Being a defiant advocate for disabled people, and using modern technology to do it, ended with me wanting to take my own life because I felt like I had no place in what is meant to be one of the more inclusive communities existing in the margins.
Mental health is a discussion area that needs much attention in New Zealand, and it’s just as much of an issue for disabled people living in this country. Disabled people do suffer from mental health, anxiety disorder, and even sometimes, they want to exit this world altogether because it all feels like too much. How much of the 606 deaths by suicide in the 2016-2017 were attributed to someone living with a disability?
I can only come at this blog from personal experience because right now, that is the only thing I trust when it comes to advocating for the rights of disabled people. I’ve been curious about the discussion of mental health within the sector for a long time, and like a lot of the harder topics presented within, we often touch on it with a somewhat cautious approach.
At the time of writing this blog, I am in the process of recovery and learning to love myself again. Two weeks ago, I felt so isolated from the disability community and like such a failure as an advocate, that it made me contemplate ending it all. That’s how much this career means to me, and how much it hurts to feel like it was going nowhere.
I value this line of work more than my own life. Believe that or not, it’s up to you.
So naturally, writing about my feelings seems somewhat premature at this point because most of what has happened is still very new and raw. I just thought that the only way to escape, the only way I could turn off my feelings toward the rejection, sense of failure, and frustration.
I lost the reason for doing all this advocacy stuff, the feeling of being a worthwhile human being, and really, the drive to do anything with my life at all. Sleeping until lunchtime each day wasn’t laziness, it was a survival technique, because for the moments that I was awake and about, I felt as if I was a total failure at doing the one thing I feel I was born to do, be an advocate for people with disabilities.
That’s right, I believe I was born to do this disability advocacy thing. Simply because of the passion, it ignites within me and motivates me to keep fighting. Or, at least, it used to.
So when that passion turned into a sense of failure and exclusion, I was barely able to function, let alone trust myself as an advocate. This is what I’ve carried within since the feelings of isolation and blackballing by the disability community began a couple of years ago. It got to the point where I didn’t want to survive with these feelings anymore, and just as things began to feel like they were looking up through new partnerships and opportunities, the internal pressures to come good on what I was passionate about doing coupled with a growing lack of trust toward who my real friends in this community were, began to send me down that spiral of no return.
That’s exactly what this place feels like readers, a place of absolute no return.
Being An Advocate Within NZ’s Disability Community Made Me Suicidal
I never wanted to be anything but a thought leader, good friend, and defiant battler for the disability community in New Zealand. To do that, I need to be as authentic as possible with how I air my concerns about the challenges we are facing.
Really, that’s what the brand of The Real Michael Pulman is all about, having that tough conversation, sometimes only with myself, about the challenges this disability community faces. Having a brand like that, one known for having these tough conversations in an online space opens you up to a certain amount of criticism.
I accept that, and actually, I accepted that from the very get-go.
What I don’t accept is how this community doesn’t have the systems in place to have constructive dialogues where different styles of advocacy, leadership, and ideas are all accepted and openly promoted. There is a power struggle over the identity of who we actually are as people and what we want, could, and should strive to achieve as a community, as well as a sickening amount of reliance on the ideology that the best way to a better New Zealand for disabled people is Government intervention. More inclusive policies at a Government level aren’t the best answer, though they can help, but the truth is, real inclusion is only ever found in practice.
A policy, or a Government-funded service, is mandated on a broad basis. That doesn’t mean that many of them aren’t good and effective, or that a considerable amount of effort wasn’t put into creating them, but they truly lack the whole of life approach for individuals because the consensus is that caring for disabled people should always be the most important aspect.
Let me tell you something, and this is my truth. I am a 26-year old male, I don’t want to be cared for, I want autonomy over my own decision-making. My disability dictates that I need support, but short of that, the only entity responsible for my self-care is me. That’s my mana, my dignity, and my responsibility.
Current practices in New Zealand’s disability community make it almost impossible for so many of our people to achieve their own version of mana, dignity, and self-responsibility because the focus is always on the marginalization, ableism amongst the non-disabled, and what the Government-funded services are doing, not doing, or attempting to do.
If you really go back and look at my platforms, that’s been the constant discussion for the most part. Certain suggestions that The Real Michael Pulman platform is designed to be some kind of separatist movement, or that my internal belief system is that I am somehow a more real advocate than the rest, is complete nonsense.
When I write something like “pay equity is a total mess in need of fixing”, that doesn’t mean I only think that the policy isn’t right or that the support workers don’t deserve it. Or when I call out a fellow advocate who has publicly said something regarding an issue, it doesn’t mean I am doxing them or bullying their character. I am questioning their views in the work they’ve put out there.
It’s about having real discussions, and absolutely none of these things I am an expert on, nor have I ever claimed to be. I couldn’t be more authentic with the disability community if I tried.
Attacking the work of a man is one thing, but to attack his character and motivation for having these important discussions about the challenging aspects in his own community is something else entirely. Nobody has a right to do that, and yet there are some individuals in this community that do it nearly every day, simply because they either disagree or feel that what’s being said has the potential to damage the community that they have elected themselves “responsible” for.
News flash guys, and this may be the new medication talking, but we are all in this together. Work with me, not against me.