Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Difficulty with Talking about Mental Health

It’s been tough starting to blog. My first blog post was easy. I just sat in front of my laptop and typed it up and hit ‘publish’ immediately. I never thought about the consequences; I didn’t think there would be any consequences.

‘Social Media and Your Mental Health’ is a topic not often visited in this sector. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Blogging) has been recognised as a powerful tool in letting people connect, share content, and promote a message for a while now. But we don’t stop to consider the impact, sometimes positive and sometimes negative, that this can have on your mental health.

For me, Facebook springs to mind as having a negative impact. When I was down there was nothing worse than looking at posts from people boasting about their ‘perfect’ lives. And let’s face it, when something bad happens you don’t see a Facebook post about it. No one wants to share their misery. No one announces the job interview they didn’t get, the F grade in their essay. We (and yes, I am guilty of this too) show off the positives in our lives far more than the negatives. The new job, the night out with your friends, how awesome your friendship with your ‘bezzie’ is. These are what get likes and in reality, aren’t we all just fishing for likes?

But imagine how horrible that is for someone who is down to scroll through. ‘Oh John was out with his friends last night, no one ever invites me anywhere’.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t post the positives on Facebook, I’m just saying how much it sucks to see everyone else’s positives when you are drowning in your own misery.

Facebook made me so miserable when I was down. I couldn’t understand why everyone was living happy lives when I wasn’t. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t like everyone else. And I had nothing else to do but be on Facebook every evening. It was all-consuming and utterly devastating.
And I tried to contribute to the Facebook ‘community’; because that’s what you have to do; play your role and remain a part of it. But because of my Depression I couldn’t contribute anything positive. I wrote statuses about my low mood. I shared my pain. But this didn’t fit into the Facebook ‘image’ we have created, and I was shunned, and in turn felt immediately worse. In many ways my mood was controlled by Facebook – if I got likes, I was happy because I felt ‘liked’; if I didn’t, then I felt like a failure who was entirely unrelatable to anyone else.

 And that’s why I have been cutting it out of my life ever since I started to come to terms with my mental health. For me, Facebook had a negative impact on my mood, it was a trigger. I visit it far less frequently now, shockingly I’m not on it every day. And when I am, I rarely visit my newsfeed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against Facebook; I use it to stay in touch and I continue to share more ‘positive’ content.
Facebook just has some bad memories for me, but more than anything my move away from Facebook is shaped by the fact that I’m in the nice position of just not having the time for it every day.

Twitter on the other hand was somewhere I could share these negative feelings and (at least I felt) not be judged for it.  And that was how I used it for a long time – ranting in 140 characters at a time. (Occasionally it can be argued that I still use it for this) I first started using Twitter towards the end of my time in counselling. It replaced the role of my sessions and became somewhere for me to vent my feelings. If I was angry at someone, Twitter (and all of my followers) would know. If I was low, Twitter would be the first to hear about it. My moods were easy to trace and follow on Twitter and if I were determined enough I could go back to my first few hundred tweets and follow these.

I think I’ve matured enough past that point now and I can deal with my moods offline. But I could never master this maturity when I was battling the most against my Depression. It's something that comes when you no longer fight with your mental health, but start to accept and live with it. 

Now, Twitter possesses a real sense of community for me. It is a place where I have been able to engage and connect with fellow mental health campaigners, and it’s a place where I can have a voice in the mental health community.

For a little over a month now I’ve been taking a break from blogging. Maybe I dived in too quickly at first, or maybe breaks are always inevitable for me. I don’t know yet.
What I do know is that maintaining and running an active blog became too much for me. I felt pressure to write bi-weekly, and while I had ideas I rarely had the time to do this. I felt that I was arrogant for writing about myself; that relaying my own thoughts and experiences showed I thought far too much of myself.

I also became paranoid about sharing too much of myself online (but not in a creepy ‘Big Brother is watching you kind of way’). I began to question whether I should be so public about my mental health. I was afraid that future employers might see it. I was scared of being judged by someone before I ever got to meet them. Or worse, being judged by those I know about something I put online.

In this case I believe I was stigmatising myself. I started to think that my own mental health problems were shameful, and sharing them was no longer appropriate. I wanted to hide it

Let me be clear here. I have never once thought that anyone else who blogs about mental health, or who blogs in general were attention-seeking or arrogant or embarrassing. But I am and always have been my own worst critic.

As such, I needed time out to process what I was doing, and whether I wanted to continue. Here’s what I decided:

-         Blogging keeps the conversation of mental health real and current. It shows the day-to-day reality of struggling, of falling, and of succeeding. UCD have a blackboard set up by Peer Mentors called ‘Before I Die I Want To...’. The first thing I ever wrote on that wall was ‘Before I Die I Want To end the stigma around mental health’. I believe blogging helps to do this, and this is something that I’ve been passionate about for years now. In fact, I have never been more passionate about anything else. Ever.
-        I really enjoyed blogging (before all of the self-inflicted paranoia of course). I found it fun, challenging and therapeutic. So partly, I blog for ME. And that’s okay. I shouldn’t be ashamed that I enjoy doing this.
-        I don’t have to blog to a schedule. I can do this when I want, when I’m ready, and I can take a break and time-out whenever I want to or have to too. Anyone who reads my blog is just going to have to put up with that!
-       Honestly, I don’t mind if people don’t like me because of my mental health. It is so much a part of me and of my story that I am comfortable with that. I was asked if I wanted to do a TV3 interview about mental health recently. Immediately, I said 'Yes, I'll do it!' And I did it. Speaking out about my journey isn't something I have ever shy-d away from before, and I don't have shy away from it online just because I fear people won't like it.
-          Sometimes your inner critic can be an advantage. You work harder.  But other times it stands in your way. I can’t let it beat me.

Now, I understand that you can never see the whole person just through their online presence. 

And in the context of mental health, it's a really important lesson to learn.