Self-advocacy for emotionally-abused women


selfconfidence-smallI had an unpleasant confrontation with a staff member at my college yesterday. Up to that point, absolutely everyone, including instructors and administration, have been absolutely amazing. The atmosphere on that campus is perfect for someone like me who struggles with general anxiety and chronic fatigue: calm and peaceful.

The good part about yesterday’s conflict is that I stood my ground in the presence of a much-younger student. We (the other student and I) then talked about the interaction, discussing the law, hostile educational and work environments, even the Constitution.

Over the last few years, I have had to evaluate associations, relationships, my religion and even my marriage. I had to make some really hard decisions that benefited me, many for the sake of self preservation. I began to learn self-advocacy.

When I started college in January 2013, I was suffering from many things, the worst being virtually no self-confidence. I began the financial aid process expecting denial. I entered the college program of choice expecting to do poorly. I did my work, almost killed myself to succeed, and was told several times by professors that I am worrying too much about grades. I couldn’t help it. I had something to prove . . . to myself.

I still get failing grades in a couple of areas of my personal life when it comes to self-advocacy, but those are on my list to get through in the near future. I too often allow pride to interfere with seeking the help I need to merely survive (like going off SNAP when I couldn’t afford to do so).

I learned that there are no white knights out there. As a woman, I must advocate for myself. What is delightful is when I find other men and women who support me in my journey. There have been many (sadly, none of them my family).

grant flyer screenshotI am embarking on a new adventure: applying for grants. This is difficult for me.

It requires that I sell myself, or my need, effectively. While I have always been able to sell my skills in job interviews, I feel all anxious inside at thinking about people reviewing my life and thinking that I am not worthy of assistance.

It requires that I ask people for letters of recommendation. I am very nervous any time I must ask someone I know to do something for me. I set myself up for rejection and refusal because that is mostly what I have experienced in my life (but not always).

But not always . . . there have been people there at vital times in my life, willing to give me encouragement, even assistance, when I needed it the most. This is what encourages me. That, and the fact that I have worked very hard since starting school, putting myself out there.

When I joined the college newspaper, I interviewed two of the three deans for an article on mental health. When I was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, I made a point to introduce myself and speak with the third dean that I had not met yet. These professors and administrators are there for students just like me; they are passionate about seeing individuals succeed because then the college succeeds. Whenever my instructors and professors offer assistance, office hours, and help of any kind, I make an appointment and avail myself of that. They have so much to give, so much to teach me, that I would be stupid not to take advantage of their willingness to teach and mentor me. On Tuesday, one of my English professors stayed after class to help me work through (mentally) what I want out of a 4-year university when I am ready to transfer. I feel so much more empowered.

As I have said, every single interaction on campus has been positive except for that one incident. That is life, though. Learning to deal with unpleasantness is just as important as accepting success, which I admit is not easy for me, either. In this case, this incident cannot be ignored because it involves First Amendment rights and the press. I am not alone, though. The instructor who has been teaching me journalism offered to go with me to speak with one of the deans because it is a serious issue. I am NOT alone.
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I get a bit emotional thinking about this part of my new life. Denial of my experience by others has been such an integral part of my life that when people believe me and agree to stand by me I am flabbergasted. Deep down inside I know — false knowledge, by the way — that I am not worth the effort or confidence of others. That is the biggest demon that I fight. I am fighting it, though. My shield is up, my sword is out, and this shield-maiden is ready for battle (while trembling inside). Notice that my biggest battles are within myself, always.

I heard some stories yesterday from students about unethical instructor behavior and hostile educational and work environments on my college campus. Oh, I so want to help build in young women (and men) the ability to use their voices effectively and with confidence. Maybe my experiences, struggles and eventual emergence (I am still such a work in progress) can help others learn to effectively self-advocate in the future — this is the impractical part of me that wants to study law (which I will not be doing — I think I can use an English degree much more effectively).

So . . . I will be applying for grants regularly. I know that once I get through the process of applying for the first one I will have much more confidence to apply for others in the future. Applying for scholarships and grants is the epitome of self-advocacy. Yep, I can do this.

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