I take my advocacy seriously. When I was invited to blog for Bring Change 2 Mind, I decided to share my story in such a way that others living with mental health issues might glean a kernel of hope. Maybe I could inspire them to find acceptance in a world filled with prejudice and shame. I would need to be courageous when I was afraid, and outspoken when I was shy.
I hoped that I could provide a fresh perspective on the subject of mental illness by being open and honest about my ups and downs. I wanted to offer the lawmakers, families, caregivers, and friends reading this blog an opportunity to see a bigger picture, one where the individual is not their diagnosis. I would need to offer data in lieu of opinion, and experience instead of conjecture.
The concerns for mental health are widespread, and the need for positive action is imperative. I have been given the opportunity to speak to two factions: the person who lives with a diagnosis, and the person who does not. Out of respect for both I choose to be transparent and authentic. To be anything less would be dishonest.
Through activism the status quo will naturally be provoked. Controversy is a logical outcome, and in many instances can be seen as a measure of effectiveness. Should a nerve be struck, all the better. It initiates conversation. Seeds of change are sewn.
Advocacy is defined as the act or process of supporting a cause. Belligerency is nowhere in the definition. The objective is more important than one’s personal agenda.
I am no more defined by the campaign than I am by my illness. One is a mission, the other is a genetic anomaly. It didn’t stop in the psychiatrist’s office or the pharmacy, the social services department or the food stamp line. Accepting this reality is key to my story. I can’t help others with my mouth taped shut.
The comfort and security of an isolated life is not the path of the advocate. To be an ambassador means taking it to the streets – no mean feat for those living with a mental illness. Considering the discrimination we are met with every day, advocacy can seem a Herculean task. We need to approach it together.
Start by supporting others to talk about their own diagnoses. Find out what their needs are, and if those needs are being met. The intention is to do our best to share our situations and concerns, but after that it’s out of our hands. Stay in integrity, speak from the heart, and then let it go.
Perhaps you’ve discovered a treatment plan that works for you. Do you hold others in contempt for not following in your footsteps, or do you acknowledge that what works for them works for them? There are many paths to wellness; likely yours is not the only one. To take the position of the bulwark is to shun a fellow traveller, thereby feeding into the stigma that ensnares us all.
When another person with a mental illness shares their story with me, I try to listen with an open mind. I look for the similarities instead of the differences; this lets us create a moment of trust. We get a chance to feel understood by someone who’s been where we’ve been. They’re familiar with the disappointments and excited by the turning points. We can share our stories of failure and success. We can encourage one another to be brave.
Professional organizers and their backers need to realize the profit of altruism over the deficit of a bottom line. Mental health providers need to see that insurance claims and head counts are not the whole picture. Media images of maniacs may drive advertising cash-flow, but at too high a price for human dignity. These incongruities are ingrained in our culture to the degree that many consider a mentally ill person to be a social pariah. Clearly, infighting has no place in a movement which purports to be for the betterment of us all.
In no way am I suggesting that we are not entitled to our individual beliefs and feelings. To the contrary – I hope that you believe in something, and I hope that you are passionate about it. What I am addressing is the component referred to as “getting along”. This is critical. Advocacy is a team effort.
We forget about ourselves for a moment when we’re helping someone else. Lending a hand could improve your self esteem. There’s a chance that whatever your diagnosis is, theirs just might be worse. From the homeless to the privileged, mental illness affects us all, and with it comes the stigma we are beholden to combat. It’s time to cash that reality check and make an investment in the future of mental wellness. Our lives will be the richer for it.