My name is Laura, I’m 21, and I’m a mental health advocate. I also live with mental illness.
The first part of that statement was always easy for me to say. I’ve always had a deep sense of passion for helping people, and mental health activism is something that I’ve been involved with for a long time. I wasn’t always involved on the scale I am now, but I certainly always considered myself an ally. I never had trouble speaking up on behalf of other people, but for years I neglected to take care of or speak up about my own mental health.
Looking back, it was hypocritical, but I don’t blame anyone who’s on a similar page. We still live in a stigmatizing world. Could I be a strong advocate, a leader in my community, and identify as someone living with mental illness?
Yes, I could, and so can you.
The truth is that being open about our own challenges makes us better leaders and advocates. Failing to acknowledge my own struggle with mental illness meant that I wasn’t getting the help I needed, I wasn’t practicing self-care, and I wasn’t being the best advocate or person I could be. So, fellow advocates, here are a few things I’ve learned on this journey.
1. Being open about what you’re going through will never lead you to the wrong place.
Talking about the things that make you vulnerable will bring you somewhere you’re needed. In my case, opening up about my life with mental illness meant that others who were struggling could put their trust in me. I strongly believe that it’s my vulnerability that has put me on the path I’m on now, a path more beautiful and exciting than I could have imagined a short year ago. If I hadn’t made the brave choice to say publically for the first time, “I have OCD”, I certainly wouldn’t be writing this blog post for WYL. Your struggle is part of a story that has the power to strengthen others to open up. Own it, own it, own it.
2. Getting the help and support you need makes you a more effective advocate.
Burnout is a very real thing, and we’re all susceptible to it. If you’re not taking care of yourself, how on earth are you going to have the energy or resources to pour yourself into other people? If you want to give, there has to be something in you to give.
3. You DESERVE to take care of your mental health.
There was a long time that I felt like I didn’t deserve self-care. We’re talking years. I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to encourage people to take a day off, or indulge in their favourite foods, or take long baths, or book an appointment with a therapist. When it came to caring for myself though, I fell victim to the “not sick enough” stigma. Looking back, I think I had this twisted idea in my head that if I was strong enough to be taking care of people, I shouldn’t need to be taken care of. Sure, I was dealing my own demons, but there were people out there with cruel demons than mine.
If I could tell younger Laura one thing, it would be that “not sick enough” doesn’t exist. I would tell her that she was deserving of everything she poured into everyone else. And now, I tell you this: you are deserving. Whether you live with mental illness or not, you have mental health worth taking care of. You are a worthy, beautiful human.
As advocates, sometimes we forget that the reason we started doing what we do still exists. For me, it’s my own mental illness that drove me to want to help people. I’m a full-time student, I’m a leader, I’m an activist, and I live with mental illness every day. None of these things define me, but they’re all parts of me. Never forget that you deserve to be proud of exactly what makes you who you are.
Written by Campus Rep Laura D'Amico