Social justice is for everyone, including people with disabilities. ~ Marlee Matlin
This Saturday I will be participating in a social justice workshop at my church. I feel so grateful that I now belong to a denomination that actively participates, preaches and teaches about social justice. When I was a Presbyterian, I felt disgusted that we never celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day or talked about social justice issues being a part of the church's work. I do not believe that God calls us merely to be pious, but also to advocate positive change - to not passively but to actively participate in bringing Godde's kin-dom to Earth.
I am attending the conference because I am interested in learning how to apply social justice work in a religious institution, but also because I feel like I am not doing enough work on my own. Part of that reasoning I know is simply a part of my personality, as an Enneagram Four, I am constantly longing for more-more out of myself and more out of this world. It is a longing that can motivate myself to take on more than I can handle and to slip me into melancholy if I am not careful, but with the right attention it can also motivate me to push past my comfort zone and try new experiences.
Pushing past my comfort zone is another reason why I am taking the workshop - I feel like the work I do feels too safe and I do believe that staying in safe waters limits our potential. Sure, I fill out online petitions every day for causes I care about, but that is easy - I can do it in my pajamas at home.
And then I had an extraordinary thought - a reminder from my higher power if you will - doesn't my mental health work count as social justice work?
I tend to dismiss my advocacy because it is from the comfort of my own home, but does that really matter if the material reaches those who need it? And besides, I do have a disability - with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and anxiety, strenuous marches and lobbying is not usually an option for me. Social justice is not about doing easy work, but it should not be about doing miserable work either. If the work is not life - enriching, full of love, then it is not worth doing in the first place.
My mental health advocacy is not always easy either. Sure, it is pretty easy for me to write, but it is not always so easy to make public the parts of my life where I have seemed the most "crazy." I usually do it anyway, because I know that the only way to beat mental health stigma is by speaking about mental health issues. Also, while by this time speaking at hospitals about my recovery is fairly easy now, that was not always so. In fact, until just a few months ago, it was very hard for me to share in hospitals - being in that unpredictable environment made me very anxious and sometimes even triggered me. Yet I did it anyway because again, I think providing hope and reversing stigma is that important. When it comes to my mental illness, I try to lead an authentic life by talking about my struggles or by sharing some encouragement with others in everyday conversations. When I had an eating disorder, I tried to project a perfect image, but now I try to do the opposite! I try to project an authentic image of a person that sometimes struggles with mental and physical illness, but who also still leads a productive and successful life. I hope that what people realize after getting to know me is that everyone can lead a successful life, as long as they define what success is for themselves and are open enough to let people help. Success looks different for everyone and certainly does not necessarily mean that a person has money, a job, an able body/mind or the "right" education.
I am still glad that I am taking the workshop this weekend, but I am also glad that I reframed my reasons. I do a lot of advocacy work already - it's just that the mental health arena is so left out of the conversation that it's advocacy is usually forgotten about or left unrecognized. That needs to change. Like Matlin said, "social justice is for everyone, even those with disabilities."