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The Journey of Self-discovery: Agency and Wholeheartedness

This introductory blogpost is penned by Earnst, one of our newest members at ECNV. As a formal mental health clinician, he describes the importance of taking charge of one's destiny despite adversity. He also shares his own personal struggle and disability, in an effort to inspire others to forge their own path.

I write this to all of you as a personal welcome to my ongoing series of thoughts concerning our wonderful and resilient community. As a member of the disabled population, I am very accustomed to living my life through a different lens  than an individual who is not affected by such circumstances. I am not ashamed of my disabilities – I live with Trigeminal Neuralgia: a painful nerve disorder that affects the left side of my face. I also live with major depression and extreme anxiety for most of my days. I live with doubt, frustration, and even anger nearly every day of my life. In fact, I have almost come to the point where it is normalized for me. I go into work thinking, “I am not good enough to be here…” The reason why I am so candid about sharing these “vulnerabilities” with you is because they don't define me, and I hope that by sharing them with you, you will in turn, feel a sense of connection to what I talk about. Despite living with these conditions, I have lived my life wholeheartedly (an important term that I will talk about later), I have worked in the mental health field for four years and counting. I have been an intern, a counselor, and a supervisor throughout my career as a mental health professional.
However, this post is not about myself. It is about you, and the rest of the community that I have devoted my life towards helping. I can guarantee you that WE are some of the most resilient beings on this planet. Consider this blog as an ode to us – and celebration of our victories and as an avenue to cope with our limitations.
Agency is a word that is synonymous among clinicians – it is a word to describe our ability to control our own destiny. I find it to be a perfect topic to begin this blog, due to the fact that many people who have disabilities may feel as though other individuals present us as people without agency. It is extremely frustrating for people to pity, or treat us as people without the capacity to: make decisions for ourselves, to learn from our own mistakes, or even to celebrate the things that we have done, no matter how minute others may think about it. Agency is important for each and every one of us. That is why it is important to talk about – and advocate for our agency. You may ask yourself, “what's the point?” or “nothing will change”. However, that is a prime example of limited agency. I am imploring each of you readers to follow me on this journey of self-discovery and empowerment, as we journey onwards to define how disabilities have shaped our viewpoint towards the world, but not our ability to see reason and seek understanding.
If you, reader, can empathize with what I say, then I would like to say this – You are not alone in this. You are more capable than you think. Most of all, you are worthy of sharing your story and having people unequivocally understand the boundaries that you establish for yourself. If you don't like being talked down to, then say something. If you feel as though other people are giving you extra “support” than you need, say something. Mind you, this is not a free pass to be a jerk – but rather a chance to educate others on how to listen to your voice. You must be passionate, yet calm. You must display emotion, but also remind yourself that you need to be mindful of others. Hypocrisy is easy in this day and age, but we are all more capable than that.
Which brings me to that one word: wholeheartedness. It can be defined in multiple ways, but what I speak about is in regards to how to live one's life. As a mental health clinician, I have seen tragedy – not in regards to a specific event or circumstance, but rather our inability to be truthful to ourselves. Take a moment to ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Am I honestly happy?
  2. What are some things about myself that limit my happiness?
  3. Can I change these traits? / How can I cope with the limited options or avenues that are presented to me?
You don't have to ask yourself these questions at this moment. In fact, I implore you to ask them as you are relaxing – with an empty mind. This will allow you to avoid distraction and be present in the moment. There are no right or wrong answers. There is only your answer. Once you have that answer, it is important to write them down, or share them with a loved one – process and talk about it. It may be awkward at first – in fact, if you are unaccustomed to sharing your feelings, it may even be dreadful at times. You are doing something empowering though. You are practicing your voice. You are telling your story.
One final thought: I would like to invite you to share your thoughts about this post, share your story with me, or even say “hello”. I may post your stories for the next blogpost (with your permission), because I truly believe in the concept that everyone has the right to share their story. Feel free to email me at This isn't about my crusade to help all of you. It is our journey, and I would hate to take away your agency. Thank you for reading my very first blogpost, and I hope you have a wonderful day!
Warmest Regards,
Earnst Ilang-Ilang I