer Mentor Spotlight: Andrew Christopher
This month The NAN Project would like to feature Andrew in our regular PM Spotlight section. Andrew has been with the NAN Project after completing the last Peer Mentor training back in January of 2020. Andrew brings a lot of positivity to The NAN Project as well as some great ideas and lots of unique knowledge.
1). Tell us how you learned about TNP and why you decided to join? How has your time with the NAN Project been ever since you completed the training?
I actually first learned about The NAN Project about four years ago when I was approached by Ellen Dalton when I was working for Eliot Community Human Services at the time in a different role and at the time I actually passed up the opportunity and I’m coming to regret that as it seems like a great organization. So far, my time with The NAN Project has been great, it’s been very rewarding. You get to work with some very nice people and get to do worthwhile work as well.
2). For our readers who haven’t had the chance to hear your story, can you highlight some of the supports you used to overcome your mental health challenges?
Certainly. Growing up I was a kid that had some issues. I was bullied. I have a few learning disabilities. The support systems that really helped me was a school counselor, a therapist and my parents mostly. My counselor advocated for one thing that really helped me – I got to take my tests in another room to limit distractions. They have all been crucial in getting me where I am today.
3). I know you mention your love of sports in your Comeback Story. What is your favorite to play? And what is your favorite to watch?
Hockey has always been my favorite sport both to watch and to play. During this time I’ve actually been watching some old game I’ve never seen. They were there before my time, but still very fun to watch. The Summit Series between the USSR and Canada from the 70’s I found very interesting in particular.
4). You mentioned in your Comeback Story that quitting sports was probably one of the biggest regrets in your life. What made you get into sports and what was the first sport that you did?
It really is one of the bigger regrets in my life I would say. I had always been someone that played sports. I come from a family that was very much into athletics and I grew up playing hockey. I essentially learned to skate as I learned to walk and after that I got into baseball, football, soccer, lacrosse and basketball all at different times. Hockey and lacrosse are definitely the most fun to play though. Sports was a good outlet, where mental health didn’t matter. It wasn’t something that came up on the field, which I liked as a kid.
5). Were there any other jobs that you had in the past prior to working with The NAN Project that was related to Mental Health?
Yes, I actually worked for Eliot Community Human Services as a Peer Specialist in a group home for about five years called The Avenues Home. I got to work with some great kids, and through working with them, learned about myself.
6). What would you say was the most meaningful presentation that you did? And why?
One of the afternoon presentations we did in Methuen High School. I would say we had a very good group of kids that day. They were very active listeners and they had very good questions. I feel like my story related to more than a handful of kids in the room which is always very rewarding, even if you have two kids responding to your story that it’s a win – but it seemed that there seemed to be eight or nine at the time that was a really cool feeling for me.
7). You mention being an avid reader in your Comeback Story. Can you tell us about a book you’ve recently finished, or about your favorite author.
A book I’m currently reading is about a French guy in the first World War called Poilu. It’s his four years of notebooks from serving in the first World War. It’s an interesting read. One of my favorite authors though would be Kurt Vonnegut. I read just about everything he wrote before he passed away. What he wrote was always funny, smart and witty; there are no just not many writers of his quality, I think, with his humor.
8). Lastly, what is one thing that you feel grateful for in your life now?
The health and wellness of my family, especially during this time. I’ve been very thankful during the Covid crisis no one in my family has come down sick or anything. My brother still lives in Brooklyn so we’ve all been very worried about him. So, I’m very thankful for everyone that I know dearly that are healthy at this time.
Thanks for sitting down to chat, Andrew!
To read more Peer Mentor Spotlights, click here!
Peer Mentor Spotlight: Jocelyn Cote-Pedraza
Jocelyn has been working for The NAN Project since last spring, and in the year that she’s been with us, she has grown so much! Jocelyn’s story is one of resilience and determination, of overcoming stereotypes and rising through adversity. I had a chance to sit down with Jocelyn, and chat about life, coping skills, and her work with The NAN Project.
