5 Commitments I Took as a Mental Health Recovery Advocate.
“Hi, my name is Robyn Cruze, and I am a mental health advocate.
I have been behavior-free from an eating disorder for over 15 years. I have made a proud choice not to drink because alcohol doesn’t like me—and I don’t like it. Currently, I am traveling the United States with my family in a converted school bus we call home. While outside the bus, we advocate for changing the narrative and face of mental illness; inside the bus, however, I am currently struggling with a flare up of anxiety. I am okay. I am speaking about my struggle to professionals, I have the support I need. I am safe.”
Last week, I learned that the mental health community lost a powerful voice. It got me thinking about what it really means to be a mental health advocate. Do we unintentionally set ourselves and other mental health advocates up? Do we, as mental health advocates, play into the rules of advocating—the ones that have us believe that if we are anything but stellar examples of recovery, we fail?
As a mental health advocate, I have done like I see many do. We carry about our business cheerleading for recovery, i.e., holding the space for those and their families struggling, and we share our stories from a place of past tense as if all our own struggles are far behind us. We leave the audience with the sense, You can have that, too.
While it is true that you can have long-term recovery, it doesn’t mean that we won’t have flare-up of our illness. I liken it to an auto-immune illness. Those who struggle with them can often go into remission but often have secondary illness along with it, such as my Mum who had Lupus also had the secondary illness of rheumatoid arthritis. In her Lupus remission, she’d often have flare-ups of rheumatoid—especially in the cold weather. Sometimes, too, Mum’s Lupus would come back, and her specialist would have to adjust her meds; thus, she would review her stress and take measures to alleviate it. That is also true for someone with mental illness, including mental health advocates.
The 5 commitments:
As a mental health recovery advocate, I commit to:
1. advocating for myself first. This is actually the only thing we need to do as mental health advocates. You don’t have to have your own website, thousands of followers, be a public speaker, or write blogs. You just have to ask for help if you are struggling and advocate others to do the same. We get to be an example of self-advocacy.
2. being responsible when touting the words “fully recovered” or the like. The truth is, secondary illnesses may occur long after behaviors of a predominant illness subsides. When we tout words like “full recovery,” “fully recovered,” “recovered” we also have a responsibility to clarify that while we can absolutely, be fully recovered from behaviors surrounding our illness, that does not mean that a flare-up of depression or anxiety will never arise within our behavior-free lifestyle.
3. sharing my present struggles. As mental health advocates, if we choose not to talk about our own struggles and the steps we are taking towards a solution, we strengthen stigma surrounding mental health and addiction. Owning our present struggles inspires more hope than implying, by omission, that we no longer experience struggle.
“For me to be an authentic mental health advocate I must be willing to let each of you know me at my worst, not just at my best.”
~ Tim Harrington, Mental Health Advocate
4. leaving personal bias behind. There are many roads to recovery, and, indeed, many definitions of recovery. Just because you had the good fortune to not have to take meds, or found that a 12-step program was the only way for you, doesn’t mean that it will be someone else’s experience. As mental health advocates, we get to hold the space for all paths to recovery, not just our own. Educate yourself to all the different paths to recovery, and make sure you have resources for them.
5. choosing my words carefully. Please, please stop referring to yourself and/or others as addicts, junkies, alcoholic. We have the opportunity to perpetuate the stigma surrounding mental health—or change it. Instead use “person in recovery from substance use disorder,” or “person experiencing anorexia nervosa,” etc. Change our words and end stigma surrounding mental health and addiction.
For more ways to help change the face and narrative of mental illness, check out Wide Wonder’s free download of advocacy suggestions here.
To learn more about how to self-care as a mental health advocate, listen to the webinar here