Putting Myself to Work: Mental Health Advocacy

It only makes sense to share with you some of my experience at the Mental Health America conference that I just attended in Washington, D.C. but I have to admit a million and one things are swirling through this little head of mine right now. I’ll start with the conference and one of the most valuable opportunities I had and see where it takes me.

Possibly the most important experience I had as a health activist at the conference was the opportunity to visit with state representatives (actually their staff) to discuss important policies regarding mental health. I’ve always had a desire in my heart to take my activism to the politicians, but honestly, I’ve been intimidated. I have the knowledge of the average American when it comes to our political system and sadly, that’s not enough to feel confident to set appointments and feel prepared. But now, after I’ve been exposed, I feel more confident and more passionate than ever to get it together and find a way to get in front of our policy makers.

In our visits on “the hill” I accompanied some very knowledgeable and experienced mental health advocates from Mental Health America. They knew the drill, who to see, what policies and bills needed to be addressed and what needed to be said. I, only the other hand, had the chance to put some personal experience and real life circumstance behind the political talk. I shared my experience with mental health issues, the ways in which these policies would affect or could have effected my life positively if they were in place, and I shared the  need for the implementation of bills that need additional support.

One such policy that we spoke about, among others, is the Mental Health in Schools Act of 2011 (H.R. 751). This bill would expand the availability of school based mental health services for children across the United States. Our children’s mental health is vital to their education and ability to succeed in school. To ignore their mental health is like ignoring their dietary needs, yet sadly, it is still suffers. I was able to share my own personal need for access to mental health services for my children and how our school has not been able to help us at all, leaving my kids in the lurch.

My son is currently in need of help and assessment for symptoms that look like possible ADHD-inattentive type, but really we do not know what is going on. When I have approached the school for help, their answer was, “we have nothing to offer you”. Because of state assistance, my son is finally able to have health insurance, but an appointment with behavioral health is not available until the end of September. The problems and issues have been going on for months and he will have already begun the new school year by the time we get him in for the beginning of the assessment process.

The importance of policies like the one I mentioned above is directly related to the livelihood and health of our children, including mine. Other policies we worked to support affect our soldiers, the general population and again our children.  Unfortunately, without the help of our government, like them or not, these issues cannot be addressed and given the attention they deserve. Financial concerns are greater than ever and unfortunately the first things to go are social services, which cannot be tolerated. Our nation’s health and wellness should be of paramount concern to a government who needs it people in order to come back from a recession and economic downturn such as what we are experiencing.

If I can be of help and support in this process, then I believe it’s important for me to continue to come to the plate, even if I don’t know “exactly” the right ways to do it. I can learn along the way, and guess what, so can you! Check out the information on Mental Health America’s website about the policies we lobbied for and tips on how to do so yourself.

I can think of no greater privilege than to have had this opportunity to advocate for our nation and the mental health issues that we so greatly need addressed.

The Finer Things

In the midst of the world of upheaval that I have been in for several weeks now, I finally found myself a moment to take for me, just me. As much as I love to declare the importance of self-care and self-love, it can be really hard to put it into practice. It is especially difficult if it involves spending money.

When times are tough and money is tight, and even when it isn’t, many of us have a hard time spending money on ourselves. I know there are also many who have no problem with this whatsoever, and that is perfectly grand! But for some, when we spend money on ourselves we feel guilty. Especially if we suffer from a chronic illness that does not allow us to be the kind of money-maker that we would like to be or if we are dependent on others for help or support. And if we are caretakers of others, like precious children who are relying on us for all of their needs, that makes the challenge of self-indulgence sometimes feel unbearable. There is a sense that I am robbing my kids of something they may need if I spend money on me.

So let this all preface my most recent adventure.

Night before last I went to Nordstrom. The land where dreams are often made. I wandered around the shoe department and a bit in the handbags. On my exit, I looked up and was greeted by the kindest smile at the Lancome counter. It was the kind of smile that said, it’s okay, I will smile at you even if you aren’t buying anything from me! So, I went over to the counter and asked her (Jennifer) about their mascaras (everyone always raves about their Definicils mascara but I don’t care for it). Our conversation turned and I shared with her that I have been wanting to learn how to better bring attention to and open up my eyes with make-up. She offered kindly to set an appointment with me and for me to even bring in my very own make-up and she would help me work with what I have! (so super sweet) So I did, I set up the appointment and I had my visit with her yesterday.

It was so fun and Jennifer was so sweet. She used a lot of my make-up and she also enhanced the look with some things from their product line, but all in all, she was really into showing me how to do it myself, not about roping me in to spend a ton of money. It was the most fun and least amount of pressure I have ever felt at a make-up counter! I ended up purchasing two things, and she even threw in some free lipstick. I also have to say that I looked quite nice after my time with Jennifer. She was good really good and didn’t load me up with too much!

Feeling good about myself, I went upstairs to the women’s clothing department. I have lost a somewhat significant amount of weight recently and I desperately need some clothes that fit. I had a blast as the girl who was helping me positively doted on me, bringing me things she thought I would look good in and new sizes if I needed them. At one point I started crying with pure joy because I couldn’t believe how all of my hard work and new healthy habits have paid off. I felt really proud of who I saw in the mirror (and I am no super model!). I was having my own little celebration in the dressing room. I wanted to jump up and down and scream, but I thought better of it. I was grinning from ear to ear.

I bought a couple of pieces, but I couldn’t afford to purchase the dress (oh the beautiful dress!) that I really wanted. Even still, the buyer’s remorse and guilt set in almost immediately. “Do I deserve these new clothes, really? Is this really what I should do with my money?” (mind you, I have hardly any clothes left that will stay up around my waist, but I was still feeling undeserving) It was a great reminder of how hard it can be for me to shower myself with the finer things in life. I am pretty much ok with buying myself a top at Target (especially if it’s on clearance!), but when it comes to getting some items from Nordstrom (even off of the fabulous sale rack) I feel guilt, guilt, guilt.

I didn’t allow the guilt to ruin the experience. I am filled with a lot of good and healthy celebratory thoughts. I feel powerful and proud of myself for the accomplishments I’ve made. I’ve decided I am worth being spoiled (in complete moderation) and I am working to accept that I did nothing wrong by rewarding myself, taking care of my need to be clothed, and buying myself a couple of basics that I really do need.

Do you ever have a hard time spoiling yourself in any manner? Do you feel guilty afterwards. I almost always do, and it’s something that I plan to continue working on. Of coarse, when money is an issue, it’s important to keep the rewards and treats realistic and within budget, but as long as that is being done, shouldn’t we feel good about some extra TLC? Do those of us with chronic illness and or mental health issues have an even more difficult time with this or this just about a feeling of self-worth that so many of us contend with?

As a little piece of wisdom:

Go ahead, indulge (within reason and responsibly). We all deserve to treat ourselves like the most wonderful and special people that we are!

Here is a picture of me, after the makeover (remember, make-up only, and several hours later but still feeling pampered!)