Hi Jocelyn! Thank you for letting me interview you for the PM spotlight!
Hi Elli! Thank you for having me!
No problem! I want to start off by asking you to talk a little bit about yourself, and how did you hear about TNP:
Okay! I am 22 years old and I was born and raised in Lowell, Massachusetts. I currently work part-time for The NAN Project, and I’m also a rape crisis counselor and a sexual assault advocate. I attend Middlesex Community College, and I am studying business. I heard of The NAN Project through the GIFT training I attended, as The NAN Project and GIFT work very closely. I’ve been working for The NAN Project for a little over a year now, and it’s very important work for me. As a child i felt i was born to be a leader instead of a follower. I enjoy being apart of something bigger than myself and making an impact on others. Since working with human services, I have found my niche.
Wow! You have a lot going on for you right now, I’m glad you’re keeping busy! So now that you’ve worked for The NAN Project for over a year now, what has your overall experience been like with us? Have you had any challenges or rewards?
Yeah, I can start with the challenges. I grew up in a culture where talking about your struggles were frowned upon and mental health was acknowledged but not addressed. I was told to keep everything in private and “what’s said in the house, stays in the house.” For a while I had a hard time expressing my my feelings and emotions, making it hard for me to advocate for myself. I kept everything inside. When joining The NAN Project, I still felt that it was difficult to talk about what my childhood. But with some time, I started to open up and I decided to share more information on my life and struggles. I’m constantly evolving in moving forward with my journey, and I’m starting to feel more confident sharing my newest version of my comeback story. One reward I got from this job was having one student from Medford High School come up to me afterwards to tell me he resonated with my story. He told me he struggled with some of the same things I did, and then he thanked me for sharing. This was really rewarding because I felt that if I could connect with at least one person, then my line of work has been fulfilled.
Wow! That’s amazing how far you’ve come since you started working for us. When you aren’t working, what do you like to do in your free time? What are some things you like to do for fun?
I enjoy doing a lot of things outside of work. For example, I have a passion for working on my own personal cars in my down time.. I’ve turned this hobby into my upcoming business: Pedraza Performance. I also enjoy attending jazz nights, comedy clubs and poetry, as I feel that these activities keep me afloat.
I’m wondering if you can tell me some skills you use on an “off” day to cope with your mental health challenges.
Like I said earlier, I really like working on cars, even on an “off” day. It’s very therapeutic for me because my mind views it as a puzzle. Each car I would view as challenge: to diagnose, analyze, and further assist the situation. When I’m not working on cars, I also really like to spend some time in the outdoors. I enjoy hiking, biking, and spending time on a lake. Getting outside of the city gives me a break from my busy life. On top of these coping skills, I like to use positive self-talk to remind myself that I got this.
You have very cool coping skills! I have one more question for you. What do you hope for in your future?
I’m currently in the process of pursuing my future. Im attending workshops and seminars to purchase my first home. I’d like to further expand my business and open a dealerships that gives 10% of my profit to a non-profit organization that helps people in recovery because, i know how hard the journey of recovery could be. Asking for help can be the hardest first steps, but acknowledging and validating one’s journey can be life altering for someone who may be struggling.
Thanks Jocelyn, for all of your work with us over the past year, and for sitting down with me today. I can’t wait until Pedraza Performance is up and running!
Sarah Dickie PM Spotlight Interview
Sarah came on board with The NAN Project in February of 2018 after completing a Peer Mentor Training at the TEMPO drop-in center in Framingham. Since then, she’s been crushing it with us! Sarah’s main message is about her struggle with parental abuse, and how that led her to having poor body image issues, and severe anxiety. She has a great message about how beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and how she powered through her struggles. We had the opportunity to sit down with Sarah and ask her a few questions and this is what she had to say!
Hi Sarah! Thank you for coming out to do this!
Thank you so much for interviewing me. I feel honored!
You’re welcome! I want to start off by asking you to briefly talk a little bit about yourself. What do you like to do in your free time?
