The Moment I Became An Advocate

Before kick off at my first-ever NAMIWalks with NAMI-NYC Metro on a recent soggy morning, a speaker remarked, “Rain won’t stop us, because we go through rain every day.” The comment was met with cheers, including mine. The speaker’s words perfectly captured the essence of mental illness. It is an often unpredictable condition; episodes can appear without warning. One of my former professors, in fact, once called mental illness “a storm of the mind.”

Bundled in layers of rain gear, my husband and I followed the crowd from the South Street Seaport promenade to the Brooklyn Bridge. Having battled anxiety most of my life, I felt a burst of claustrophobia as we moved further down the bridge, visibility cut short by fog and heavier rainfall.

As I continued to move, however, I remembered a lesson imparted by a former therapist: sit with the discomfort. Or in this case, keep walking despite it. The uneasiness began to fade.

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NAMIWalks was my first hands-on advocacy effort. Thanks to the generous support of family and friends, I also met my fundraising goal. It was a thrill.

Later, reflecting on the day with my husband, I shared my desire to run a writing group for adults with mental health issues. A few days later, I spoke with the volunteer coordinator of a mental health agency on exactly that subject. Over the next few weeks, I’ll observe a class. From there, I’ll begin potential next steps toward having a group of my own.

While mental health has always been a topic of personal importance, lately it seems omnipresent. Old questions arise with fresh urgency. What is the relationship between optimal mental health and an efficient workforce? I work at a college. While there are a growing number of initiatives addressing on-campus stigma, I wonder about care for staff, faculty, and administrators. What plans do we have in place?

A wise friend once noted that to get out of your comfort zone, you have to be comfortable first. Joining NAMIWalks gave me the power to push myself. With the number of opportunities emerging, I’m so glad I finally chose advocacy.

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