Sunday, 6 September 2020

WHY I DIDN’T TAKE PART IN DIGITAL DETOX DAY 2020




I first heard about Digital Detox Day when I visited Zoe Sugg’s Instagram account and read her post on the campaign she’s created alongside I Am Whole to shed light on the negative impact social media can have on your mental health and life in general. Zoe explained that the thought process behind the campaign was based on the realization that we are ‘endlessly scrolling’, comparing, judging, being cyber bullied, losing boundaries, and don’t know when to ‘switch off’ from social media. She says that all of this can be a cause of Anxiety, Depression, Sleeplessness, Loneliness, and low Self-Esteem.

Initially, I almost automatically decided to join in, read up on the campaign, and do the digital detox on September 5th, 2020 (tomorrow). Then I started writing a post about the campaign for LEAPS (you can read the post here) and talking about my ‘digital journey’ really left me reconsidering my decision and feeling hugely tempted not to partake in the event. Writing about how I’ve progressed through social media and my blog really made me realize just how important the digital world has all become to me and that this isn’t necessarily unhealthy or unsafe.

From the moment I started my blog in 2013, I saw that social media had a really bad reputation. I mean, when it comes to online bullying and body image pressures etc, I feel that the reputation is completely understandable and validated. And as someone who has experienced that side of social media and life online, I would never seek to dismiss those views and opinions. 

I just think that if we’re going to shed so much light on the potentially negative and damaging sides then shouldn’t we not also bring focus to the positives and the benefits it can have on a person’s life? I think that it’s about weighing things up though; like, is it doing more harm than good in your life? Making that decision will usually dictate which side of things you publicise. I mean, if you feel – like me – that whilst you’ve had negative experiences, social media or blogging has ultimately been lifesaving for you, why wouldn’t you want to get that across to others? Wouldn’t you want – or at least hope – that others would have that same experience and feel that same benefit?

So, in no particular order, here are my reasons for not taking part in Digital Detox Day:

Distraction
I think that this rationale is sort of connected with Zoe’s’ comment about people spending a lot of time ‘endlessly scrolling’ because to do that is to spend your time being distracted from other aspects of life. I get that this isn’t always a good thing; that sometimes you’re distracted from things which are maybe more important and should be of a higher priority. But what about if social media is a welcome distraction of hardships or difficult situations in your life? What about if you feel you need that distraction to cope with whatever else is going on in your life?

For me, the digital world became that exact welcome break from reality whilst I was a detained (sectioned under the 1983 Mental Health Act) inpatient in a psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from home and for two and a half years. I feel that to a certain degree, you can probably imagine just why I needed distracting during that time in my life. I mean, it can be reasonably assumed that being in that kind of environment would be all kinds of negative things… Of course, hospitals are meant to be somewhere that’s nurturing and restorative, places that help and support you; but I feel it’s equally well-known the risks that come from being an inpatient on a psychiatric ward. To provide an example, I think that one of my worst memories from being in a psychiatric hospital was when I saw another patient through the observation window in her bedroom door and she’d used a ligature and had stopped breathing. I remember having to yell for the staff while trying to cave the door in myself!

So of course, I needed something to put my attention onto instead of the regularly traumatic occurrences that were probably partly exacerbated by the fact that the entire ward was solely for females with the same diagnosis of a Personality Disorder. Granted, having a mutual diagnosis meant that we could all empathise with one another, but it also meant the ward could be an extremely volatile environment because we could each be either struggling with the same ‘symptom’ or with opposing ‘symptoms.’ The regular arguments and general drama on the ward became some motivation for me to throw so much of my time and energy into my blog.

I would really look forward to the time in the day/evening when I was allowed my laptop in my bedroom because it almost felt like I was going to my ‘safe place’ when I would type blog posts and look through social media! It was like a little break or a holiday away from the reality of what my life had become since attempting suicide in 2012. Part of me debated whether the fact my admission was the result of the suicide attempt, meant that I didn’t really deserve any peace or to have anything rewarding. I sometimes thought ‘I’ve put myself in this situation so why should I be allowed any relief from it?’ 

