Self Advocacy and Speaking Out



There are things that you can do on your own in order to help alleviate problems associated with mental illness.  I made two big mistakes in the early years of my treatment.  One, I relied solely on medications to make things better and Two, I almost never talked about my problems.  Completely relying on the medications meant that I never went to therapy sessions and expected to find that ever elusive all purpose solution in the form of medications.  It doesn’t work that way.  For one, there is no cure all in the forms of pills.  For me, taking the meds was only one part of solving my problems.  I didn’t really start improving until I started talking to therapists, other individuals with mental health problems, and counselors.  And I really started improving once I stopped hiding the fact I had mental illness and quit lying to others and myself.

One thing I never could stand in conversations with people I met for the first time was the inevitable question of “Oh, what do you do?” or “Where do you work?”  I’m far from old enough to look like I’m retired and from all appearances I am quite healthy.  Since I was frequently between jobs for the first few years after I finished college, I would often lie about having a job or say I was looking when I definitely was not.  I was asked what I did for a living when I met new people practically everywhere I went, whether it was out shopping, at parties, at church, in my apartment complex, etc.  I didn’t enjoy lying at all but I couldn’t explain in ten seconds or less that I was mentally ill and had problems with holding down jobs without committing several social gaffes all at once.  So I resorted to lying for years about my work status and history.  Being asked what I did for a living seriously irritated me.  Now I just mention my writing and my blog.  Though I do all of this for free, I get looked at now like I’m self employed and working out of my home.

Advocation is another thing I do for myself.  I quit lying to myself that I was normal, at least as the world understands normal, and set about sharing my struggles, problems, victories and defeats.  I don’t shy away from people when talking about mental illness anymore.  This was far from easy at first.  It was actually quite terrifying at first.  I was scared of the stigma that I knew would come my way.  Yes, stigma did come my way.  It came namely in the form of being ignored by some, being patronized to by others (I was a frequent recipient of the “We understand how you feel” when they really didn’t and did nothing to try to figure out what goes on with mental illness), and losing friends.  I didn’t mind the losing of some friends because some of these ‘friends’ should have been given up as lost years before.

In closing, talking about my problems and the problems of others with mental illness has helped as much as anything.  It has let me know that people are often not as malicious as my paranoid mind set often made them out to be.  It let me know that there are people who, once they know the problems, are eager to help.  Sure there are malicious and intentionally misunderstanding people out there, but I have found that thankfully they are a small percentage of the population.  Conversations about mental illness, mental health, problems, etc. are not easy, especially at first.  But the stigmas can be broken down.