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Why You Don’t Have to Be a Mental Health Advocate

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In the current world of mental health, sometimes it can feel like you need to be an advocate for your illness. This isn’t because anyone is pressuring you to be one, but when you listen to advocates who live with the same things you do, it’s easy to think, they’re using their illness to help, so why aren’t I?’

Sometimes I even feel like I’m “failing” if I don’t advocate and stay up-to-date with the world of social mental health, even though I know it’s just my anxiety and depression talking.

To me, social mental health is the societal awareness of mental illness and how it affects individuals in day-to-day life. It’s the people who create mental health podcasts, share their story online or on a stage, or spend much of their time advocating for better policies and resources. 

Those people give me confidence and are part of the reason I’m so open about how mental illness affects me and my life.

At least that’s what I thought.

Recently, I’ve had someone in my life who struggles with their own mental health ask me a question along these lines:

“How do you find the courage to be so open? Do you worry that people will just pity you?”

At the time of the conversation I answered with almost no hesitation:

“It’s still scary for me to share the feelings I have, but when I do I try to do it in a relaxed and casual way, like it’s just another part of my life, since it is. If I can help one person start to normalize their own feelings, that’s enough for me to keep doing it because it’s helping people.”

Now, I’m reflecting on my response and trying to pick apart why I answered that way, and of course, my anxiety and depression are “helping.”

“How do I know this is actually helping anybody?”

“What if it does come across as ‘you should pity me’ and people are having the opposite reaction to what you’re thinking?”

“You’re just so desperate for attention, aren’t you?”

I don’t think these things about advocates and storytellers. So why do I think these things about myself?

My anxiety and depression have some answers for this too:

“You’re just not as good as those ACTUAL advocates.”

“Is your illness really ‘bad enough’ to be talking about it?”

“They spend all their time doing this work. Don’t pretend you could be them.”

At the end of the day, I realize that helping others is a great goal for myself. But that’s all it should be — a goal. Because what’s more important than advocating for my condition?

Advocating for myself.

Yes, helping people understand anxiety, depression and mental illness in general will hopefully lead to helping others, but telling myself that doesn’t help me in the present when I need it.

What does help is talking about it because it helps me. It helps me actually normalize it by being relaxed and casual. It’s therapeutic to throw my words out there to remind myself I don’t exist alone in the bubble I so often put myself in.

Maybe with that I am an advocate for my illness, but that’s not what’s important.

What’s important is that I’m taking care of me first.

Photo Credit: Andrea Michelle Photography

Originally published: March 21, 2018
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