Relapse and Mental Health Advocacy

Being a ‘mental health advocate’ is weird.

Sometimes it can feel like I’m not doing it right. When I have been well, I have felt almost fraudulent. How can I talk so frequently and openly about mental illness when it’s not currently having much of an impact on my life? I feel like I am treading on peoples toes, and infiltrating a space that is made for those who are currently struggling. Bipolar disorder is a funny illness, in that for me anyway, it tends to be that either I am well or I’m not. And when I am well, I am very well. It barely enters my periphery that it’s something I could relapse from at any moment, which is probably one of the most dangerous things about it. But, with that said, during those times of wellness I am able to work, have an active social life, exercise and eat well and generally enjoy life. And maybe, because I can do all of those things, I don’t ‘qualify’ anymore.

I’m not ill enough to be an advocate anymore.

Conversely, when I relapsed into anorexia so severely in 2019, I had similar thoughts but for very different reasons. Who am I to be talking about recovery when I am so unwell myself? Am I really someone who is in a place to ‘advocate’, or am I letting the side down by letting this illness snare me again? Can I truly advocate for recovery when I don’t think I will ever achieve it? It’s a tricky balance to strike and one that no matter when I fall on the ‘illness/wellness’ spectrum, I always feel like maybe I don’t belong in this space.

I’m not well enough to be an advocate anymore.

Interestingly, this is not the way I feel about others. Well, unwell, relapse or recovery, I have always strongly felt that this community has room for everyone, no matter where they are on their journey or what difficulties they have had. Yet I question whether there is room for me, whether at my best or my worst, or muddling along somewhere in between.

I know my brain is tricking me in the old familiar way it does, telling me that no matter what I do it will not be sufficient, it will not be good enough. It will never be satisfied. In all areas of my life it has told me for as long as I can remember that I’ve just fallen short of ‘enough’. All I can do is advocate in the best way that I know how: to share my ups and my downs and continue hoping that in some way I am making a difference. After all, that’s why we all choose to do this, right?

If any of you have ever had similar thoughts, I would encourage you to try to tell your brain where to go. There is room for you, just as there is room for me.

We all have our own stories to tell, and everyone’s is valuable, no matter what.

14 comments

  1. I think what makes someone an effective mental health advocate is being able to convey the reality of mental illness. And reality isn’t just somewhere in the middle along the spectrum of illness to wellness; reality is the whole thing, including the ugly bits.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Cara, you’ll know there are different types of advocates depending on patients needs. Advocates can help explain patient rights and get them the services they need. They can talk to people on patients behalf or help them speak for themselves, blah blah….

    So you carry on doing a wonderful job — you’re not a fraud whether you’re “too well” or ‘too sick’, you’re there to provide a service and if you can do this, of course, there’s a place for you 🙂

    Like

  3. What a topic. Mental health advocacy is something that I struggle with myself. I too suffer from Bi-polar. Trying to find a place where I feel ok in advocacy if I am well or unwell has been hard. I just got myself a volunteer spot on a hospital board advocating for mental health. I am really nervous because how do I do this properly. I had a good friend say to me this is your time to give back the love that was so freely given to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You can be a great mental health advocate even if you are not flagrantly mentally ill. You know in your gut what it is like to be seriously mentally so you can empathize with individuals who are seriously mentally ill.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Really interesting topic! I’ve never really thought about it before, even though I’m a mental health advocate myself and have severe anxiety. I kind of think that anyone who has been through anything mental illness related can call themselves an advocate, even if they’re not still going through it. But that’s just my opinion!

    Liked by 1 person

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