Ultimately though – as dramatic as it might sound – I recognized that if I was going to survive this hospitalisation, then I needed to have this place where I could disappear to for a few hours and tune out all of the screaming and the alarms and the arguments. It was a healthy distraction for me. Maybe if I were favouring scrolling through Facebook to therapy sessions then it’d be a different story. But actually, I was doing it as a distraction from all of the upsetting, impossibly difficult things I had to talk about in therapy.

Now I’m no longer in hospital, I continue to use the digital world as a distraction on the days that I’m struggling. I especially like to use it when I’m waiting for appointments, meetings, or events to start because I sometimes feel anxious before them and distracting myself by updating my social media or sharing someone else’s posts, helps me to manage that anxiety and prevent it from becoming overwhelming and it stopping me from fulfilling any of my responsibilities at the events etc.
I also completely understand the other side of this aspect of social media because I have sometimes found that my ‘distraction’ has become avoidance and I’ve ended up becoming so caught up in the digital world that I’ve missed out on things in the real world. Things that I need to do but don’t want to do. Simple things like tidying the house or bigger things like keeping to deadlines with online courses or blog posts and collaboration work. When this has happened, I’ve completely accepted the consequences of it; the added stress it brings because I have even less time to meet deadlines or the feelings of failure when I end up completely missing the deadlines.

Therapeutic
I can’t even begin to explain – though I’m going to try to – the therapeutic impact social media and blogging has had on me, my mental health, and my life in general.

I know I talked about distraction being one motivation to start I’m NOT Disordered, but my biggest rationale for it was that I’d just agreed with my Key Nurse that I’d begin writing about the abuse I’d experienced every evening so that staff could read it and develop a better understanding as to why I was struggling so much and why I would self-harm or feel suicidal. Making this agreement really left me feeling that I was taking a huge step forward in my recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder and that it was the beginning of the end of my difficulties. And I wanted to document that journey; so, I set up my blog!

My Mum always says I have a very big heart and that has probably meant that initially, I did prioritise the potential impact my blog had on others to the impact it had on me but that happened for one big reason: when I started I’m NOT Disordered, I didn’t believe that I deserved to benefit from it in any way, shape, or form. At that point, I was literally alive for the sake of others; the motivation in stopping me attempting suicide was the thought of the impact it would have on those who loved and cared for me. 

I think that it was also about recognizing the power of words and of writing and seeing my pieces on the abuse cause such a huge impact that I realised I could maybe have that same affect on a larger scale by writing a blog for my friends and family. And that was the initial intended audience, friends and family on Facebook – how it got to over three quarters of a million readers I’ll never know! But it grew. And grew. And grew. And I found that the more people that were reading my content, the more therapeutic my blog became because I recognized that the more people, I reached the higher the potential that my words could help someone. Help them to feel less alone. Help them to speak up about mental health or abuse. Help encourage them to get support if they were feeling suicidal. And help show them that there were alternative coping mechanisms to self-harming.

It meant that I found that I would write deep, intense posts in the hope that it would help someone else, and that just the thought of helping others really encouraged me continue blogging these deep issues. Slowly, getting my thoughts and feelings and experiences out of my head and onto the screen felt like a burden had been lifted, it was a huge relief. It allowed me the opportunity to safely vent frustrations and upset around being sectioned, hearing the other inpatients argue with staff and seeing others self-harm and attempt suicide. Blogging also became a great method in processing any other traumatic experiences, such as the abuse I went through when I was younger.

Occasionally, I found myself censoring my content at fear that it might trigger memories in others or inspire methods of self-harm that they hadn’t thought of. I quickly developed a thought process though and decided that if I were questioning whether to publish something, I considered what I would say to someone else. Would I encourage them to speak up? Would I tell them that if it helps them to speak up then they should? Or would I say ‘no, keep quiet in case you upset someone’? And my answers would determine whether to publish what I had written.

I also think that in writing things down, it helped me to learn a lot too. Processing these difficult topics and ‘voicing’ my thoughts and feelings on different things really encouraged me to look beyond my own opinions and to consider why I felt that way and why others might feel differently. 

