Sunday, 19 January 2020

HOW I FEEL ABOUT ADVICE


I was recently out with some friends and we got talking about someone we know who recently flashed off her CV in a seemingly desperate bid to illustrate her entitlement to her position in teaching. Later in the conversation, one of my friends was praising my use of social media – namely Twitter - and asking for my thoughts on an online project; seemingly deeming me to be an ‘expert’ in the field! It made me think though, about whether I’m comfortable being thought of in that way and looked to for that kind of advice…


When I first started I’m NOT Disordered in January 2013, my only technical abilities were to manage my own social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I think that in starting to blog, my priorities were more about it being therapeutic for myself to reflect, to provide my friends and family with insight into my life in the psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from them, and to encourage others to talk more openly about mental health. It was never about improving my technical ability, getting so many readers, free gifts, and event invitations. I think that the fact I didn’t start off with these intentions makes me feel slightly like a fraud and that it is wrong to accept any recognition for my ‘skills’ in achieving such opportunities.



I remember when I started out on Blogger and had to enlist the help of another inpatient to design the original I’m NOT Disordered layout and logo, and then she was being discharged and I was still there so I was forced to learn how to do it all myself! Sometimes, I use this experience as my attitude towards those asking for tips, in that I wonder whether it’s best that they too learn how to do things for themselves. I mean, when I first started blogging there was about three well known mental health blogs on the scene; one by a Policeman, another by a Psychiatric Nurse and one by an ex-mental health service user. No one was really covering things from the inpatient point of view, and so I found my niche for I’m NOT Disordered. This also meant that I had no one to really ask for help when it came to making decisions about the layout of the site or the content I was publishing. This experience could go one of two ways; 1. I think ‘why should anyone else be able to get advice if I couldn’t?!’ and 2. Was it fair on others to leave them learning things the hard way, as I had to? I mostly lean towards option two! I say mostly because there are bits and pieces that I’ve learnt through the years (all seven of them!) that I’ve never disclosed; even when they’ve been the answer to someone’s question.


‘Why?’ – I hear you ask! Blogging has become such a competitive industry as more and more Bloggers surface and grow in popularity until their number of followers are rivaling that of ‘famous’ pop stars and actors. Initially, I had the very best intentions of not getting caught up in the rivalry and competitiveness, but I think that when you’re dedicated to something, it’s very hard to avoid being swept up and immersing yourself in the entirety of it. However, with some Bloggers having different ethos and morals to others and yet still reaping the rewards that those of us who work extremely hard do, it’s very hard not to feel competitive and become secretive of the ‘tricks of the trade’ that you’ve learnt.


With all of that in mind, I also still see the alternative side of opening up in the hope that it protects other Bloggers from learning things the hard way, as I feel I had to. Reaching half a million readers in April 2019, provided the opportunity for me to really consider this point because hitting this landmark – as much as I was honoured and excited to reach 100,000 readers – has really been a pivotal moment in my modesty! I guess that I felt that I could no longer claim to be a lesser Blogger compared to others when I have over half a million people reading what I write! Of course, I know that not everyone will enjoy my content, but every single person has been interested enough to click on the link!


Another area of my life where advice is prudent, is in mental health. I actually think that people will have thought I’d had put this first in the post because I guess mental health is what I’m NOT Disordered is all about. However, after writing ‘The  Ultimate Advice Post’ in August 2019, I feel worried that you’d all have had more than enough from me about advice and mental health(!), but then I thought of all the lovely new readers that have visited the site since then and figured there might still be a few things I could say about the subject!


I think that whilst providing advice for anything in life is so important, advice on mental health can be more vital than anything else in the world. It really can be lifesaving; especially where that person is feeling suicidal. In the mental health training sessions that I’ve helped deliver to Northumbria Police’s new recruits, I always tell the Officers that they have the potential to talk someone away from the ledge or provide motivation for them to jump; that is how precarious things can be. 


I mean, if someone is already struggling and then you say something unhelpful, it really can be enough to lead to that person’s condition worsening, but when you’re trying to support someone, you can become so keen to help that you may not think through what you say properly. Or you might suggest just about anything in a desperate bid to make that person feel better. These acts of desperation can lead to a person feeling patronized where they feel that the advice they’re being given is so insignificant that they think the person must not realize the magnitude of their struggle. My local Crisis Team were once renowned for recommending Service Users ‘take a bath’ when they call whilst feeling suicidal or having thoughts to self-harm. Whilst they may have had the best intentions, something so… simple can come across as demeaning to the strength of the negative thoughts and feelings that person is experiencing.


Making recommendations of alternative coping strategies can also leave a person feeling even more hopeless where they have either already tried the advice and it hasn’t helped, or they do try the advice and it is of no benefit. It can leave the person thinking ‘well if that didn’t work, then nothing will!’ I was often advised to ring the Crisis Team when I had thoughts of self-harm or suicide and I always said that I didn’t ring them because if I did, and I poured my heart out to them and then it didn’t help, I would’ve put myself out there for nothing. This is why I’m both careful in giving advice on I’m NOT Disordered, and taking advice from others – yes, even mental health professionals. I say careful rather than reluctant because I’m more than willing to listen to people, I just try not to let too much rest upon it. I’ve learnt to speak up more so that if I feel offended by their advice and see it as patronizing then I’ll say, and if they tell me do something and it isn’t helpful then I tell them so that we can look at other things I can do to improve the situation. In the past, though, I would have responded to advice I deemed to be poor by being uncooperative with the person dishing out the advice, and/or allowing my negative thoughts and feelings to take control. And yes, this often meant self-harm; hence why I know how important it is to be careful with advice. 


Finally, one of the most important aspects of advice is about the importance of being aware of coming across as a hypocrite. It’s all too easy to tell someone what they should do in a situation but if you were in that same situation, would you take your own advice? And perhaps more importantly, would you listen to someone giving you the advice you, yourself, are dishing out? Would your experience of the situation and different perspective not change how you actually feel? For me, when I give advice on my blog, I tend to make it clear that the tips have worked for me, but I acknowledge that they may not be the answer for everyone. I also like to get across the message that I have learnt these alternative coping strategies etc. the hard way and that is my motivation to recommend these things to others; the hope that it’ll help avoid them going through what I have. It’s almost as I was saying about the advice on blogging except with mental health, there is so much more risk to someone going through what I have. Learning how to design your blog because your designer has left, is rough. Learning alternatives to self-harm because you have self-harmed, is a completely different ball game.