What I Learned from Hosting 100 Hours of Peer Support

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Peer support isn’t a phrase we hear all that often and I wasn’t fully aware of what it meant until I needed it. 

Two years ago, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship and my recovery from that changed the course of my life. I saw a therapist and spoke to friends but still felt lonely and isolated. When I discovered peer support, I finally discovered people understood me because they had been through a similar situation. I was not only able to talk about what I’d experienced without feeling guilt or shame but was also able to slowly regain confidence and purpose by holding space for others to share.

I wanted to take this discovery and use it to help others. ShareWell was born as a result. Fast forward to one year later and I’ve now hosted over 100 peer support sessions. Here are some of my learnings from 100+ hours of getting and receiving peer support:

  • How to really listen: It sounds simple but listening to other people without interruption and without trying to ‘fix’ them or offer advice is one of the greatest things you can do for someone who’s suffering. Listening without judgment and taking the time to truly understand where someone is coming from can be the best gift for someone in pain.
  • Peer support gives you agency: I no longer felt like I was powerless but that I was able to do some good in the world. I no longer felt ashamed of what had happened and was ready instead to use my experience to help others
  • People are hurting: Now more than ever we need to help each other. Studies show that post-pandemic anxiety and depression have increased by 25% in the US alone but the facilities and resources aren’t there to support this rise. It’s our hope that ShareWell can bridge this gap by providing a peer support solution.
  • It’s not always obvious when someone needs help: I’ve spoken to thousands of people and many, from the outside at least, appear to be put together and extroverted (perhaps how some people see me) but underneath that front, each is fighting their own battle. By talking to people, you realize that everyone is going through something, whether they look like they are or not.
  • Friends and peers are not the same: Friends are people we love to be around and spend time with but they can’t always empathize with what we’ve been through. Peers are not necessarily involved with your day-to-day life but understand you. By embracing both you can tap into what you truly need. Peer support can help strengthen friendships by taking away the strain of difficult conversations and allowing you to simply enjoy each other’s company. 
  • How to empathize with other people: I learned how to acknowledge and validate people’s feelings and what they’ve been through. In giving others space, we can empower them and let them know that how they feel is important. It can be incredibly rewarding to help someone going through a hard time. 

I can honestly say that peer support groups have changed my life. I no longer have traumatic flashbacks to my relationship, my relationships with my friends have improved, I’ve honed my communication skills and I’m a better listener now. But perhaps the most beautiful thing I have taken away from my time in peer support is realizing just how connected we can be to each other. In the last year, I’ve personally spoken with thousands of people from around the world from all different ages and backgrounds and found a deep connection to what each of them was going through. 

I found that when you really understand where someone is coming from, you discover there are many more similarities than differences to your own story.  

The pandemic has caused a lonely world to feel lonelier with over half of Americans reporting feeling lonely and isolated and I firmly believe peer support is the long overlooked solution. I’m grateful to all our ShareWell members for the 100 hours of support and feel incredibly lucky to have this new global family of peers to lean on.