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Advocating for yourself can be triggering but worth it

There's something about advocating for myself that tends to compound triggers. This might be due to the gumption required to step into my power in certain situations. Like when navigating our healthcare system.

As a kid with a chronic illness, I had my fair share of experiences being a patient. And I took great pride in being a good patient. A compliment that was offered to me after every appointment along with a sticker and a pat on my head.

I learned to perform for the doctors. I've perfected calm during procedures many people freak out over. I crack jokes to lessen the tension and lighten the energy of the room. I ask questions using medical jargon to show off my knowledge yet maintain my youthful charm in order to not threaten them.

And then, I go home and crash hard.

It begs the question, who's caring for whom?

I cannot simultaneously perform for the doctors and advocate for myself. In the former I'm wearing strength like a fur coat - it's temporary and temperamental. In the later, I'm standing in my power like a dolphin in water - swimming swiftly, and elegantly.

As I've embarked on an ongoing journey navigating cancer for the last 6 months I've learned A LOT - about myself - about my patterns, my edges, my needs, my stories, my wants, my feelings, my body.

Whenever I'm made aware I need to advocate for myself, it comes from a primal place within me. A gut instinct for survival - speak up or else! A drive which hits me with force and vigor.

Last week, when I was advocating for myself I spoke harshly at the woman on the other end of the phone. It turns out she was with a telecommunications company, not the hospital. But I was too fired up to listen. I got off the phone and cried.

"Who is this person inhabiting my body?" I wondered embarrassed and ashamed.

The harder the fight, the more deeply triggered I become. The longer the fight, the more wary I grow.

This primal impulse both serves me and hinders me. Harnessing it in a way that lifts me above the fray without losing myself is the work of a lifetime, yet I can't not do it.

We find our edges. We lose ourselves. Then we come home and erect new boundaries to contain ourselves within our values.

I see this struggle play out for clients navigating conflict, sometimes toxicity, in the workplace. The need to advocate for oneself comes out like a werewolf's howl. But it isn't well-received, for understandable reasons.

Then shame and embarrassment sets in. This often results in either hiding or doubling down on the force - neither helpful. After all, the fur coat of strength is temperamental and temporary. And if you don't show up for yourself in your time of need, how can you expect anyone else to.

Another option is to respond with self-compassion. Shame and embarrassment are best met with loving kindness.

The voice of compassion says, "It's ok. Mistakes happen. You can right this wrong. You are learning and growing from this experience. Take care of yourself. Fuel your reserves so you are able to sustain calm and equanimity as things continue to unfold."

And then you own your mistakes. Perhaps you have a good cry. You take care of yourself - you nap, go for a walk, drink tea, do yoga, call a friend, journal, meditate, float, get a massage. And you do your best, which is to say, you keep advocating for yourself. With persistence, you learn how to stand in your power and swim like a dolphin.

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