I arrived at LoveYourself Anglo 30 minutes before the call time. I made sure to come early so I could review the flow of my first session today. I noticed that the function room was colder than the usual, maybe because I was feeling jittery, excited and anxious. I patiently waited for three people who I will be meeting for the first time. Questions raced in my head. What would they look like? What are their issues? How could I probably help them?

Finally they arrived in trickles. The first one who arrived looked at me and asked “Hindi pa ba tayo mag-uumpisa?” His commanding voice was firm. I just smiled and responded calmly, “Yes, we are about to start.”

That day marked the beginning of our 12-session journey in the Flourish Circle.

The Flourish Circle, is a community-based initiative designed for people who are experiencing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. The program aims to offer an avenue where individuals could feel safe as they go through the process of understanding and resolving their personal struggles. Unlike counseling, the Flourish Circle is peer-led. This means that help is collectively extended by a group of individuals. And with the aid of carefully designed modules per session, it is facilitated by trained Peer Support Specialists. The sessions are started by following a set of mutually agreed upon arrangements that values honesty, openness, and safe boundaries.

The success of the Flourish Circle was highly dependent on how everyone would commit to the process. A fall out of course, was inevitable as participants can choose to exit the circle when values are in conflict. But as weeks unfolded, those who stayed began to appreciate the relevance of every module to their own processes. The 6-month session brought back their courage to face and heal painful experiences that affected the way they see the world. And as a team, we provided support by listening to every spoken word, while respecting quiet moments. We lifted each other up as we struggled challenging our individual cognitive distortions (or false belief of oneself). We have reached a point when individuals became more comfortable verbalizing their emotions without judging them. They experienced small victories in practicing mindfulness and self-regulation.

The journey in completing the 12 sessions was an emotional roller-coaster ride. We had difficult conversations and faced things we have avoided to confront. We allowed ourselves to be vulnerable and decided to face our inner struggles. It was like extracting our wisdom tooth without using anesthesia. But in the end, the experience allowed us to realize that our True Self is far greater than the “narratives” or the false conditioning which we received from our upbringing and society.

Time flew so fast and we just found ourselves feeling nostalgic for the experiences we have shared as peers. I could now see the glow in their eyes that weren’t there before during our first session. But at the same time, there was a feeling of sadness knowing that the program has ended. We may not see each other physically but the experience we have all shared is something that cannot be taken away from all of us. We will surely flourish in our own little way by trying everyday.

You can join the Flourish Circle as a participant by signing up at https://bit.ly/FlourishCircle.

Text by Dan Guevara