The popularity of I’m NOT Disordered has meant that I’ve had many amazing opportunities and collaborations with some incredible people, companies, organizations, and charities. And they’ve all been so therapeutic for me because every single one of them has meant something to me, has mattered, and has been important to me. I think that one that has stood out for me has been my partnership with the NHS (including my local mental health trust: Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust) because they have afforded me the chance to help improve services to prevent the same failings that occurred in my care, to occur for others. Another memorable collaboration has been working with the Police (my local force: Northumbria Police, and the British Transport Police) because it gave me the opportunity to support them in making changes and improvements to the way they respond to mental health crisis call-outs. The collaboration that has been very digital and equally memorable, is with Cats Protection Tyneside Adoption Centre who very kindly offered me the opportunity to become a  Columnist for their blog, and so Calico Catch-Up was born and I was confident that my partnership with them would shed light on the importance of pets for your mental health.

Inspiration
The popularity of Pinterest, an image sharing social media platform, should say a lot about how the digital world can be inspirational in so many different ways; I know I’ve found definitely found that in my use of social media and through being a Blogger.

I mean, I’d hate to start blogging these days; when it feels like anyone and everyone has some sort of blog! I mean, the blogging world has changed so much in the seven years I’ve been a part of it because being a Blogger can now be classified as a career and as the popularity of having one has grown, an element of competitivity has inevitably formed. When I started I’m NOT Disordered in 2013, I had never read a blog before and then, through Twitter, I discovered that there was really only three well-known mental health related blogs out there. One was by an ex psychiatric inpatient, another by a Police Officer who was passionate about mental health, and the third by a Nurse. I couldn’t find one from a current inpatient and so I think that I was incredibly lucky to start my blog at that time because it meant I’d found a niche. 

The competitivity these days has meant that it’s incredibly difficult to grow your blog’s audience and secure opportunities, collaborations, and partnerships. I think I’ve been very fortunate that I started I’m NOT Disordered at a time when it was unique to the digital world and that doing so has meant it’s popularity has grown just in time for things becoming harder and harder to ‘succeed’ in this industry.

The competition in blogging has afforded me the chance to find some inspirational Bloggers who have qualities and content that I really admire and aspire to resemble in some way. First, I looked up to Zoe Sugg from the blog/YouTube channel/brand Zoella. I was so impressed by the way she grew from filming videos in her bedroom at the family home to having millions of followers and her own massively impressive home, as well as merchandise and a range with Etsy! I loved to watch everything she started off with sort of snowball into something so much bigger and to see her reaction to that (one of my favourite videos of hers is when she was reacting to finding out she had reached 5 million subscribers on her YouTube channel)… I felt such a familiarity in that she reacted the exact way I do when my number of readers hits a milestone.

Then, I discovered Victoria Magrath of the blog/YouTube channel/brand inthefrow! Her work ethic is absolutely impeccable; she like, literally never lets up. Victoria is hugely determined, passionate, and dedicated to her career in the digital world and I am in complete awe of her! She is always trying to better her content and create even more incredible posts, it’s almost like she has challenged herself and rather than find competition in others, she looks to her own work and dedicates her time and energy to improving it. I feel like Victoria doesn’t just rest back on her laurels and think ‘I’ve made enough money now’ or ‘I can’t top this collaboration.’ With blogging becoming such a huge trend, a lot of Bloggers have developed some kind of entitlement attitude where they expect purely having a blog enough to earn them advertorials and be gifted products. I think that Victoria doesn’t do that; she doesn’t expect opportunities to be handed to her on a platter. And maybe, like me, she realises that achievements feel better when you’ve worked your ass off to earn it.

Finding inspiration in two Bloggers who probably wouldn’t label themselves as mental health Bloggers – though Zoe does some pieces around Anxiety in particular – has meant that I have to look elsewhere for inspiration for content on I’m NOT Disordered. I think I’m very lucky that I’m quite a creative person, so content ideas aren’t usually hard to come by. Plus, recovery isn’t linear – it’s a rollercoaster of ups and downs; so, I’m always learning from it and realizing new things about my mental health and what I’ve experienced both with Services and in regard to the trauma. And I like the thought that maybe me learning these things the ‘hard’ way and sharing them for a big audience could hopefully prevent others from having to learn that same thing in a difficult way too.

