I’m not going to sugarcoat it: advocacy has its negatives. Lately, I’ve seen an excessive amount of negativity and hate toward mental health advocates on social media, which made me think about the ways that I am personally impacted.
1. Being an advocate is not a “job” — it becomes an identity.
This can be scary. If someone Googles me (such as a potential employer), a majority of the results feature my association with my bipolar disorder diagnosis. While I am proud to be a writer and vlogger on this subject (and hopefully helpful to others), the potential consequences of “being out” with this stigmatized identity as someone with bipolar type 1 is frightening.
2. Boundaries can become blurred. Burnout is real.
I am constantly reading up on the latest news stories and research articles regarding mood disorders. I put effort into engaging with other mental health advocates on social media, even when I am tired. I try to respond to everyone, take on every new opportunity (writing for new sites/blogs, podcasting, Instagram mental health campaigns), and be aware of the latest advocacy methods/trends. With advocacy in the palm of my hand, it can be hard to “clock out” sometimes. My own mental illness can also be problematic, such as when depression zaps me of energy for weeks at a time.
3. Being treated like a free therapist.
I cannot stress this enough: I am not a psychologist, counselor, therapist, psychiatrist, clinical social worker or mental health professional. I can try to provide a list of helpful mental health resources, but I am not someone to go to for a therapy session. I can try to listen as a friend, but I don’t know how to diagnose or treat. That’s not my role.
4. Even with all the effort, time and energy put into advocacy, sometimes people tear me down.
From internet trolls tearing apart my mental health articles to some random guy sliding into my DMs (“im depressed. can u help me? nudez will cure my depression.” [sic]), it can be incredibly discouraging and makes me want to give up. Am I being taken seriously at all or is it all a joke?
5. Constant feeling of not doing enough.
Advocacy can take on so many different forms. There is YouTube, podcasting, blogging, articles, e-books, books, movies, speeches, lectures… so much to do! The possibilities are endless, which can be overwhelming. Am I doing enough? How do I know?
6. Fixation on my impact.
When I first started blogging, I was rather fixated with the statistics of my blog. Am I getting enough views, comments and interactions? Am I making an impact at all? I would see others (i.e., social media influencers with thousands of followers) and wonder what I was doing wrong. It is hard to avoid comparisons when “more successful” accounts are literally always a scroll away.
7. Feeling like an imposter, not “sick enough” or “inspirational enough.”
If I am having a good period, it makes me question whether I’m even really that ill. There are people who have “had it much worse,” people who had much more severe episodes or don’t have a support network or don’t have access to healthcare. There are people who are incredibly successful, top-notch lawyers or professors or psychologists. I’m not “inspirational” like these people, so do I belong in advocacy at all?
8: Constantly coming across so much misinformation around mental illness and flaws in the healthcare system regarding mental illness… and not having a magic wand to fix it all.
It is frustrating to be bombarded by the painful stories of others and not be able to fix how things are. I want to be able to create a magical way to correctly diagnose and treat everyone, but I can’t. I want to be able to eliminate stigma completely, but I can’t. I want to reach every person who feels alone and give them hope, but I can’t. I have to accept my limitations. I am only one person.
9. Not knowing all the answers.
When someone asks me what they should do, I feel uncertain. Every person’s situation is different. I feel like I did everything wrong myself, so how can I be certain I am a good person to give advice to others?
10. Being exposed.
With my unfiltered writing, I hope to illustrate the hopelessness of depression, the pure chaotic nature of mania and the toxic nature of anxiety. It is a vulnerable position to place myself in, but I hope it helps others.
Many advocates have spent countless hours educating others through writing, art, social media, vlogging and other platforms. Show appreciation rather than hate! Let’s start 2019 off right!