Today’s NHBPM prompt: My personal brand. As a Health Activist, you are a front-facing leader. What do you imagine you look like to your readers? What qualities do you possess? It’s ok to toot your own horn today – you have full permission to indulge. And don’t hold back.
A few years ago, I didn’t see myself in an advocacy role and the weird thing is that the opportunity was actually thrown into my lap. I didn’t seek it but someone else thought I would fit the part and I am proud that I have not let that person down. While I found a new talent for understanding medical information, advocacy is as far as I will take this. Growing into this role, I never once believed its potential but here I am trying to get a message across. That message for me is tell fellow chronic illness sufferers that they are not alone when it comes to navigating the health system, learning about their own illness and getting others to understand.
If you are trying to be a health activist or advocate, you should know that it has to come from your heart – at least, that is the way I see it. It also requires commitment, including time and a willingness to get out there. You must train yourself to be a good communicator because if you cannot get your message across and say the things that people need to hear, you will find yourself alone on this one. Activism also takes courage, initiative and creativity. Think about it. If you believe so passionately about something, you have to be willing to stand up for it, be willing to take the initiative to be a leader and you have to think outside the box. Passion, a positive attitude, an ability to solve problems and vision are qualities that make a great activist. Your passion lies in your attitude and your attitude has to be a positive one and if you believe in your goals, you can make them happen. Being a problem solvers mean you solve problems rather than letting them get to you. Last, a true visionary seizes an opportunity and does it with drive and passion. The late Steve Jobs once said that: “If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.”
Since I am allowed to toot my own horn today, I am proud of the role I play – here at my blog, at Arthritis Connect, and Fibromyalgia Connect. My role isn’t one that pushes for something to happen (i.e. ban or limit something). My role is one that provides support and facilities an environment of understanding.
Activism and advocacy are terms used interchangeably and while they overlap, they have different meanings. That distinction is dependent on your involvement in a cause. Activists are people who take an intentional action to bring about social and political change. For example, Rosa Parks challenged racial segregation. An advocate is someone who speaks on behalf of someone else or on a behalf of a group. Angelina Jolie is a UN Goodwill Ambassador who uses advocates for refugees. So, I am an advocate who speaks up for those needing support as they navigate a life with chronic illness. And I am very proud of that.
I never once imagined myself affecting people’s lives in such a positive way. Your comments here and at my advocacy sites remind me that I am making a difference every day. I stumbled in the beginning but in time, I evolved with the role. In a recent post, I touched a bit on how much I have grown into this role and like everything else in my life, I take personally. If I make a decision to take something on, I take it on with the best of ability. In the beginning, as I muddled along as the new advocate for a new arthritis website, I did what I needed to do feel useful and important because RA and fibromyalgia had, in a way, taken that from me. The more I grew into the role, the more I felt a sense of accomplishment – and not the kind you get from achieving a goal, but the kind of accomplishment where you feel like you have touched a life. As time went on, I realized I was good at what I did, and whether it was reaching out to my blog readers or the members of my advocacy sites, I was darn good at it. How about that for tooting my own horn? I had taken something I knew and turned it into something I became an expert at and I am pretty pleased with that.
It is a good thing I became an expert advocator because my biggest test came after my brother was hospitalized. He had cancer and by the time it was discovered, he was too far gone to be saved. I found myself fighting for my brother like I was fighting for my own life. I found myself fighting with insurance companies and medical professionals. I spent many long nights reading up about treatment options and many long days reaching out to experts on the topic. I did everything I could but my brother’s cancer battled ended five days before Christmas and six days before my 35th birthday. It took me awhile to grasp what I had happened and in the beginning, I felt like I had failed him. It took some time but I finally came to terms with this and I realized that I was there when he felt the most alone he had ever felt in his entire life. I stood up for him when he couldn’t stand up for himself. I was his voice when he didn’t have one. I did everything that made him proud to call me his big sister. As I advocate, I advocate in his memory. My brother saw me fight every day for him and I continue to fight for him in the best way that I know how. There are medical bills that need to be paid and other financial business that my brother left behind so my advocating for him hasn’t really ended – it has just taken a different tone. What I know is that my brother relied on me to be his voice and his strength when he didn’t have a voice and his strength ran out and it is something I will continue to do in order to keep his memory alive.
Advocacy has changed my perspective and I see success in emails, voices, and faces of those I have reached. I don’t remember wanting to this role but now that I have it, I like how it feels. I don’t know how my readers perceive me but I don’t see myself as a super advocate or as a superwoman. However, sometimes I think some people in my life think I am made of steel but contrary to that, I am not. I believe in being real and in showing people that your own strength is not something you can always count on and that is okay. Sometimes, you need someone else to be strong for you and there will be times when you will have to be strong for someone else. Strength is something no one has to take on alone.
This post was written as part of NHBPM – 30 health posts in 30 days: http://bit.ly/vU0g9J