Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try
John F Kennedy
I cannot believe my little blog has reached three quarters of a million readers! I mean, from starting this thing in my hospital room over 100 miles away from home, to now having over 750,000 readers?! Reaching this milestone, I wanted to use it as an opportunity to give people a look into the life of a Blogger, what it means, and my tips on how to succeed in this industry…
Starting off small
I’ll never forget the day I started I’m NOT Disordered; January 6th 2013. I had been an inpatient in a specialist hospital for over a year and had just had a 1:1 with my Key Nurse, Debbie. She asked if every evening, I would start writing little bits about the abuse I had gone through when I was 15. I agreed that I would show a member of staff the writing to give them all a better insight into what I’d been through and why it has affected me so much.
Making this plan felt like a really big step toward recovery and I wanted to document my progress for myself and my friends and family who were so far away that I think it was really hard for them to understand what was going on for me. My decision to use a blog to document that progress was completely random – in fact, it wasn’t really a decision! I just… did it!
So, in the beginning my target audience was literally about ten people, which meant that when I reached 100 readers, another inpatient and I screamed with joy and excitement. We screamed so loud that the hospital staff came running down the corridor pressing their assistance alarms because they thought someone was ‘kicking off!’
I constantly try to put my finger on exactly how and why my readers have soared from 100 to over 750,000 because it’s so overwhelmingly incredible and because I’m the type of person who needs to have a reason for everything in life!
Having to make important decisions
The title of my blog just occurred to me – I didn’t brainstorm possible ideas and choose from them; I just knew what I wanted my blog to convey to its readers. My hope was that I’m NOT Disordered would illustrate that a person’s mental health diagnosis doesn’t define them; they are still a person and they should not be discriminated against or shown stigma in any way. This is probably so much harder when the diagnosis is a Personality Disorder (mine is Borderline – or Emotionally Unstable – Personality Disorder) because just the word ‘personality’ has connotations that it’s who a person is and the reason why you are either inclined to get to know someone or completely avoid them!
Setting up I’m NOT Disordered, I was surprised at how straightforward it was; but when the amount of readers began to grow I decided that I should better the quality of the blog and asked one of the other girls on the ward if she would do the design for the blog and help me to create a logo. When the staff began discussing discharge for her before my own, I was kind of forced to learn how to do it all for myself, but I’m still learning as technology evolves and the bar on the quality of blogs rises.
When I was finally discharged after a further 18 months in hospital, I had to make another big decision; should I close the blog or continue it, but with a massive change in the content on it? I worried that readers had flocked to I’m NOT Disordered because they saw it as a huge insight into life as an inpatient of a psychiatric hospital and if that content changed with my discharge then maybe people would lose interest. I wondered as well whether there was even any need for me to continue blogging if my recovery was a done deal. I thought that once I was ‘recovered’ and discharged from hospital then that was it; I was cured! No more difficult days. I thought recovery was linear.
Losing a degree of privacy…
I guess that this one really depends on the industry you’re blogging about; fashion, beauty, travel, mental health, home… To an extent, though, it’s an issue for all Bloggers because in writing about something you’re interested in or passionate about, you have to commit a certain part of yourself and invest some of yourself in your writing in order for it to have an impact. With writing about mental health, this is especially true and is definitely the case for me.
To me, it’s worth losing some privacy by talking about what I’ve gone through because it’s helpful for myself because I know that there’s a chance it will help others. Help give them confidence to open up about their own experiences. Help show them that they shouldn’t be scared or ashamed to speak up.
Of course, I have complete control over how much I tell readers; I could choose to only show the positives in my life or I could filter the negative stuff and only talk about a certain degree of it. If you’ve been reading, I’m NOT Disordered for a while, you’d probably be surprised to hear that there are actually things I don’t talk about and that you don’t know about me and my life! I guess an aspect of that comes from wanting to stay in control and to know that there are some things I can keep for myself and I hope that knowing I do this, will encourage readers to appreciate the details I do choose to be open about. To recognize the sheer guts, it takes to talk about being raped and abused. To talk about feeling suicidal and being hospitalized.
