Yesterday, I was honored to receive an award that I dreamed about winning ever since I heard about it several years ago. My classmates and faculty nominated me to win the Friend of ADA (American Disabilities Association) Award at my university. The reason for this was my work blogging and advocating for those with mental illness and aspergers.
For most, yesterday was a dream come true. A lightness lifted me as I carried my bouquet of flowers around campus and blushed as people congratulated me. This award seemed like the first step toward helping others on a more global scale and winning the Noble Prize one day.
Yet, another part of my day was filled with gut-wrenching sobs and suicidal thoughts. As I cried so hard talking to my mom that I nearly collapsed, I shuddered to think of what people must think when they passed by my heaving form. What a failure I was to the award that I had just received!
“That girl cannot even keep her own act together.” I imagined their voices hissing these judgments. “How did she win an award for helping others?”
During my conversation, a RA came out to see if I needed anything. Evidently, some girls had overheard my wish to not live anymore and alerted the kind-hearted RA. The rest of my evening consisted of talking through my deep depression, suicidal feelings, and wounds from the past that recent events have been reopening. Thankfully, no one suggested sending me to the hospital, and talking helped me to feel better. This long evening is the reason I never posted a blog yesterday which I deeply regret.
The situation yesterday brought up a question that I have often wondered – how can you help others while still in the midst of the battle yourself?
People generally agree that those who have struggled through a situation or disorder can better help others with that same problem. It can be helpful having a therapist or friend who really understands what you are going through but has also found hope to move on with life. While some people offer comfort and aid for situations that they have never experienced, most of us feel most comfortable caring for those with whom we can identify and relate.
However, there is a bit of a stigma attached to people who preach one thing and then live another. Hypocrisy is certainly a problem. Is there are difference between that and advocating for a problem that you still encounter in daily life?
One major way to think about this is with mental illness. Can a speaker advocate for suicidal prevention but still have urges to hurt himself or herself? Should we trust a therapist who still struggles with depression? What is the integrity of a friend who says there is hope for recovery but still has a negative body image or uses eating disorder symptoms?
All of these types of questions come down to one major point: helping others while struggling. Is it possible to both need aid as well as administer it to others?
Yes. If I did not believe that I could be a source of hope and inspiration to others despite (or maybe even because of) my disabilities, this blog would have never started. I long for recovery but plan to keep advocating for mental health even if I continue to struggle with depression, urges to hurt myself, or fear of men. Why should I let my disorders hold me back?
Do we tell someone who is paralyzed not to offer advice to people in wheelchairs? Are those with terminal cancer exempt from holding hope that other patients will recover? Is someone with glasses less qualified to speak on living fully with improved vision? Of course not! Why is mental health different?
Yesterday was full of joys and extreme pain. That is the way life is sometimes. However, I am not going to let my self-doubt or the judgments of others stop me from caring for others. My depression, aspergers, eating disorder, and other disorders help me to care for others and advocate more strongly. In that way, they are a benefit to me rather than a disadvantage.