As one of our fantastic Peer Support Specialists at Bridport Community Front Room (CFR), Xabi Gawler helps and supports people through some of their darkest days. Here, Xabi talks of the privilege and gratitude she feels for being able to accompany visitors on their journey to wellbeing.
“As a peer specialist, visitors to the CFR know that I have shared experience of ‘dark days’.
“I went to Bournemouth Retreat in the depths of despair. Not wanting to go on and found the strength and support I needed to begin my recovery.
“When I had recovered enough, I wanted to help others and I contacted the Harmony Drop-in Centre in Bridport and spoke to the manager Caroline Gamble.
“She recognised something in me and was and still is, so supportive. I have been lucky to be with the Bridport CFR since it opened on July 11, 2018.
“I didn’t feel nervous when I started in the role. I felt quietly confident. I was in a good place in my wellbeing.
“I had lots of questions of course, which were all answered, and great training.
“I just knew my shared experience was going to help other people and it does.
“We try to build a rapport with someone – and this can be at the first meeting or the 12th as we are all human and all different and there are no time limits at the CFR.
“Once that happens it’s amazing. Like seeing a spark, when the person realises they are no longer alone in the darkness.
“There have been many times when visitors have looked me straight in the eye and said: "You get it! You really get it!" This leaves them feeling heard and validated.
“I personally believe that everyone has the answers, but they just need help to unlock them.
“One of the most interesting things we discovered during Covid, was that some of our existing visitors actually coped better with the lockdown than people who had had no previous mental health issues. It was like they had the tools to cope, while those who had been enjoying steady lives with work and routine were affected badly by what was suddenly happening around them.
“Personally, being part of the CFR has given me fulfilment and joy.
“I am part of a very nurturing and supportive team. We look out for each other. We know each other’s triggers and we step in accordingly to help each other out or when we know someone is not alright.
“Qualifications don’t count for much. Shared experience, warmth and empathy are key and I’m grateful that Caroline was able to see this in me and give me a chance.
“At the CFR we invite visitors to look at their own thoughts and behaviours by way of gently challenging them where appropriate and I often apply questions I ask our visitors to myself.
“For example, I heard myself recently ask someone: "What kinds of things did you do in happier times?"
“I took that question home with me and have now restarted my fishkeeping hobby after a number of years.
“My work also helps me to maintain my own wellbeing.
“I would urge others with shared experience to volunteer with the CFRs and see if it’s for them.
“The CFR is like a being in a comforting circle of support with endless ripples.”BCHA