Humans of BRAVE: Advocating to Yourself; How to Reclaim Your Power

by Emma Whitmore (Post 3 of 3)

Welcome to my third and final post here on the BRAVE blog! It has been really awesome and exciting to see everyone’s reactions and thoughts. Thank you to all those who have reached out to share their own journeys as a response to my post! I am honored to have made a place where people feel they can share themselves and spread the importance of advocacy! In my first post I talked about advocating in healthcare. In the second post I talked about how this helped me learn to advocate for my needs in regards to standing up to others. Lastly, I am going to be talking about standing up for yourself to yourself.

As my healthcare journey started to last from weeks to months to years;  hobbies, self care, and daily tasks started to become more difficult. It was difficult to realize the large impact this was having on my life, because it happened slowly, over a long period time. There was no drastic shift of energy or lifestyle. Slowly, over time I became tired and overwhelmed. Slowly my brain started to become foggy and feelings became harder to understand. Slowly I started to lose me. With this lack of energy I stopped doing everything I loved.

Creating art, going to workout classes, practicing yoga, hiking; I lost it all. There was a period where all I did was go to my job, sit on the couch and watch TV, go to bed, and repeat the next day.

It was extremely difficult moving straight from college to a new city in a new state where I only knew one person. This is hard for anyone, but when I had no energy, it stopped me from being able to go out and meet new people in my area and create that community of support that all people need. Having only one friend and no family around was really difficult, especially when there are health issues involved. She had to become all of my support every time I needed to go to the doctors, hospital, and more.

In this process of continued cycles of exhaustion I lost all of my self care. I stopped doing everything I love because… well, I didn’t know why. Thinking wasn’t easy, and I wasn’t able to realize the effects my illness was having on me. I would just go home and forget everything that I used to like to do and would just need to sit and sleep. I was so tired that I would just forget. And a lot of these things we do for self care throughout our lives can create community, can create expression, can create passion, can create who we are. And I just gave it all up.

Eventually something clicked. I realized it had been months since I had done yoga, painted or drew, been out to listen to live music, or done anything that brings me joy. I realized I wasn’t myself anymore. People even told me I didn’t have as much of my personality as I used to.

After reflecting, I realized that just because I was tired doesn’t mean that I should be giving up my whole life.

Yes I have chronic illness but that doesn’t mean that I am no longer Emma Whitmore, a passionate young woman who loves life, learning, connection, and is oozing with drive to do something meaningful.

I am still a strong young woman and I am even stronger now. I can still do all of these things and be tired. It is just going to be harder. That doesn’t make it any less important. If anything that makes it all the more worth it.

I realized that I needed to advocate for myself, to myself, in order to be the person that I am.

Just because it was no longer easy, that did not mean it was time to give up, but time to start fighting to feel alive again.

After having this realization, something happened that solidified my feelings. My lovely cousin, Lyndsay, who is a powerful, bubbly, and extremely positive and accepting young woman went on a journey that completely changed her life. In January Lyndsay was diagnosed with a brain tumor the size of a golf ball. When I found out I sobbed thinking about how my strong and bubbly cousin was about to go through something extremely challenging and life changing.

Even through this time of hardship, a lot that came from Lyndsay’s experience was extremely positive. Positivity beamed out of her. She started sharing her story online by creating an Instagram and blog about her journey. It shocked me, in a good way, how positive she was and how much she was willing to share. Her true belief in her ability to make it through this difficult time boosted her inner energy, and just hours after brain surgery Lyndsay was eating Chipotle, and a couple days later sharing again. Her strength against adversity showed me that even in the worst of times, we decide how to think about things. How we decide to advocate and believe in ourselves really matters and makes the difference in how we live our lives and, ultimately, the outcome of our life story.

Here are five tips I used to reclaim my power and myself:

1. Practice Positivity and Gratitude

Just like my cousin, putting out positivity and being grateful can really change the way you think, the way you live, and the way you feel. And what does it hurt to just put some positivity out there? My roommate and I have recently been practicing the power of manifestation. Basically, we just put the idea out into the universe of what we would want the outcome of a situation to be. For example, we were looking for a new apartment and found one we really liked. So, we just kept saying and thinking that if this apartment is in our best interest then we hope it works out, and it did! Not to say just thinking things will get stuff done, but it allows you to be in the mindset of “this is my goal and I am going to focus my energy on it to get it done.”

2. Make Small Achievable Goals

When I decided that it was time to start getting back on my feet, I realized that I wouldn’t be at the same place I was when I left off. To get to the larger goals I wanted to achieve I needed to start small. I would still have a big goal, like being able to run a 5k, but I would break it down into smaller steps. Ways to create these small goals can be setting shorter time periods such as reading for 10 minutes a day. Another way to do this is by lowering the amount. For example, reading 10 pages a day instead of 100.  I’ve found by having smaller goals, like making one small sketch once a week or going for a walk every Tuesday, allows me to be able to feel a sense of accomplishment and motivates me to keep going to get to the larger goals I have.

A great resource for this is Andrea McDermott’s post here on the BRAVE blog! You can check it out by clicking here.

3. Make a Schedule

Something I find helpful is scheduling in the things that I do for self care, or my hobbies. I like to use an hourly planner and write out everything I have going on for the day and penciling in things like art time, read a book, go outside, so I have set and specific times where I do not need to be doing anything else. A big reason that I, and other people, don’t do things is because there’s not time for it! But realistically we have 5, 10, 20, 30 minutes to take out of our day to do something that we find important or that we love. Take away phone time, TV time, or something that you do that isn’t providing any joy in your life. There are other ways to relax and recharge than being behind a screen. Find what’s best for you!

4. Write down your goals

Writing down our goals make us more likely to achieve them. If there is something that you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t felt motivated enough to get it done, try leaving notes somewhere that you can see in your room. Tell people about your goal and brainstorm ideas with them on how you can realistically get this done. When I was trying to start being more physically active again, it became a lot easier when my roommate and I were doing it together and could hold each other accountable for our actions and choices. Also, don’t just write things down, set reminders for them. With technology it is so easy to just set a reminder on our phone to say “read a book” when 7pm comes around. That way if you become distracted, unmotivated, or need an extra boost to put something new into your routine, there will be a constant reminder.

There are some apps that can help you out as well! Here are some that I like to use:

  • Productive - Habit Tracker

  • Done - A Simple Habit Tracker

  • Remente - Self Improvement

  • Fabulous - Self Care

5. Give Up Perfectionism

A reason that I’ve found myself not doing something, and a reason I’ve found a lot of people I know don’t do something, is because I won’t be perfect at it, or as good as I want to be. Now that I have arthritis, being able to get to the same level of yoga and hiking I was doing before is not as easy. It was really frustrating starting up doing yoga again, because poses that came easily to me before were much more difficult, or I was unable to do them. It stopped me from doing yoga for a while, because it was scary, upsetting, and sad. But, I realized that even though yoga was now all of these things, it wasn’t worth giving up all the benefit of it. Yoga is extremely healing to me; motivational, good for my body, and creates a loving and supportive community in my life. Realizing that I don’t need to do arm balances and long yoga flows each time, that short and simple stretches or just rolling out the mat and spending time there was okay, allowed me to accept myself and my body as it is and not let my challenges push away the good.  

So, remember, be kind to yourself. Allow space for you to do the things you love, and allow yourself to be human. By refocusing your perspective you will create new joy that you can build from and move forward from, to reach new goals. It all starts with small steps and self-loving thoughts!