Thursday, February 07, 2008


How do others see you? Is that important to your advocacy? Is it important in your daily life?
We are finding out in the race for the presidency that folks may be casting their votes more from their gut feelings than from decisions based on beliefs about policies. In fact, how we feel about the person presenting the idea or product often influences our decisions on whether we decide to agree with it or buy it.
We may consider ourselves rational beings, but really genetics, peer pressure, and our emotions probably have more to do with our daily decision making than reason does. What does this have to do with being an advocate for persons with a mental illness? Everything.
First, it influences how you advocate. Some people see me like a bull in a china shop while others have grown to understand where I am coming from, but the truth is at times I make a very poor first impression. I have what some of my friends refer to as a “strong personality” (and they think they are being kind to use those words) and it can be abrasive if I am upset with what I consider to be an injustice. When I am upset I make a poor advocate.
Second, what you advocate for matters. Are you simply advocating your own ideas or have you been listening to the folks you are advocating for/with? In the early 90’s I was on a trip from Fort Lauderdale to Philadelphia with a group of mental health professionals to look at team style case management. In one of the meetings there I made a statement based on what I thought was the consumer perspective. One of the female mental health professionals from Philadelphia quickly pointed out that mental health consumers were not a monolithic group and that I could not speak for all of them anymore than she could speak for all women. In my defense I was not trying to, but her point was valid and still is.
You can have the most important message in the world, but if your own personality and attitude make you unbearable to be around or to listen to you will fail at getting your message across. Many times I may have been right, but I have failed in getting myself heard because I came across as too arrogant or too forcefully. People do not like to be told they are wrong, but they may be willing to listen if approached in the right way.
It doesn’t matter that I don’t feel the way others seem to view me. I don’t feel superior. I don’t think I am better than any other human on the face of this planet. I don’t believe I am always right, but if others see me that way it does not matter how I truly feel. It matters how I am seen.
Since I care deeply about the issues that impact the lives of people like me who live daily with a mental illness, I work on coming across with the proper attitude. I guess I mostly fail, but sometimes I succeed. When I do I get more accomplished for the folks and issues I care deeply about.
I believe in a consumer driven mental health system with major input from primary consumers and family members. I believe in service plans being driven by the dreams, desires and hopes of the individuals being served. The opinions of others are totally secondary including the mental health professionals working with the individuals. I am much more likely to follow a plan I designed headed toward a direction I decided than any plan that was put together where my input was only a part of the plan. I believe if the state decides it has the right to lock me up in a hospital for my own good or the good of others then when I am released it has a moral obligation to serve me by meeting all my needs till I no longer need the state. I believe that the state can not kill me by improper restraining me while I am in their custody without being charged with a crime.
The above beliefs sometimes cause me to get in trouble. I am not always meek and mild when I see these beliefs violated. However, it stands in my way of being a good advocate. It matters how you are seen. How are you seen?
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