Realising that there’s so much more to it…
When I first started I’m NOT Disordered, I didn’t for one minute, think that blogging and maintaining a blog would entail such more hard work, time, effort, thought, care, passion… I thought it’d be a case of typing a post every so often, publishing it, and telling people I’d published it; and that’d be it!
I think that maybe initially, in the very beginning, this was the case but that after the blog’s popularity grew things changed because knowing so many people were reading my words spurred me on to improve I’m NOT Disordered. I improved it through design and logo, and through its content too. I enjoyed developing a colour scheme for the blog and using it and my aims for the blog to shape the blog’s logo; the reason the ‘NOT’ is in capitals and a different font in the logo is because I wanted it to stand out the most as being a bit childish. As though I was making the statement I’m not disordered whilst throwing a bit of a hissy fit! I wanted to recognize that childish element of the Disorder because a lot of people with BPD experience feelings of immaturity. These are often for a number of different reasons but for me, it’s because my abuse occurred when I was younger and during it, I dissociated. In doing so, I have separated a part of me, and that part maintains the immaturity of the age it was divided at. Looking at the logo, I don’t think a lot of people would realize or appreciate the amount of thought that’s actually gone into it to be the way that it is.
The harder work came when the blog’s popularity meant that I tried to better my content by engaging in collaborations and partnerships with organizations and well-known individuals. Beginning to collaborate with others wasn’t really a decision, it just sort of seemed to happen naturally… The decision comes in terms of who I collaborate with, and I realize I’m extremely fortunate to be able to say that I can choose who I work with on my blog. However, I’m definitely not a Blogger who sits on their ass and expects opportunities to come their way!
I think that collaborating with others means working a little bit harder because – for me, at least – it’s a huge deal to put mine and my blog’s name to something that I want the piece of work to be of the best possible quality. I want to publish it knowing that I’ve tried my hardest and put my all into it because I’ll be the one taking responsibility for how it is received and responded to.
Defining success and wondering if you deserve it…
Do you have a successful blog once it reaches a certain amount of readers? Is your blog only successful if you’ve collaborated with a well-known organization or individual?
I was once asked why the number of readers I have matters to me so much; why do I get so excited when I reach a new milestone and I have so many reasons!! I think that the person asking me this was trying to determine whether I was being a bit shallow or not… But the reason I celebrate my numbers is firstly because I quickly learnt that the more readers you have, the more doors that open for you – if you approach an organization with a collaboration idea then you could be turned away until you mention your following. On one hand, I think this is wrong because when you begin a collaboration or partnership you’re working with the person and not each of their followers! On the other hand, I can understand that it’s important to consider the potential of the collaboration and how many people it could impact!
Another reason I celebrate readers is that I’m more than aware that not all three quarters of a million of you will enjoy my content, but the more people I reach; the higher the chance that my writing can help someone. The higher the chance that I could promote that someone report abuse, or ask for help with their mental health, or talk more publicly about their mental health. Having so many readers, I inevitably get messages every day from people and whilst I of course really appreciate each message, one that has always stood out for me was a few years ago. A lady in her forties had been abused when she was younger and after reading I’m NOT Disordered, she found the courage and bravery to report her trauma to the Police and the perpetrator was convicted and imprisoned. Meaning he could never hurt anyone again! I mean, if that’s not powerful and a huge motivation to continue blogging, then I don’t know what is!
When I wonder whether I’m deserving of the popularity of I’m NOT Disordered and all the collaborations, I have to remind myself that I have never become complacent – sometimes I think there are Bloggers out there who reach a certain number of readers/followers and think that this should mean they’re handed things on a silver plate. As though they’ve achieved something and that’s it. And that’s ok – I mean, that’s ok for them. I’m not that sort of person though; I’m someone who will always try and better things. I’m not concerned it’ll sound big-headed to say that I mostly work my ass off with I’m NOT Disordered - and I’m not complaining(!) I just mean that I think if you work hard for something then you’re deserving of the rewards it bring!
Top tips to creating a successful blog:
1. Be careful
I wrote a blog post about justice and the importance of speaking up against something you think is unjust, and then George Floyd was murdered and the protests began; and I realised that if I were to publish the post now it might seem part of this controversial issue and I could receive backlash. My post was about something unjust in my own life and I worried that people might read it and think I was trying to compare what I’m going through to what has happened to George Floyd and many others.