I’ll first start off and say that I am a senior at Framingham State, and my major is Sociology with a minor in Psychology. I also live in Framingham, with my boyfriend and our big cat named Bunnie. In my free time, I like to draw, journal, find new music, play lots of video games and lastly I am trying to teach myself to play the ukulele… with some success! (laughs)
That’s so cool you’re teaching yourself to play the ukulele! I was wondering what your overall experience has been like working for The NAN Project.
It’s really different from any other job I’ve ever had and I feel like this is actually a really good fit for me. The biggest challenge I face is that I have actually always been really nervous of public speaking, which can make it hard sometimes to step in front of the crowd. I feel like I always have my face in my paper (laughs), but each presentation makes it a little easier to talk in front of a crowd. The reward from this job is that I feel like it’s fulfilling. It’s important for me to be doing this.
I totally agree with you, Sarah. I was excused in high school from all public presentations because it would scare me so much…but look where we are now!
Me too! (chuckles)
What motivates you to keep working with us? What about the job makes it worth coming back?
A couple things makes it worth coming back. It’s really rewarding and important work, like I said before and I really think that’s one reason why I keep doing presentations. We’re making a difference by doing this work and it matters to people. Also, I learn more about myself by writing my comeback story and condensing all that I’ve been through into a cohesive narrative. It put some things into perspective for me and I feel like I know myself better, so that’s also been rewarding as well.
Thanks Sarah, that was a good answer!
Thanks Elli, I say smart things from time to time! (giggles)
I’m wondering if you can tell me some skills you use on an “off” day to cope with your mental health challenges.
I really do like to journal. I like to write about how I’m feeling and stuff that happens to me throughout my day-to-day life. I like to draw as a distraction to my mind, and I also use breathing exercises. For example, I like to breathe in for three seconds, and exhale for three seconds. I also use grounding a lot and lastly, my cat is a good resource when I’m upset. He probably doesn’t know that, but I really like to sit with him or put my face in his fur; it’s really soothing.
Okay last question: What do you hope for in your future?
A couple things. The first is that I really want to be comfortable with myself. It sounds like a small thing but it’s really hard for me to love myself. I’m working on it, it’s definitely better than it was but I’d really like to say that I genuinely love who I am. I’d also like to have a career in mental health, whether that be mental health education or mental health support. That’s really the direction I want to go. Lastly, I would really like to live in Boston!
Alright! Well thank you Sarah for answering these questions, and good luck!
Thank you Elli!
Elli Peltola – Peer Mentor Spotlight
|We want to acknowledge some amazing work that’s been done by one of our rising Peer Mentor stars! Elli Peltola is a dedicated, and enthusiastic young woman. She has been working with us for some time now, and tells a wonderful story of her battle with self-harm and how she learned to love herself. We had the time to ask Elli a few questions, and here’s what we got.
Elli, can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
What are you up to these days, Elli?
Tell us a bit more about your experience with The NAN Project…
How did you get involved with The NAN Project?
Growing up I struggled to find hope in myself. I never thought I was important….until I started with The NAN Project. I had low self esteem and didn’t think my story could impact others but I was so wrong. I do have a purpose in this world and I am important. It’s hard to think you’re special when your world seems to be crashing down but there is ALWAYS someone out there who loves you and believes in you.
What do you use to cope with your own mental health challenges these days?The biggest resource I have found is just reaching out to others. Back when I was really struggling, this was something I’d NEVER do because I never wanted help. I didn’t want people to “help” me. It’s crazy how much a person can change over the years. A lot of my friends/loved ones/my providers know that when I’m upset, I think irrationally and react impulsively. I am very grateful to have these supports who understand how I think and do their best to not have me react without thinking. One big thing that many of them do with me, is distract me from the negative situation and thoughts that are going through my head. For some reason, it tends to work most of the time. I’m also grateful I have people in my life who are willing to help and support me when I’m in need and they know how to react/respond when I need to reach out.
Can you suggest any other coping strategies for other PMs?
Thanks, Elli for taking the time to talk with us!