I blogged numerous times about my advocacy efforts. I have complained about how hard it has been to go out on my own since leaving a national nonprofit. Well, today I am here to tell you that it can be done! One person can do it. It takes a lot of time, patience (which I really do not have) and determination (I do have that).
If you will recall, I made several posts asking for you to send me your experiences living with mental illness so I share them with Congress. I had a grand plan of having a round table discussion with a few members. Well, the round table discussion did not happen. What did happen was this. I began calling each of my State members one by one for meetings. I was only able to get one meeting, not even with my one Rep. To be fair, that one was my fault. I had already met with him personally and they wanted me to meet with a staffer. I felt offended. I have no idea why. I’ll chalk that one up to Bipolar. Any way, the one I met with really listened. This has turned out to be a great working relationship with his local staffer. She has kept me informed on legislation and helped me get a meeting with one of my Senators…well the legislative aide. And here is the rest of that story:
I had a meeting with my Senator’s legislative aide and it was absolutely wonderful. I told her of my concerns about Rep. Murphy’s bill (HR 2646). You know that fact that it will violate HIPAA laws and that of the 5 committees it forms, only one has a person with a mental illness on it. Oh, and that committee has NO power to do anything! Also, he’s getting rid of SAMSAH (I know the H is the wrong spot). I also talked to her about the partner bill in the senate (S.2680). The main problem with that one: HIPAA violations. She really didn’t think Sen. Murray would let anything pass with HIPAA violations. She also agreed with me that HIPAA violations would not prevent another Sandy Hook as Rep. Murphy is hoping. I felt so reassured. She actually agreed w/ me the correct statistic that people w/mental illness account for 1% of the violence nation-wide. Finally, someone who understands!
Anyway, as we left it, I will be asked to speak to committees and both of our Senators’ about living with mental illness. Now, will any of this change Murphy’s bill? I don’t know, but it might help change that senate bill. At least my voice, and others because I brought those stories I asked for months ago, were finally heard.
All in all, a good day. I even talked about the plight of Bullseye because art is a form of therapy. I gave her my letter that went to Oregon rep. as well. Not bad for being with a nation nonprofit anymore. I’m finally able to speak freely about what it is really important….preventing suicide and helping people like me, people living day in and day out with an illness of the brain
The moral of my story is this: Keep trying. You will be heard. My State senator is the highest ranking member of the senate and now our letters are firmly in her hands. Our voices have been heard. What will come of this? I don’t know. All I know is this: I didn’t give up even when I so desperately wanted to. So to all of you, please don’t give up either. Keep writing your members of Congress. I will help you if you need help. I will give you guidelines for writing an advocate letter, timeline for sending and re-sending letters and help with phone/in-person meetings. Just don’t give up. The more of us that do this, the louder our collective voice will be.