Whilst I obviously promote speaking up about issues that are important to you, if you don’t feel able – or don’t want to tolerate – the possible response from others to your views then I’d advise you remain neutral and play it safe. With the violence towards Police and in particular Police Horses, I’ve had a lot of opinions on it and rather than publicly air them and receive abuse for them, I’ve just ranted to my Mum, my friends, and my Support Worker!
2. Stay authentic
In an industry that receives so much bad publicity for being ‘fake’ and for having ‘influencers’ who aren’t genuine and who ‘buy’ followers; it’s so essential that you stay true to yourself. It’s like I was saying earlier about how you have the ability to filter what others see about you and you can choose to only show the positives and I understand people who do this, but I never could.
I’ve found it very hard sometimes because I developed the belief that coming out of hospital, I was this role model for mental health recovery; and I was so worried that talking about the fact I was still struggling would take hope away from readers. That it’d leave them thinking recovery isn’t possible or that it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I had to change this thought process and realise that if I didn’t share both sides of my mental health – the good and the bad – then it wasn’t a true representation and it could leave those who are experiencing both sides feeling alone in thinking that they were the only person in the world who had both negative and positive days (and days that were a bit of both!).
3. Blog with passion
I’ve always said that when I’m asked to do talks and presentations about myself and my journey, I’m nervous and reluctant; but if it’s a talk on blogging and social media or mental health in general then I’m more than game and feel much more confident because they’re things I’m very passionate about. I think that the publicity about trolling and the subsequent suicides as a result of online bullying are obviously incredibly important and deserve a place in the media; but it should be important to also shed light on the positive impact blogging and social media can have on someone’s mental health.
A lot of things – and people – have saved my life, and I’m NOT Disordered is definitely one of those things! It is so soothing to have a platform that allows me the opportunity to get things off my chest and to talk openly about my mental health; and the fact that my posts then have the potential to help others is an incredible, added bonus!
I think that having passion for what you do can really accelerate the success of your work and can enhance its quality and effectiveness because it’s obvious to readers that you’ve put your all into it.
4. Be dedicated
If you want your blog to grow and allow you more opportunities, then you really need to be as dedicated to it as you are with your other responsibilities in life. No matter how often you choose to publish posts on your blog, it will still take up some of your time and you need to be prepared to devote some of your time to not just producing the posts, but also to maintaining the blog, engaging with readers, and securing opportunities and collaborations (if you choose to do these!).
I’m definitely someone who is loyal; I wrote a post a while ago about it. About how I believe that once you’ve agreed to a partnership or collaboration with an organization or individual then you should remain dedicated to your work with them. Putting my name to a project really means a great deal to me so it’s important to me that I put my all into it and really stick with it and commit everything I have to it. Putting my all into a collaboration or even purely a blog post means that if that post succeeds then I can feel as though I’ve earnt it. And if it isn’t well received then I only really have myself to blame(!) and can learn from it for the future because I’m dedicated to learning as opposed to regretting something and thinking of it as a failure.
5. Have a purpose
At one point, something I really struggled with was my conviction that I was only put on this Earth to commit suicide and die at a young age. In attempting suicide, I believed that I was fulfilling my destiny and merely achieving my purpose in life. When I began psychology in a psychiatric hospital, the Psychologist helped me to work on this belief and find evidence that contradicted it to convince me that it wasn’t actually true. Creating a list of the evidence for and against this was really helpful, but in losing the belief, I was left with the question: ‘then why am I on this planet?! What am I supposed to be doing with my life?’
When I started I’m NOT Disordered and its popularity rose alongside the incredible opportunities it afforded me, I realized that this was my purpose. To blog – to speak out about mental health and abuse – and to help others with their own experiences and their mental health. I believe that this belief has really motivated me in working hard with my blog and producing original content on it.
I’d like to finish this post by saying a huge thank you to you all for reading my words and for allowing me to secure some insane opportunities – I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for all of you!
Here’s to the next milestone!!