I love being a mental health advocate.
Putting my own story out there was both the scariest and greatest thing I could have ever done. Opening up about my battle with PTSD and GAD has been both a solace and a therapeutic experience for me.
And while I am proud to stand up and fight for all those out there still suffering in silence, I realize there are days where I need the same support. There are days where I need someone to advocate for me.
I take a great deal of pride in being the first line of defence, someone brave enough to put their own pain in the spotlight to help make a difference, to help someone suffering in silence. It is a heavy burden and the ultimate reward to voice my opinions and to turn my own suffering into something positive. Being this vulnerable (and exposed) while walking this path has been humbling, but there is a price to be paid for putting my pain on display. There are sacrifices to be made in order to help someone else.
But the bigger question is this: Would someone else do it for me?
Now don’t get me wrong. I can be brave all on my own. I battled with my PTSD for almost three years before I told anyone I was sick (though I wish I would have been more open at the time). I experienced extreme frustration, and hurt, and went to dark places long before anyone ever knew what I was going through. And while my silence was almost my reckoning, my ability to speak out (and put my big mouth to good use) was my awakening.
I was strong long before I realized how tough I really was. My past experiences may have hardened me over the years and made my skin grow tough, but my ability to expose myself and be vulnerable has allowed me to take all that hurt and turn it into something positive. The darkest points in my life have given me a new perspective. The demons of my past have made me grow wiser. All of those past struggles and frustrations have made me a better fighter, a stronger voice of reason.
I can take the hits and the by-blows. I can take someone else’s ignorance and channel that frustration into something positive. I’ve learned to let hate roll off my shoulders, even when some days I felt like punching my fist through a wall or screaming “WRONG!” in someone’s face. But that’s all part of being a mental health advocate. You have to take the good with the bad, and the humility with the really, really “stupid” (people).
And even though my mental illness has made me both physically and mentally stronger, it also knows my weak spots. It uses tactics that can make me feel “crazy”, that can make me feel like I’m losing control – that I’m losing the battle. And on these days, especially when the horizon looks bleak and I’m bloodied and battered, I consider raising the white flag. When the doubt starts to set in and I’ve convinced myself that I’m failing, that’s when I feel like throwing in the towel and giving up.
Being a mental health advocate is both a privilege and a heavy burden to bear. And some days I don’t feel like I’m good enough. In these moments when I feel alone and confused, I don’t feel like I’m worthy enough to be a voice of reason. I feel worthless and defeated. I get angry and frustrated. The minute I feel any sense of hesitation, my mental illness chooses to strike, leaving me completely defenceless.
And while I am grateful for all the love and support I have received over the years for being “brave enough” to speak out, there are days I want to quit. There are days where the pressure is too much. And shamefully, I admit I have lost count of how many times I just wanted to “stop” and give it all up.
There are days where I don’t feel worthy enough of being a mental health advocate. There are days where I question if I am really “brave enough” to keep doing this. And on the really bad days, I feel no matter how much I try, I’m letting everyone down, that I’m not doing enough.
And that brings me both shame and sadness.
Because sometimes my mental illness spins out of control too. Sometimes my own suffering and pain are more important than writing another blog post, than sharing my favourite songs to scream too, or talking about the stories that have helped pull me back from the brink. As much as I love sharing my journey with the world, my own mental health takes priority. It has too, no matter how selfish that makes me sound (or how guilty it makes me feel).
And even though it’s hard to convince myself some days, I know that doesn’t make me weak. I know that taking a break and “surrendering” for awhile isn’t the end, because how can I help others if I don’t take care of myself too? How can I be a “good fight” fighter if I’m just running myself into the ground?
But I guess that has always been my biggest concern. Regardless of how hard I am fighting to make a difference, no matter how many times I get knocked down or have to retreat, my biggest worry is this: When I do look around the battlefield, am I alone or are there still others fighting with me, regardless of how exhausted and tired they are too?
Is there someone fighting for me too?
Because no one should have to go through this journey alone. I know I can be brave all on my own. I know that some days my struggles are an internal battle that no one else can see. I also know that sometimes I’m too proud (and too stubborn) to admit I need help. And if things spiral really out of control too quickly, too fast for me to have any sense of what is happening, I’ll end up snapping over the first superficial, inconvenient thing before I realize my mental health is screaming 911! in my head.
So in those moments where my struggle is greater than my success, do I have someone brave enough to cover me when my mental illness strikes back?
They say it takes an army, or a village – or however that antidote goes – and sometimes I need my defenders to put on the armour and sharpen their swords. Sometimes I need my best men (and women) to enter No Man’s Land with me or to cover me with their dented shields when the voices in my head – the demons breathing down my back – are too vicious and too loud.
Sometimes I need someone to advocate for me, too.
And I know it’s a two-way street. I know I need to admit out loud (or being conciously aware) first that I’m struggling, but on the days I feel voiceless and defeated, I need my fighters to notice. I need my friends and family to speak up, in the most simplest of ways: a hard hug, a quick text message, a phone call – or when I really need it – a shoulder to cry on.
Because advocating doesn’t mean standing up on a soap box in the middle of the city and voicing your own mental health pleas. I’m not asking my friends to start their own blogs or to share their own personal histories with mental illness. I’m not saying my family needs to rush to conclusions, or defend my “honour” when I’m not around. Because advocating is so much more than fighting for the cause, or rallying your troops, or screaming your battle cry. There are much simpler ways to help someone like me.
And it can all be summed up in six simple words:
“I’m here if you need anything.”
And when help is offered, please remember this: don’t take offence if I say “Thanks!” and then refuse to speak. Please, don’t mistake my silence for failure. Don’t mistake my resolve as defeat. For some battles need to be fought alone. Some struggles are too deep, too personal to be voiced out loud. But knowing you have supporters, knowing your army is ready at your command, is the most comforting aspect of all.
Knowing that you have someone to advocate for you is such a relief, and the most appeciated thing in the world.
Because I am proud to wear my armour and fight the good fight. I’m proud to be the voice in the darkness, the decoy to help others find the light without being flanked by their own fears and demons. I’ll gladly unsheathe my sword and scream the battle cry for anyone who needs it, no matter how exhausted, or frustrated, or defeated I may feel.
So the bigger question – and my greatest fear – is this: Would someone else do it for me?
Would you be brave enough to fight for someone you love? For someone you know is struggling with an invisible pain? An insurmountable pain? Are you willing to make bold sacrifices for them?
Are you brave enough to stand up and fight, too?
Because I can’t do this alone. Not forever.
And as always,
Fight the good fight.