Monday, November 7, 2016

Starting My Advocacy Journey

HAWMC Day 7:  Was starting your advocacy journey a hard decision? Were you anxious and hesitant or were you excited and ready to share your story? Tell us how you chose to start advocating for your condition.

I started my advocacy journey gradually at first. I'd already established my blog, or at least already started blogging - I'm not sure it was really "established" - so I slowly started weaving in bits and pieces about my condition. I would discuss some of the symptoms and how they affected my life. My blog didn't really have much of a purpose at first, it was simply an outlet for me to get some thoughts out in a different format (than journaling or social media) and I figured I'd see where it went. As I started to talk about my condition, I got feedback from others who appreciated my openness and honesty about what I went through. Not a lot of comments, mind you, but at least a few from people that weren't related to me by blood. 

I'd like to say the day I decided to share my journey 100 percent sticks out in my mind as some momentous occasion. After all, it's a big decision, and having the good memory that I do, you'd think it might. But it doesn't. I don't remember the date or what I was doing or what I was wearing or who I was with when I made that decision. What I do remember is that it gave me a purpose. I'd done a decent amount of "why me, I don't understand, it's not fair" upon being diagnosed, and finally one day it clicked. If I had to battle this condition, I might as well use it for some good. If even one other person could relate, and it helped them feel less alone, offered them an outlet for support or motivation or even inspiration -  which I've been told, though I don't see myself as inspiring really - then it was worth it. And I wanted to battle stigma. I realized how much there was, in so many ways. I realized people stigmatized without even knowing they did (i.e. people saying things like "Oh my ADD/OCD is acting up today haha," when they're not diagnosed and using it as a descriptive term they think they understand). So on some day that I don't remember, at some time that I don't remember, I decided to jump in feet first and become an advocate. In a way, advocacy found me, and not the other way around. 

Ironically, one of the few things that doesn't make me anxious is sharing my story. There were pieces of my journey that I was hesitant to share at first. My hospitalization, for one. Regardless of whether I like it or not, stigma is still out there, and many of my friends didn't even know I'd been hospitalized. And yet in some odd way, sharing it on my blog was easier than telling my close friends. While I hoped my friends would understand, you never know. I didn't want to lose them, or to have to be the one to walk away when they refused to understand. Sharing with total strangers "out there on the internet" was less scary. I approve comments first, and therefore don't have to do so with cruel, stigmatizing ones. Nor did I care nearly as much what ignorant strangers thought as I did how my friends felt. I was lucky in one respect - when I started blogging, I worked completely for myself. I didn't have to worry about a manager or boss or even coworker judging me based on my condition and experiences. Now, I've been blogging long enough that the information is "out there". If someone Googles me, or look at any of my social media outlets, I assume they'll see it from the start. I don't have to hold my breath wondering if someone will see it and care. I almost like it being out there. First line of defense - you have a problem with it, then I guess we aren't meant to interact. 

There are two areas that I am still leery to discuss. One I've gotten better with. The other, I still keep private, but not solely for my own purposes. For ages, I did not discuss my thoughts about having children. To be clear, I mean me personally having children, not anyone else. It was a battle I've waged back and forth in my brain. For a long time, I'd decided it was best for myself, and for any child I had, to not have children. But I then changed my mind, after having the opportunity to be in a parent-like role, and realizing that I would make a good one. I realized that my condition did not prevent me from that. And I also realized that saying a child shouldn't be born if it's likely they'll get my condition would be to discount my own life. And so I changed my mind. Because it's such a personal, individual topic, I still don't discuss it much. I do only to say that it's each person's decision based on their own situation, and nobody's business other than them and their partners whether they decide to have children or not. 

The other topic I rarely discuss is my relationships - past and present. I'll discuss the topic of relationships, but not specifically mine. Not in depth at least. Quite frankly, I've gone through a lot in the relationship department. My experiences have wounded me often. But I have also learned a lot about myself, about other people (in general), and about love. And I don't wish anyone from my past ill will. Not at all. In fact, I wish them well. It did not work between us for whatever reason. That doesn't mean it shouldn't work for us individually, with others. Because of this, I do not feel it fair to share the deep, sometimes dark, details of my relationships. What goes on behind closed doors is behind closed doors for a reason. I try to keep it there, at least with respect to my blog. There are things that I do not forget (I rarely forget anything, to be honest).  Pain and hurt and all sorts of things that came from both sides - it takes two, after all. But I forgave these things a while ago. And because of that, I keep them in the past, where they should be. I am fine airing my own "dirty laundry", but I don't feel it my place to air anyone else's. 

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