3.Know your rights and insist that others respect these rights. If your rights are not respected, contact your state agency of protection and advocacy (every state has one—you can find it under the state listings in your phone book or by calling the Office of the Governor).

Your rights include the following:

I have the right to ask for what I want.

I have the right to say no to requests or demands I can’t meet.

I have the right to change my mind.

I have the right to make mistakes and not have to be perfect.

I have the right to follow my own values and standards.

I have the right to express all of my feelings, both positive and negative.

I have the right to say no to anything when I feel I am not ready, it is unsafe, or it violates my values.

I have the right to determine my own priorities.

I have the right not to be responsible for others’ behavior, actions, feelings or problems.

I have the right to expect honesty from others.

I have the right to be angry.

I have the right to be uniquely myself.

I have the right to feel scared and say, “I’m afraid.”

I have the right to say, “I don’t know.”

I have the right not to give excuses or reasons for my behavior.

I have the right to make decisions based on my feelings.

I have the right to my own needs for personal space and time.

I have the right to be playful and frivolous.

I have the right to be healthy.

I have the right to be in a non-abusive environment.

I have the right to make friends and be comfortable around people.

I have the right to change and grow.

I have the right to have my needs and wants respected by others.

I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.

I have the right to be happy.

These rights have been adapted from The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Eugene Bourne (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 1995).

4. Educate yourself so that you have all the information you need to make good decisions and to take back control of your life. Study resource books. Check out the Internet. Ask people whom you trust. Make your own decisions about what feels right to you and what doesn’t.

5. Plan your strategies for making your life the way you want it to be. Figure out the best way for you to get what it is that you want or to be the way you want to be. Then start working at it. Keep at it with courage and persistence until you have reached your goal and made a dream come true.

A Possible First Step

One timely way you could choose to begin the process of taking back control of your life is to get involved in the upcoming election. You could begin by thinking about and listing the political issues that are most important to you. They may include things like mental and physical health care, the cost of medications, disability benefits, housing, human services, social justice, the environment, education and employment. Jot down some notes about action you would like to see your community, state or the federal government take with regard to these issues. Then study the candidates. Find out which candidates most closely support your view on these issues and will best be able to create favorable change. Then register before November so you can VOTE for that person or those people.

In addition, if you feel ready, you could become further involved if you choose to by :

  • contacting groups that are concerned with the issues that you care about. Ask them for information, or volunteer to assist them in their efforts.
  • talking to family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers about your views and the candidates you support, encouraging them to vote for the candidates you prefer.
  • letting others know about your preferences through bumper stickers, campaign buttons and lawn signs.
  • writing a letter to the editor of your newspaper to share your views or calling in on radio talk shows.
  • volunteering to work at the polls, or to work for a particular candidate.

Whether your candidates win or lose, you will know you did the best you could and that, through your efforts, more people are now informed about the issues. You may even decide that you want to run for office!

Mary Ellen Copeland, Ph.D. is an author, educator and mental health recovery advocate, as well as the developer of WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan). To learn more about her books, such as the popular The Depression Workbook and Wellness Recovery Action Plan, her other writings, and WRAP, please visit her website, Mental Health Recovery and WRAP. Reprinted here with permission.