While meeting my first client as a peer coach, I was nervous.

Steve, my client, was in his 60s and could barely mumble “good” after I asked how he was. He has schizophrenia as well as cognitive disabilities.

Even though I struggled with my own paranoia and delusions, I felt intimidated by him at first. Going through psychosis made me realize how little control you have when ripped from reality.

My boss and I made a recovery plan with Steve’s mother. Steve waited patiently, but he had an uncomfortable stare.

We had a common diagnosis, but each person is different. Judging him, my first thoughts were I’m not like him, am I? Do I make other people feel uncomfortable?

As a new peer coach, I was unsure if I would be able to do my job. I didn’t know if I would be able to make a difference in Steve’s life.

A Rocky Start

My first time visiting Steve at his house, I greeted him and asked how he was that morning. He mumbled a reply, but I couldn’t make out what he said. I was nervous, but at the time I didn’t realize maybe Steve was nervous also.

During all of our conversations, he avoided answers with more than one word. I kept thinking, this is not going to work out.

Months passed by and I wasn’t feeling any closer to Steve, let alone feeling like I was making a difference. I feel ashamed to say this, but on our visits, he became invisible to me. Because of his cognitive disabilities and little to no responses, I started to give up on Steve.

At that time, I started a YouTube channel and website called Schizopedia. I was using the channel to share stories about people living with schizophrenia and trying to spread awareness. On my visits with Steve, I was busier checking how many likes and subscribes I was getting than actually paying attention to Steve.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and our sessions were put on pause. A week later, Steve called me and we had our longest conversation we had ever had. He asked me how I was doing and he told me about himself. He didn’t want to get off the phone. He missed me.

Finally, there was Steve, waiting for me to open my eyes.

Connecting With Steve

My YouTube Channel faded away and I lost motivation to make more videos. Even though I felt like a failure, time with Steve saved me. One sunny day at the beach, Steve smiled at me, and it made me smile. Steve was so content and happy, and his happiness was contagious. When we talked, his words were short and simple, but wise at the same time.

After we got out of the water, we just sat on the beach. Usually, he would be restless and want to go home, but we just sat and enjoyed the warmth of the sun.

When I didn’t spend all my time on the phone checking likes and subscriptions, he noticed. He knew I wasn’t ignoring him, I could see it in his eyes and body language.

I asked myself, what else could I do to connect with him?

I decided I wanted to write him letters because I thought it would be nice for him to receive something in the mail.

Everyone Can Make A Difference

Through my experience with Steve, I learned I could make a difference in one person’s life, and my opportunity was right in front of me.

I started to notice small things, like smiling. There is so much you can communicate with a smile. It sounds small, but my new job was to smile at Steve every day and try to bring joy into his life.

Treating someone living with mental illness with dignity and kindness is one of the best things you can do for them. And it’s something Steve and I reciprocated. We made each other feel important. And seeing our impact became obvious.

I later realized that Steve was the coach in this story, and he was the one who made a difference in my life.

This blogpost was originally posted on nami.org, you can view the original by clicking here.