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Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change

Recovery and Resilience: Sharing Our Wisdom—Lived Experience and COVID-19 with Bridgett Williamson and Pauline Bernard

An episode of “Changing the Conversation” podcast

Bridgett Williamson and Pauline Bernard discuss COVID-19 pandemic experiences and how people with lived experiences can support others with host Katie Volk. This episode is sponsored by the New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network (MHTTC). Trigger Warning: pandemic, hunger, death.

December 7, 2020

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Katie Volk, Host: [00:05] Hello, and welcome to Changing the Conversation. I’m your host, Katie Volk. Today’s podcast is sponsored by the New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center.

Katie: [00:14] Today, we are joined by two guests from a project called Sharing Our Wisdom—Lived Experience and COVID-19, which focuses on mental health, social justice, equity, COVID-19, and a lot more. Our guests all have lived experience with mental health challenges and will share what they learned in their journey and what has helped them in these difficult times.

Katie: [00:36] My guests are Pauline Bernard and Bridgett Williamson. Bridgett is a certified peer mentor and co-director of the Citizen Project. The Citizens Project uses the framework of citizenship, an innovative model of community integration and social inclusion developed by the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health. It offers a non-traditional way of thinking about rights, responsibilities, roles, resources, and relationships that are a part of community membership and peer support. The project is funded by the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Bridgett, welcome.
Bridgett Williamson, Guest: [01:12] Thank you so much honey.

Katie: [01:14] And Pauline is an historian and a lecturer at the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health. She has been working and learning with Bridgett for the last three years. Pauline, welcome.
Pauline Bernard, Guest: [01:25] Hi, nice to be here.

Katie: [01:27] So, as with all of our Wisdom Project podcasts, today Pauline and Bridgett are going to have a conversation about what life has been like during the pandemic, but I’ll kick us off. And so, Bridgett I’m wondering, what was life like for you when the pandemic first started?

Bridgett: [01:43] It was definitely a life interruption because of, we didn’t have no food. So, for literally, the first three weeks until a month, I was running around trying to find toilet tissue to put in the house. Not only that, I had to get up with the seniors because they started, after a month long, by letting the seniors go in the stores at 6:00 in the morning. So, I started getting up trying to go out to get toilet tissue at 6:00 in the morning, I still couldn’t get my needs met. So, it was very challenging when COVID-19 hit.

Katie: [02:25] I can see that for sure. I think that was the experience for a lot of people. Pauline, I’m wondering what questions you have.

Pauline: [02:32] So, I know that one of the things that has been challenging for you is not being able to do your work, at least not doing your work as you usually do it. And so, I was just wondering if you could talk a little bit about that.

Bridgett: [02:47] I am the co-director of the Citizen Project. And, I have literally been with the Citizens probably eight years now, and one thing I’m used to doing is working with people. I thrive in my recovery by people, not the phone, not the Zoom. So, my recovery and my feelings, my emotions has been all over the place because I can’t meet the students because at Yale we’ve got this thing down where we can’t go out and work, but I am doing the same work that I was doing in the Citizen Project just in my own family and my own community.

Pauline: [03:33] Of course, you cannot go to the classroom and work with the students as you normally do. But, you’ve not been staying home either, and you’ve been out in the community to help people and to meet them where they are. And so, just wanted to ask you first, why you’re doing that and what are you planning?

Bridgett: [03:57] Well, Pauline, because I am a woman like you are, and we got children. We are nurturing people. Women are just caregivers. We nurture people, and it will be unsensitive if I were to walk down the street and see someone in need. So, when I see situations like that in my own community, if I can go out here for Yale and do the Citizen Project and do it very well, then you bet your behind I have to do the job that I got to do in my community even better.

Bridgett: [04:39] So, I just think if we just all go out here… I’m always going to do… I hate to use this word, but religion, they don’t like me to talk about religion, but I’m always going to do God work. I feel like I’m just a vessel for the Lord. And, when I take all people in and make sure everybody is being treated fair, and we all looking at people in a holistic way, not their drug addiction, not their diagnosis of mental health. I looked at people as a whole, not what people put labels on. I don’t like to be labeled, you see, I didn’t even want to use the Co-Director of Citizens. I think that title is… We can get away with that because when I go and introduce myself to you or your husband or your family member, I don’t want to say, I’m a peer mentor, and my name is Bridgett. I’d say, my name is Bridgett.

Pauline: [05:36] Yeah, but you also say that you have a PhD in youth experience.

Bridgett: [05:41] That’s the truth, Pauline, and I have 88 credits in academia field, right? But, if I would have to choose, did I want to finish school or continue to get this PhD to live the experience, I would continue getting the lived experience. Because working with people and dealing with people there’s no book that can tell you about people, is you building that relationship and being honest about it. I love people, Pauline, you know that.

Pauline: [06:12] So, still talking about people, I was wondering if you just could say a few words about what you’ve been finding in the street in these months, what kind of challenging and suffering you’ve been witnessing.

