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What Mental Health Advocacy Looks Like for Me

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I wish I could go back and tell my younger self it does get better. Today, my words are my advocacy, and my advocacy is my legacy. There have been times in life that have made me cry, and also other times that have made me smile. I learned holding onto the past and negativity can become a heavy burden that I am not willing to bear. I am middle-aged now, and I realize I will not live forever, so I want to make a difference wherever I can.

In my life, I have been a teacher’s aide, a dishwasher, a soldier and now a writer. I am not wealthy, nor do I ever expect to have great wealth, but I value the experiences that have taught me lessons during my life. With all my experience, I have concluded my purpose is to fill holes that have been left for someone else to trip over. There have been various times in life where if I did not do my best to fill these holes, no one else would fill them. At most beaches, it is considered common courtesy if you dig a hole, you have to refill it, so beachgoers will not trip in the dark, or sea turtles will not get trapped. We should fill the holes left by ourselves or by others, so those who come after us will have a smoother path forward.

In advocacy, we are told to find our voices. I want to use the experiences I have had with my mental illness to help others. There is a hole there that I hope I am helping build a bridge over by using my writing about living with schizophrenia. Mental health professionals can only do so much. I try to help others understand by sharing my story. I like to think by doing this, I can give insight that will cause others to get the help they need and will provide mental health professionals an understanding of what those of us with severe mental illness are dealing with on a daily basis. When other patients thank me for sharing my experience, that is the payment that makes my advocacy worth doing. People who care about the human conditions usually do not live in the lap of luxury. I do not get a dollar value for my advocacy. The rewards are intangible, like purpose, inward peace and gratitude.

In my past life when I was a teacher’s aide, I was drawn to the students who were playing by themselves. I would go over to them and begin to play with them. Then I would ask, “Why are you not with the other kids?” I had a sense there was a hole there that needed to be filled. Chances are, they are just shy or lonely.

My job as a dishwasher was an excellent job when I was a young adult. Even though it is often seen as the bottom or entry job, without it, the bottom would fall out of the restaurant business. A dishwasher has to make sure the cook has his plates, and the waitstaff have their silverware. Without the dishwasher, there would be a hole. The cooks and the waitstaff would have to do the dishwasher’s job at the neglect of their own jobs. The customers I find do not like to wait too long to get their dinner. The dishwasher fills a hole that is vital to a successful restaurant.

With love, you may need to fill a hole. This is best illustrated in the first “Rocky” movie. In the scene Pauly, Adrianne brother and Rocky’s friend, ask Rocky what the attraction with Rocky’s newfound relationship with his sister Adrienne is.

Rocky replies, “She got gaps, I got gaps; together we fill gaps.”

Another way to look at it is finding the last piece of the puzzle in your life to make it complete. For whoever reads this, I hope you find the piece of the puzzle that makes you feel complete. Mental health advocacy has not only helped me find that last piece of the puzzle, but it is a way for me to fill the hole that is left for those dealing with mental illness.

If you see a hole in your life or someone else’s, do your best to fill it so someone else will not trip. Do your best to fill gaps, holes and ditches.

Unsplash image by Malte Helmhold

Originally published: September 24, 2021
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