Inspiration doesn’t just come from my experiences though, it can come from the digital world too, primarily from seeing tweets other mental health advocates post and considering my thoughts, feelings, and experiences that relate to their content. Another digital inspiration comes from quotes and images that I usually find on Pinterest or something which friends and family post on Facebook. I find it interesting to think of the different ways that different people can relate to the same content and I think it’s important to try to illustrate that in my posts.

Communication
Being in the specialist psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from the home I’d known for twenty-one years with my Mum, I discovered the importance of the digital world in terms of keeping in touch with others. I worry that if I hadn’t been able to have that opportunity for communication then I might have massively drifted away from my friends and family. It’d probably be a different story if I were away travelling or something because I wouldn’t have been spending my days the way I had to as a sectioned inpatient.

A huge reason behind my blog was to provide the opportunity for friends and family to have insight into what I was going through and how my mental health was changing. I hoped that doing that would mean they felt they could better support me and have a greater understanding of why I was feeling or behaving the way I was. I mean, none of my friends or family knew I’d been abused until I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital two years after it had ‘ended.’ And if they didn’t know my rationale for my self-harm and suicide then how they could probably begin to understand things?

Digital communication has become an even bigger issue with the coronavirus pandemic and UK lockdown because so many people have lost the ability to interact with others – whether it be friends, family, or colleagues. I think it’s definitely brought forward the importance of apps like Microsoft Teams, Skype, and Zoom so that meetings, conferences, and events can still be facilitated and hosted. Going through this lockdown has almost definitely left a lot of people feeling very alone and isolated, which in turn, has probably made people more grateful for the company they do have and appreciative of the digital world for allowing us the opportunity to still communicate with others.

I think that communication is especially important where mental health is concerned, and the digital world definitely enables for help and support for someone who is struggling, be more readily available. This is so vital because sadly, there are a lot of instances where someone has committed suicide and their loved ones have been left thinking ‘where did that come from? I thought they were fine!’ If someone has more easy access to help for their mental health, then maybe the chance of them committing suicide or self-harming in some way can be reduced. It’s like they say, no one can help you if they don’t know something’s wrong.

For mental health and communication in the digital world, it isn’t purely about seeking help and support; it’s also about having a place to share your experiences and connect with others who may relate to you. I believe that empathy and validation are hugely important in mental health because they provide someone with the comfort that they are not alone in feeling the way they do. Granted, sometimes this can be difficult because it isn’t necessarily a nice realisation to hear that others have gone through some similarities to the things you have experienced. Ultimately, though, having that understanding and reassurance can be vital for a person.

Talking more publicly about mental health also educates those with little understanding of the topic. I think this is especially important for the Police. There’s actually a lot of Police Officers (including senior Officers like Inspectors) on social media so the chance they will see mental health related content is pretty high. I say it’s important for Police because I feel they’re one profession who regularly have experience of mental health crises and yet they – mostly – aren’t given an equal portion of training for it. I recently facilitated a training session in suicide awareness for the British Transport Police (you can read more about it here) and found that everyone who attended the session were very interested in learning more about the subject and were passionate about improving their responses to the relevant call-outs.

It isn’t all about educating others and gaining support though, talking more about mental health in the digital world also heightens the chance of lessening the stigma and taboo around it. A lot of people sadly still hold the attitude that you shouldn’t talk about suicide, self-harm, trauma, abuse and mental illness in general. Some hold the belief that there’s always some worse off than you so what right do you have to ‘moan’ or ‘complain.’ But hopefully speaking up more will change that thought process and leave people with the realization that what you’re experiencing is as equally important as anyone else and if what you’re going through is the worst thing in your life then why should there be a competition with someone else’s worst thing?

Initially, writing this post, I hoped that it would show people I’m not shallow or superficial for appreciating social media and blogging and the digital world in general, but then I realized that I honestly don’t care whether people see this or not. What I do hope is that at least one person who reads this will think ‘great; it’s not just me.’