Yesterday I took my power back. I woke up saying to myself ‘I will get better, I will go home and I will take Mr Kitty home.’ Not big statements in the scheme of things but for me at this point in my life that was one of the most significant statements I could have made. Some context: I have been in the psych ward for a month and have been having one of the hardest admissions I have ever had. My mood has been so low that I get to a point where I am so sad I don’t care what happens to me. Cue verbal aggression and emotional outbursts and a lot of threats by hospital staff to send me to the less pleasant hospital across town if I do get a handle on things. Until yesterday I felt powerless to the illness, I felt like I had no control over what happened and how I responded. Not so much the case now. I am the boss.
My powerlessness was not only about my illness though, it was also about the situation I am in – essentially an institutional setting in a society which discriminates against those with mental health issues. All these elements of power impacted on my ability to have my usual sense of personal power. It is nice to have it back that’s for sure but certainly not my ‘fault’ to have been missing it,
Personal power is an interesting concept. I used to be a revolutionary socialist and we didn’t talk much about personal power. we were much more interested in social power. Workers’ revolutions, strikes, that kind of thing, but oppression takes a toll on personal power as well and this is a huge issue for oppressed people.
Some people are so disempowered that they become aggressive and violent. The only power they can access is intimidating other people but this sadly serves to make them even more powerless and subject to institutional care. I often say violence can be the the last weapon a powerless person has and the only one they are aware of having. It doesn’t make it OK but it goes towards explaining it.
Most oppressed people do not respond to powerlessness through violence but through other ways – self-hatred, self-doubt, lateral-violence (where people criticise others in their communities instead of fighting the powers that be). Practical-type issues of oppression like unemployment and social alienation can also relate to a lack of personal power.
Our society and many of those in it is spend a lot of time sapping the personal power of oppressed people through bigotry, hatred, stereotyping, bullying, assumptions, discrimination and messaging about how incompetent and useless we all are. It is a hard thing to take power back in the face of all of this but it is possible.
Some ways of taking power back include
- Advocacy and activism
- Positive roles models from your community
- Positive representation in media etc
- Gradually building your personal power through celebrating achievements, whatever those may be
- Having events to celebrate the achievements of oppressed people
- A sense of shared pride in your community
- Having the opportunity to share your experience with allies and supportive friends
In the scheme of power, me telling my metal illness to eff off yesterday was pretty minor but I imagine it will have ripples into my life and maybe the lives of others, As an advocate having personal power is pretty essential. In fact this blog is an effect of my statement yesterday and I am hoping others will find it helpful and even that it might give them more personal power or the capacity to build theirs.
Personal power makes us bigger people. It makes us strong and proud and strong and proud oppressed people can change the world in a variety of ways, so yay to taking bacl your power,