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When I Feel Guilty for My Own Struggle as a Mental Health Advocate

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I’m supposed to have my sh*t together.

As an outspoken mental health advocate, president of my campus mental health student organization, and facilitator of a peer support group, I’m supposed to be “OK.”

But what happens when I’m not?

In these various roles, I’m always telling people their health is their priority, to ask for the help they need, and not to be ashamed of their struggle. Yet, as I sit here in the midst of a stubborn depressive episode, I can’t help but feel guilty.

Having responsibilities and expectations — especially ones intrinsically related to my recovery — can make any symptom flare-up or episode feel like a failure. It’s a double-edged sword, as these roles are often what keep me strong in my recovery — but they can also make me hesitate to ask for help or reveal how badly I’m struggling.

I feel there is a special kind of stigma attached to people who are open about their mental illness recovery or work in the field. There can be an expectation that we have to be constantly good at recovery — we can struggle, but we can’t fall; we can have a hard time, but we can’t have a crisis. It may be the fact that we have all this knowledge about treatment and coping, so shouldn’t we be able to make it through on our own? But this idea that we need to have our sh*t together goes against the very nature of what we’re trying to do — show that mental illness is real, that it’s hard, and that it’s something many people have to live with, including ourselves.

I’m realizing I subconsciously sugarcoat my struggles. I am always fairly open on social media whenever I’m struggling, because that is at the core of my advocacy, but I noticed I am not always truthful about the extent of it. I feel as though I cannot have any suicidal thoughts, because it will discredit all the work I do or affect my future in the mental health field. I fear the connections I’ve made with clinicians, school administration and mental health organizations will be damaged because I may no longer be seen as someone “on the other side,” but as someone actively unstable. The depressive episode I’m currently in has been one of my hardest in a while, but I’ve been afraid to tell the truth about the depth of it because I am expected to be well — to be a “Functioning Person who is Good at Recovery.”

Most days, I am pretty good at this recovery thing. I’ve lived to see the sunrise after many dark nights. I’ve shared my story to help others and continue to use it to fuel the work I do. But I have to remember I am still allowed to struggle — I’m even allowed to feel hopeless. My illness doesn’t just go away because I’m an advocate. It’s still there, and it’s OK that I’m having a difficult time right now. It’s OK for me, someone who is often the helper, to get help. Right now, my sh*t is not together, and you know what? That’s OK.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Follow this journey on Alyse Ruriani‘s blog.

Originally published: September 26, 2016
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