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When You Need to Step Away From Mental Health Advocacy for Your Mental Health

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Often, when it comes to the world of mental health advocacy, you find that you stumble into it head-first, having no idea how you got there. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just unexpected and it takes a while to get your footing. Suddenly, you realize you didn’t leave yourself a trail of breadcrumbs to find your way back out, just in case it all becomes too much for you. As much of an honor as it is to help fight against the stigma of mental illness and to be the voice of the voiceless, it can be exhausting and time-consuming.

Sometimes, your personal feelings fall by the wayside because you’re so focused on the care of others. I know, at least in my situation, I’m terrified that one day I may have a serious setback again that requires hospitalization. What does that say to all of the people who have read my book or followed me on Twitter as I declare: you can do this! You are a warrior!

Do I look like a hypocrite, telling them to keep fighting as I’m curled up in the fetal position having not showered in three days? The whole concept makes me feel like a giant failure. There have been times I have had to step back or not get involved in certain situations, not because I didn’t care but because I needed to protect myself. I’ve seen some backlash from those experiences but I can’t let that get to me. As I’ve often stated, I’m not a professional with a degree, and I’m certainly not getting paid to offer my advice, so, unfortunately, there will be times when I am not 100 percent dialed in.

Which leads me to my next point. How do you cope with being an advocate when a loved one dies? In this case, it was my father, and I am devastated. It’s only been about five days, at the time of writing. There are times when being online helps me keep my mind occupied, so I’m not perpetually in grief mode. At the same time, it can be incredibly difficult because you can’t participate to the fullest, so you feel as if whatever headway you made is lost. You sit back and watch as others are offered opportunities, or people are looking for writers for a story, and you just have to allow yourself to say no. No matter how disappointed you feel.

Don’t get me wrong; this is not a competition. We’re all on the same team, but there are times when you’re struggling, and you just have to sit this one out, and my brain has a real problem with that.

Last night, I sat down in front of the computer to try to get a few things done. Before long, I realized I had been sitting there staring at it for about five minutes, with no idea what I was doing. I couldn’t remember a single thing I needed or wanted to do, and I just completely lost it. I had a horrible panic attack that originated in my arms, similar to that pins and needles feeling when a body part falls asleep on you. I had to drag myself away and hope my brain would be functioning better today. To a certain degree, it is, but I still feel a nagging sense of panic.

I have things to accomplish today, such as this blog. I’ve had the first two paragraphs written for three weeks. I like to think that both my mom and my dad would want me to keep pushing forward to get to my goal. I wish my mom could see me now. The person I’ve become. I know my dad was proud; he told me so. I think she would be too.

So, as I take this little mental health break, I need to try to understand it’s OK to step away for a while. Even though we were right in the middle of a whole bunch of projects, I’ll never learn how to process grief if I don’t take some time to do it.

You may see me stumble and even fall for a little while, and somehow I’m going to have to be OK with that. I hope you can be as well.

A little while before my father got so sick, I started a hashtag on Twitter: #KeepTalkingMH. While I step back and focus on me for a little while, don’t think I’m not terrified that it will get swept under the rug and never heard of again.  If I think long enough, I can find a vast array of topics to cause me yet another panic attack. So, it begs the question: Is being an advocate giving me additional pressures, or am I burdening myself with additional pressures because I’m an advocate?

I personally think it’s both. So, I’m off to attempt to enjoy a day of nice weather and try not to struggle too much with my grief. It’s going to be a long road, but I’ve been on it before.

Photo by Milan Popovic on Unsplash

Originally published: February 5, 2019
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