Bridgett: [06:27] What I’m finding in the street is my family members are dying. We got a flown all the bullets through tomorrow that’s what I’m finding. And, people are not waking up. They’re dying in their sleep. Little boy got shot in the head, right by my house, a block from my house. Messed around a farmer’s parents gun that was in a safe and shot himself in the head.

Bridgett: [06:53] I’m finding a lot of my family, friends, and associates are not waking up. I got people asleep in behind here right now. So, it’s a Friday, Clyde is about 70, that’d be between 68 and 72, and he’s full blown with AIDS, and he’s sleeping outside and using the bathroom outside. And, this is like somebody’s grandfather. But, the dignity with… The dignity that he has to… I went outside early in the morning Friday, and he was pulling his pants up. I could see him from across the yard, and I’m like, geez. So, I just gave him some respect and turned my back. But, that saddens me that I’m over here at my sister house, sleeping in a full size bed, and he’s on like the… I don’t even know what he’s on. He’s on like… He’s just like a door… It’s just like a door with two covers all on top, but it’s in the air so he’s in the air. But, that’s not the way to be. So, I’m finding a lot of despair. A lot of people hungry, my own family members are hungry.

Bridgett: [08:13] Yeah, and all these pop-up pantries… I liked the idea with the pop-up pantries, Pauline. But the reality is when you go to a pop-up pantry, I don’t want to have to stand in line for a whole two hours to have to feed my kids. Then, I don’t want everybody to see me because I’m embarrassed that I don’t have food to feed my kids. And then, when I get up there, you’re telling me that I only got to have one of this, one of that, sometimes it’s not even there. I got a family of four. So, how can I feed all of us off of one carrot or one potato? Yes, we will make it happen. I can mix it all together, right? I’ll make a pot of soup, but don’t treat me like the way I look.

Pauline: [09:04] And these, by everything that’s been going on in your life, you keep moving forward. Where do you find this resilience and keep having hope?

Bridgett: [09:16] Wow, hope. Hope can go a long way. That’s all I got, Pauline, maybe because I don’t have no parents. And, my faith is as big as this whole world, maybe that’s what keeps me going. Thriving that I know too, that this too shall pass. So, don’t nothing stay the same, right? Don’t nothing stay the same.

Bridgett: [09:42] So, I know again, I said this earlier, that if I was a heroin user… I’ve been clean since 1991, so if he brought me from that, and since 1991, this virus, AIDS, crack, heroin, he got more power than that. And, as long as I stay hopeful and keep my faith and keep striving forward… Because again you know that saying, I say Pauline, at Citizens, we have a clock that says one to 12, and the clock will always go right. That means I must keep moving forward. But for some reason flesh like to go left. They like to revisit a lot of the pain, and the hurt and the stuff that we already conquered. We don’t have to keep running that clock backwards. I’m always keep my clock moving forward because that’s how the clocks go, right? So, that means I’m always move forward. But as I climb and move forward, you know I bring people with me.

Katie: [11:01] Bridgett, I’m wondering so many of the people who listen to our podcast are working in the mental health field, or working in the homelessness field, or in addictions, or doing other good community health kind of work, and I’m wondering if you have advice for them as they’re walking through some of the challenges that you’ve talked about today.

Bridgett: [11:27] So, you talking about mental health challenges. When I talk with people, even with my… I used to have a mental health myself. So, mental health is just a part of us. It doesn’t make the whole pie of me as a whole, just a part, right?

Bridgett: [11:46] So, when life interruptions happen that can flare up some symptoms that they will say, or stop flaring up some of the struggles. But, if you continue holding on and stay hopeful and know this too shall pass… Because it will, again, it doesn’t… Whatever is going on… If I didn’t have food to feed my family today, doesn’t mean I’m not going to have food on the same day a week later. So, if we can just hold on to whatever your higher power is that could get you over that hurdle, because it’s going to be some dark days that’s how life is. We going to always have life interruption, it is what we do when we have the life interruption. Because I have a life interruption because this virus came out, I didn’t go out there and buy a bag of heroin or some substance that I know’s going to harm me. I don’t have to self-medicate because we have a life interruption.

Bridgett: [12:57] What I have to do is press forward, keep the faith and bring somebody else with me because it’s people to people that help one another not magic pills, and not a facility, it’s people.

Katie: [13:10] So true. So true. We bring one another with us. I love that thought. Bridgett, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today.

Bridgett: [13:20] You very welcome miss. It’s my honor to be here. Thank you.

Katie: [13:24] And Pauline, thank you so much as well for being part of our conversation.

Pauline: [13:27] You’re very welcome. And it’s never a duty to talk to Bridgett. She’s a wonderful person.

Katie: [13:35] And to our listeners, join us next time on Changing the Conversation.

Erika Simon, Producer: [13:39] Visit C4innovates.com and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube for more resources to grow your impact. Thank you for joining us. This episode is sponsored by New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center, New England MHTTC, and was produced by Erika Simon and Christina Murphy. Our theme song was written and performed by Peter Hanlon. Our host for this series is Katie Volk. Join us next time on Changing the Conversation.

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