Humans of BRAVE: Advocating Your Needs to Others

by Emma Whitmore, Post 2 of 3

Welcome to my second blog post here on the BRAVE blog! In case you haven’t read the first one my name is Emma and I was a BRAVE intern for a year and a half working on the mentoring team. In my first post I spoke about my healthcare journey and how I learned to advocate in a healthcare setting. If you want to read that post click here! In this post I will be speaking about how my journey has helped me advocate in other settings as well and the importance of speaking your truth.

Have you ever seriously thought about the question “Why should I advocate for my needs?” I hadn’t fully thought about it until I started writing this post and until I went on my healthcare journey where there was no other option but to advocate for my needs. It was either say something or lose my life to exhaustion and brain fog, and that was not how I wanted to live. A friend who also has struggles with autoimmune diseases was talking to me and said, “You’ll get used to it, the constant tired,” and this just sparked something in me. I responded by saying, “I refuse to live my life like this. I refuse to not get over this.” It is extremely frustrating to feel highly capable and yet physically be unable to accomplish my goals that I know I can if I just had the energy. This conversation is where I truly realized my needs were everything. This is where I chose to fight for myself.

After thinking about why I should advocate for myself, I was writing in my journal and answered a question; Why are my needs so important?

Because this is my life. I am living. I have breath, and a body, and spirit. And so does everyone else. Everyone has needs. What makes anyone else’s needs more important than mine?

This topic is of great importance to me, because I’ve lived so much of my life not understanding that I even had needs. Yes, I know that I need to eat, sleep, go to school, but I didn’t know that it was important for me to express how I felt, or that I was allowed to have an opinion, voice it, and be passionate about it. I didn’t know that the right thing to do was to stand up for myself; to say something in times where someone was putting me down. I didn’t know how.

After going through college and going through my healthcare experience, I realized how much I didn’t advocate for myself throughout my whole life growing up. I was always the kid who was quiet and cooperative, allowing others to have their voice be more important than mine. Going to doctors and even having friends and family telling me that I was fine, that it was just depression, that I was feeling better -- when I never expressed that I was feeling any different -- are all times where I didn’t realize in the moment that I needed to say something. Looking back at these instances I wish I would’ve known to say something, how to say it, and better understood my feelings in the moment.

It is helpful to self reflect and realize that some experiences have shaped why I react the way I do, making burying my needs my norm, my pattern. Growing up I had experiences where I decided to reduce conflict I would put my needs or wants to the side because conflict is uncomfortable. Conflict reduces peace but, is there true peace if there is a battle within you?

I think something really clicked when I started to understand myself and who I am. In high school I was so shy and did not know what my values were. As I went to college, I was a part of new experiences, meeting new people from different cultures and backgrounds. Being a part of organizations like BRAVE really helped me understand who I am, what’s important to me, and that I have value.

It is so important to start talking about these things and how important it is to learn these things early on. I wish it didn’t take me until 22 years old to find importance in myself and to be able to understand that I can be an advocate for myself.

Here are six tips that I’ve picked up that can help you become a better advocate for yourself to others:

1.Learn About You and Your Values

Once you understand yourself and what is important to you, it is easier to stick up for what you believe in. For example, once I realized and understood that I have a personal connection with and am passionate about the equality and respect of people in the special needs community, I found it easier to stand up and say something when someone said the “R” word or talked badly about the community.

Here is an activity for you to try that can help you understand what your values are:

Think of 15 different things in your life that you value. Some values could be love, community, family, career, etc. Write them down in a list from the top to the bottom of a piece of paper. Once you have all 15 written down, rank them in order from greatest to least importance. 1 being the most important and 15 being the least important. Once you have ranked all of these values, talk to someone about them. Why did you choose one value over another? What makes your most important value at the top? Is there anything missing in your value sheet? How are your values similar or different to others in your life?

2.Understand that the Best Advocate for You, is You

Only you know and understand exactly how you feel. If something feels off or you have a gut feeling that something isn’t right, say something. I like to think that you always regret the things you don’t do. If someone is talking down to you, making you feel inferior, belittling your importance on this earth, then say something. I always feel empowered when I decide to speak up and express how I am feeling to those around me.

3.Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

Yeah, this whole speaking up thing is totally uncomfortable. But guess what, most of the best things in life are when you first start doing it. And then eventually the boundaries you stepped out of start to become where you feel comfortable, and you will push yourself even further. I definitely think saying the first word when speaking up for yourself is the hardest part. Just pondering whether you should do it or not can make you think it is going to be worse than it is. I hate conflict and so I have definitely pushed my needs down to let other’s needs be filled. But, if it is important these few seconds of awkwardness are totally worth the long term result of you saying or doing something. A good way to ease into speaking up might be writing it down and having your words nearby so you make sure you say all you need to.

Here are some ideas of ways to start branching out from inside your comfort zone:

  • Try something you’ve never done before.

  • Go somewhere alone; the movies, a concert, or to a class (yoga, workout, art, something you’re interested in)

  • Talk to someone new, just say hi!

  • A great youtube channel to watch is called YesTheory, where their mission is to seek discomfort

4.Prioritize Your Head Space

Think of how much head space this internal battle is taking up inside your brain that you could be using to think of something else, like creating a superhero robot, or inventing the next best ice cream flavor that doesn’t exist yet, or just exploring your passions. Whenever I am having an internal battle where I am pushing down my own needs, it takes up a lot of my thinking. Why didn’t I say something? How come this person is acting this way? Just thinking about the situation is consuming. Allow yourself to be able to dedicate that space to something else!

Here is a writing activity to understand how to prioritize your head space:

  • First, start with a meditation. Some great apps for guided meditation are Calm or Headspace. Doing a meditation will help you to calm your thoughts and clear your mind.

  • Next, take out a piece of paper. On this piece of paper write out some things that make you happy. What are some things you wish you could do more of in your day? What would be things you could do to make the perfect day?

  • After writing things that make you happy write about things that you wish you did less of. What throughout your day makes you feel stressed, overwhelmed, or unable to be content?

  • Start to think about and do more of the things you enjoy and take out some things that clutter your mind or your day. You give power to what you give energy to, mentally and physically.

5.Use Self-Reflection

Recently someone asked me this unheard of, taboo, out of the box, totally crazy question; “What do you need?” Crazy right?! This question is so rarely asked, that I had no idea what to answer. I had no idea what I needed. I had to dedicate time to self reflect and really think about what could benefit me in this time, now. How I did this was I wrote it out. I have always found writing to be a great way to organize my thoughts and to understand what I am really thinking. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer or not, and no one needs to read it (not even you), but just start by putting your pen onto a piece of paper, and that will allow those needs to flow.

6.Be Patient With Yourself

Advocacy takes practice. Especially if you haven’t done it your whole life and are just starting now. It is scary to speak up and put yourself out there and to possibly break the peace. Take small steps and don’t give up. Once you start advocating for your needs you will realize how much your life can change for the better.

Know that you are important, your voice matters, and you have value. You deserve to be free.