|Posted on July 13, 2018 at 1:05 AM|
What unique qualities do I have which help me to advocate for something as sensitive and complicated as mental health?
Besides being an ideal choice because I suffer from the same issues I advocate for, I humbly feel I possess two standout qualities that give me a particular advantage to be effective. The first is from how perceptive I am. For as long as I can remember I have been well tuned with the use of my senses to experience the world around me. The soft sound of birds chirping in the early morning hours, the variations of vibrantly colored leaves on trees seen during autumn, the smell of fresh air when you open a window (depending on where you live), traditionally made Italian Stromboli with the delicious taste of smoked ham and melted cheese, or the softness from the edge of a blanket upon my fingertips. With practice and patience, mindfulness can also enhance these sensory experiences as well as those in your mind. When it comes to matters of the mind, the level of detail is no less vivid or compelling.
For example, the affirmation of good values when I received praise for thoughtful thank you cards I'd written to my elder relatives in years past, the empowering sense of identity when someone shares your respectful beliefs or life experiences, or when a trusted friend or relative is genuinely there for you when you need it most. On the other hand, perception of positive experiences also includes perception of the equally negative too. A singular example I'll share is realizing that even if I were to consider ending my life it would not solve anything. There is no coming back from that; no second chances. Yet to feel so lost, hopeless, lonely, or without purpose, and to be thrust against the very choice I know will not help me at all. Literally feeling trapped between life and death itself, in a way that many people may never truly understand or accept. Being this perceptive does require a certain amount of strength.
The second unique quality, as you've just seen, is that I have a way with words. I can be very detail oriented to explain intimate experiences with rich and descriptive expression. Ever since the science fiction I watched while growing up had awe inspired my imagination, I've had an interest in some form of writing to express this creativity. I used to try writing short stories before and after I graduated high school as well. In my experience of this talent, words are like a single shade of color on a painter's palette; simply pick a word. The world is at your fingertips. With continued practice and the use of mindfulness, I feel I have been able to put into words some of the most basic and complex emotional experiences despite just being an un-trained amateur. If I can use these two skills to my advantage, to perceive and express my mental health, then many people can benefit from my efforts.
What have I learned about advocating for mental health awareness that would be helpful to share?
One of the most helpful things I have personally learned is that I am not an expert on advocating in general or for mental health. I constantly remind myself of who I am in the grand scheme of things by practicing mindfulness to be aware of myself and those around me. I try to have humility so I can be humble for how I advocate on anyone's behalf. I also strive to keep myself in check from being over-confident because I feel I always have more to learn regardless of the circumstances or the issues involved. Mental health is very complicated and ever-changing. What works for or was one person's experiences will not be the same as someone else. That being said, after almost two years I feel I have learned some important things about mental health and my own experiences which could be helpful to share with all of you.
In order to advocate, I have recognized the need to withstand at least some negativity in order to provide details that are productive for people to learn from. This includes those with mental illness, the general public, and service providers. If my most difficult experiences include suicide, for example, then I must be able to manage those harsh emotions before I can hope to advocate about them effectively. My attention to sensitive experiences is not something a person with mental health diagnoses should do without first making sure they are prepared to handle the additional emotional pressure. I have found that it takes strength to endure my mental illness and to advocate. Yet, this is strength that people can and do possess. I believe it. With attention to detail and being prepared to shoulder the extra burden, people such as me can go a long way with effective advocacy for mental health awareness.
If I can be strong enough to share helpful details about my perception of mental illness, I also need to be identifiable and to a wealth of different people. There may be a dozen ways for me to express what a certain symptom is like from my point of view. Though, not everyone's experiences or symptoms would be the same as my own. I could also personally identify with anyone that I hope to reach out to because I want to help them. Yet, not everyone will find it easy to identify with me whether they have a mental health condition or not. It is important that I strive to adapt what I share and how I advocate so I can be more identifiable. The more people whom can relate to me will generate more of the social bonds that can empower those same people for improving the quality of their lives and of those around them. It is also an important responsibility to advocate accordingly towards people of many different backgrounds.
You will find different age groups, nationalities, unique life experiences or various mental health symptoms, people who have been or are incarcerated, different faiths or religious beliefs, individuals battling addiction or who are co-occurring with their mental health symptoms, suicide attempt survivors versus victims of suicide loss, combat veterans with or without physical disability but may be more likely to internalize emotions, differing sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as friends, colleagues, and relatives of or those with mental health conditions themselves; virtually every walk of life imaginable each with their own unique experiences. These are also people that can benefit from a capable advocate who respects and understands their uniqueness. It is very important to be as appropriate as possible with how you advocate as well.
A good example is from the fact that I am a suicide attempt survivor. I may be able to share these sensitive experiences or feel driven to help others like me. On the other hand, I need to be mindful of who I am around or where, and of how I share my own personal experiences. Mental health topics, such as suicide, are not as easy for everyone to understand, accept, or to handle on their own. For example, some suicide attempt survivors and especially survivors of suicide loss have a difficult time with this issue simply because it can get very emotional. Different diagnoses such as Bipolar, Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa, Autism, Co-occurring with Addiction, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are challenging to deal with individually. These conditions may also be stigmatized in society at any given time as well. Intimidation and fear of reprisals still keep many people in silence.
Although there is a growing trend of acceptance towards mental health, it has been my priority to be as mindful as I can of how appropriate I am. While I tend to be more outspoken and realistic with my blogging, I have learned I need to be more professional when interacting with community leaders to avoid being stigmatized as a suicide risk. For the last half year, I have become more involved with our local Suicide Prevention Task Force and have learned to be careful what I say about suicide due to how sensitive an issue it is to others. While I continue to volunteer as a member of NAMI, I have learned to make sure I keep advocating for those who identify as LGBTQIA+. They are an important group of people facing a particularly challenging time of finding acceptance and wellness in their lives. Suicide attempt survivors are often feared by society when many of us are some of the most compassionate and caring people you will ever know.
By making sure I am as appropriate as possible with my writing, my attitude, and community service volunteering, I will help create a more positive environment for mental health acceptance as well as to set a lasting proper example for others to respect and follow.
July 14th, 2018: