Wisdom Wednesday: What advice do you have for health activists just starting out? Share your words of wisdom for all the health activist rookies out there!
- Start as small as you'd like. You don't have to be marching on Washington to debate legislation or writing a blog with off the charts viewership overnight. Of course, if you'd like your first bit of activism to be marching on Washington, then go for it. But don't feel it has to be. If the only person that reads your first five posts is your best friend, that's OK. You've gotten yourself started.
- Choose the type of activism that's right for you. This may take some trial and error. Some people love blogging. Some would prefer to tweet. Others would rather start a Facebook page or group. Still others shine with Instagram photos. Or maybe it's not social media based. Maybe you write letters to your local legislator, or you organize fundraising events, or get involved with a local non-profit chapter that benefits your cause. There are so many opportunities. You may love one or some or all of them. And it may take a while to find your niche. Pick not only what you feel good at, but what you love. Because the heart of activism is passion. Period.
- Be yourself. I can't stress this enough. People aren't looking for perfect. They're not looking for cliches or all-smiles-all-the-time cheer leading. Nobody's perfect and so we can't relate to perfect. Be you, flaws and all. People would rather know if you're still struggling but managing to stay afloat. It gives them hope that even in their worst struggles, they too can stay afloat. It makes them feel like they could reach out if they needed and you'd understand. Like they can connect with you.
- Be approachable. Activism is, ultimately, about helping people. Yes, it can be about changing legislation and erasing stigma and educating people. But ultimately the reason behind all of that is to help people. People like you. People who can understand why you got involved in activism, because they go through it too. Hollywood has enough untouchable celebrities. Those struggling need someone that they feel they could reach out to and say "Thank you for sharing that. Can I ask you a question? Can I share something with you." It makes them feel not so alone. Which, to me at least, is one of the ultimate goals of what I do.
- Don't judge. You have your opinion and experiences. But it's just that - your opinion, your experiences. Those of us with illness feel judged and stigmatized enough. To have an advocate do this, someone they felt they could relate to or even look up to, is awful. The number one place I see this is in relation to medication, but I've seen it on the topic of having children vs not (i.e if you have a genetic disease), of techniques to use when struggling, and more. You can have your opinion, and you're welcome to share your opinion. But remember that ultimately, what you're an expert in is you, and your experience - just as everyone else is the most knowledgeable about themselves and their experiences.
- Keep plugging along. I know what it feels like to write or tweet or post your heart out, to share deep, dark, gut-wrenching information about yourself, only to have zero people comment and only your blood relatives read it. But I'll share something with you that I wish I would remind myself more - they're not the only ones reading your posts, and they're not the only people that you're helping. Many people, I think especially when it comes to mental health, aren't as comfortable talking about their condition and struggles as you might be. It doesn't meant they aren't listening (reading). It just means they're not ready to tell you that they are. Because they feel that bursts wide open a secret that they've been keeping. And whatever their reason, they may not be ready to fully acknowledge that, even to themselves. But keep going. I'm amazed at the people who have contacted me - people I'd NEVER have expected - who tell me they read my posts and find it so helpful because they go through the same thing. They may never comment or share or retweet or publicly acknowledge it, but it's helping them. And that makes all the difference.
- Ask for help. There's no shame in reaching out to other activists to ask how they got things going, or how they accomplished a goal that you're hoping to. There's also no shame in reaching out to friends and family and saying, "I'm starting this blog/page/twitter handle/etc, and I'd really appreciate it if you'd sign up/like/follow." We don't magically get started and have a massive following (I still don't, after years!). We too most likely begun with the only five followers, all being relatives or good friends. We may well have asked them to sign up/follow/like." That's 100 percent OK. A starting point is a starting point. You have to start somewhere!