Tuesday, March 2, 2021

When Advocacy is Self-Care for Mom

Cindy sitting alone in a wide-open, grassy field under gray skies.

Most of February wasn't great for me. A major case of the blahs? COVID-19 blues? Mild depression? Call it what you want, but those washed out/washed over emotions snuck up on me. It was a few solid weeks of...

  • going to bed earlier and sleeping in longer each day
  • skipping Zoom Taekwondo class & all exercise
  • staying in from the snow (not normal for this Minnesota girl)
  • serving my family more sandwiches & frozen meals instead of cooking
  • not returning phone calls or texts from friends
  • decreasing work to absolute minimum
  • increasing intake of chocolate and wine
  • cookies...so many cookies
Cindy sitting with head down,
hair obscuring her face
Do any of those sound familiar? If so, it's not too surprising. We've achieved a one-year milestone living with COVID-19. I think I knew this in the background and was entering a mourning phase. Eleven months ago, experts were already naming this kind of pandemic isolation feeling as another kind of grief. Grieving over the loss of time with friends, travel, live entertainment, education...oh, just everything. I've helped several people through it, including my husband and my kids. Somehow, this "anniversary" just triggered it in me.

Of course, the unhealthy eating and lack of exercise took its toll until three days of headaches made me consider getting a COVID-19 test. But then, something snapped me out of my funk and made me forget all about my headaches. The UN Foundation's Shot@Life Summit began. 

Shot@Life Champions from 2013 Summit

The Summit is an annual gathering of global vaccine activists. For 2021, of course, it was a virtual event. It kicked off with a video retrospective of all we've accomplished in 10 years together. Pictures of my old friends from the launch of the program, through our Uganda trip, and years of meetings on Capitol H
ill hit me with a sweet dose of nostalgia. Statistics about our progress in the world made me proud. Faces of new advocates inspired me. I was a mess of happy tears remembering this thing I am a part of all the time even when I'm not actively working with them.

The Shot@Life Summit always includes an advocacy day of congressional meetings on Capitol Hill. Even though the meetings were over Zoom this year, we still had to absorb new info from the summit speakers and prepare our talking points for the meetings all the same. 

It may sound counter-intuitive, but the energy I expend doing this exhausting, purposeful work flows back to me 100 times over! A lot of it is because I get to draw inspirational energy from other advocates and experts I admire. Also, preparing to make persuasive pitches to congressional offices drives out useless and destructive thoughts. It feels good to be needed, help others, and even change the course of human history. The work that I do on global immunization access is my way of contributing to the END of the pandemic that had me grieving in the first place. I'm happy to trade listless feelings for empowerment. 

I'm not the only one who thinks advocacy can be self-care. Here are some quotes from mom-advocates I interviewed for my book who know that advocacy actions can bring positive change to ourselves, not just the world around us.


“I think even a small thing—like writing a letter—is changing from being passive and negative to active and positive.”

—Helena Webb, St. Louis, Missouri



“Each meeting with Congress makes me feel really empowered and confident. Like I can do this, but not just this… I can do life.”

—Candace Ellis, Belleville, IL


“Taking action brings me peace.”

—Cara Fleischer, Tallahassee, Florida


“It makes me feel like a better mom—as if I’ve done something to impact their future that didn’t include a potty or snack food. It also makes me feel in control of something bigger than myself and I love the example that it sets for those around me—including my kids!”

—Jennifer DeFranco, Palatine, Illinois


“I feel like I’m making a difference and even if it is a small difference, it makes me proud. Proud to be a mom, an educator, and a citizen.”

—Lisa Turner Sahadevan, Atlanta, Georgia


“I feel like I am deserving of the space I inhabit on this Earth. I am worthy of being here . . . especially when my actions help others who are unable to act.”

—Liessa Alperin, Ballwin, Missouri

“Believe it or not, it’s a sense of therapy for me when I feel bad about what’s happening around me. So, taking action is really lifting!”

—Maxine Thomas, Indianapolis, Indiana

Maxine Thomas' quote is spot on. She gave that to me more than a year ago before we knew how much I would personally need her words.

If you've made it this far, I'd like to add that I'm GLAD I was sad. I appreciate that my friends and family gave me the space to not be okay for a while. We all need to room to experience all our emotions — even the negative ones. It will drive us to madness to strive to be happy and strong all the time. I'm grateful that I had the space to take some weeks to retreat and also have a healthy outlet to bring me back. 

To wrap things up, let me share this picture of my favorite meeting of the 2021 Shot@Life Summit. I got to meet with all these fired-up students from Kansas and U.S. Congresswoman Sharice Davids. Rep. Davids is one of the first 2 Native American women to serve in U.S. Congress, the first openly lesbian person to be elected to U.S. Congress from Kansas, and a former professional mixed martial artist. That's a lot to be inspired by! 

A Zoom screen capture of a Zoom meeting with U.S. Representative Sharice Davids
(Davids pictured at bottom center square)