Sunday, 8 November 2020

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BEING A MENTAL HEALTH BLOGGER | PART ONE


I recently found an image on Pinterest that read ‘be passionate and be involved in what you believe in, and do it as thoroughly and honestly and fearlessly as you can,’ and it really inspired me to write this post. I felt that the words really sum up my thoughts on being a mental health Blogger and advice that I would give to someone debating joining the industry. Then I thought about other things I would want them to know and decided: ‘hey! Let’s blog about it all!’

 

STARTING OUT SIMPLE & SMALL

When I first created, I’m NOT Disordered, it was in its most basic form… I had looked at using WordPress as a platform for it, but quickly saw that Blogger was much more easy and simple; and as someone who only ever really used technology for social media, that’s what I needed. I used a simple template, didn’t alter the layout of it, and asked another inpatient in the psychiatric hospital I had been in for almost a year, to create the header/logo.

It wasn’t just the appearance of my blog that started out simple though, my intentions for I’m NOT Disordered were fairly small too. I really only wanted it to be a place where I could write about both my general life experiences, and those as a psychiatric inpatient too. Blogging was supposed to just be something that I did in the evenings when we had finished our therapeutic group timetable and were allowed our laptops. Another small aspect was my target audience! At the very beginning, I thought of it just being for me, but within days I decided to share it and only intended it to be for my family and friends on my very private Facebook account.

 

HAVE SUPPORT ON STAND-BY

I think that one of the most helpful things about starting my mental health blog whilst an inpatient, was that I was surrounded by staff literally, 24/7! It meant that if I wanted to tackle an important but upsetting issue on my blog, there were people there that I could talk to if the ‘upsetting’ became too much. If I became unsafe. I saw it as though it were like having a safety net so that I could trial just how deep I could go with the subjects I blogged about before reaching my levels of tolerance.

When I was discharged from hospital after two and a half years, and continued to blog in the community, I had to discover a whole new support network! I obviously found my Mum very helpful and supportive, and then I built five incredible friendships with Marty, Sophie, Lauren, Ellie, and Georgie. I find that there’s a different benefit in my relationship with each person. I’ve also found it really useful to have a friend who’s also a Blogger (Marty) because it gives me someone who I can really identify with and bounce ideas off!

I’ve not just found it important to have support when I’m working on potentially triggering and upsetting content, but also for my achievements and successes too! It’s brilliant to have people to celebrate with and to give you the feeling that you might’ve made someone proud.

 

EXPECTATIONS & GOALS

After almost eight years of blogging, I’ve actually thought a lot about expectations and whether there’s any aspect of it where they’re necessary. I mean, you definitely shouldn’t have any expectations when it comes to being gifted and getting freebies from companies. Should you have expectations in so far as your audience and how enormous you expect it to become? No! And should you create expectations of yourself and the content you produce? I think it’s much healthier to consider having goals instead…

It’s so much less stressful and less anxiety provoking to consider what you’d like to achieve with your blog and from the content you create. It’s totally reasonable to hope for your readers to increase with the publication of a new post, but to expect them to? Well, it just puts pressure on you and that can end up leaving you somewhat resentful of your blog because when you look at it, all you’ll see is pressure and stress.

Maybe there needs to be a balance though? I mean, going into blogging with no expectations and being where I am now? It’s a huge shock to the system and sometimes it’s really overwhelming and a little scary to be honest – I mean, if I thought of how many people might read my words, I’d probably get stage fright! Would this have been any easier or any less bizarre if I’d expected it? If I’d almost been waiting for it to happen? Maybe I would have been prepared and less overwhelmed with shock.

 

WORK YOUR ASS OFF & STAY DETERMINED

When I started, I’m NOT Disordered in 2013, blogging wasn’t a huge deal and so I never once had it in my head that it wouldn’t be hard work. Unfortunately, now that blogging is so popular and is often connected with very well-known influencers who are very financially stable and are regularly gifted from huge brands, those entering the industry have the mistaken belief that things will be handed to them on a plate. As if all you need to do is create a blog and then you can just sit back and watch whatever you deem to be ‘success’ roll into your life. And sometimes that’s hard not to do when an influencer doesn’t let you see how hard they’re working behind-the-scenes; or when you wholeheartedly believe they haven’t earnt their ‘success’ at all! And so, you wonder why you should have to work your ass off if they haven’t.

Fortunately, the influencers and bloggers I follow, make it perfectly clear just how much effort they put in to have everything that they have in their lives. So, from the moment I realised that I wanted my blog to become so much more than what it was in the beginning, I knew I would have to work hard to achieve that. I knew from the offset that to make my blog into what I envisioned, it would take so much effort and determination to achieve.

 

COLLABORATIONS

I don’t remember ever debating whether or not to feature collaborations on I’m NOT Disordered. It was something that just seemed to happen really naturally. And maybe that’s the best way to determine whether to do a collaboration – see if it feels natural… Or maybe that’s just how it happened for me and my blog?

If featuring collaborations on your blog doesn’t feel natural, then it might still be something that’s worth mulling over. You might still want to consider the benefits and the drawbacks of doing that. For me, collaborations have meant opening the window – or door – to sooooo many amazing opportunities! I mean, I’ve had the honour of travelling in first class with LNER for free, I’ve been gifted some lovely items from Oliver Bonas… But it isn’t just about the freebies for me; training the Police and their new recruits was also really special and felt like a massive achievement because it meant I had the power and the ability to encourage Officers to improve their response to a mental health crisis. And maybe, in doing this, it would help those who are in the crisis to feel more supported and to look at the Police as somewhat helpful.

I also love collaborating because I feel that it lets my imagination run a bit wild in thinking up ways to make organisations, that may not be deemed as apt to a mental health blog, fit in and be relevant to my usual content. And I’d like to think that having the ability to do this really illustrates just how many aspects and areas of life there is that can impact our mental health.

It’s important to remember too, that collaborating isn’t all about how you can benefit from it – it’s important to find something that the organisation or person you’re pitching to can gain from the collaboration. Now that I have so many readers, I tend to mention in my pitches that it could be a publicity opportunity for them. With the organisations who aren’t really in the mental health industry, I explain that the collaboration would enable that publicity to be an opportunity to show the public that they support mental health. Before I’m NOT Disordered became so popular, I would try to get across how much it would mean to me that an organisation took a chance on the work I could produce for them and the potential success my blog could have.

 

HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY

In mental health, there is so much stigma and controversary and I think one of the main contributors to this – besides lack of education and understanding – is the stories of the lies that are told around the subject. I mean, there are so many stories in the media about people claiming to be mentally ill in order to benefit in some way, whether that be through claiming state benefits or having an allowance made with them committing a crime… There’s also a lot of instances where people who speak about mental health are being accused of lying because it’s believed that they’re saying things because they just want attention.

All of these things should really encourage those speaking about mental health in such a public way – by blogging about it – to remain honest in what they’re saying. I think part of this is remembering that in talking so publicly, it can mean that you’re representing a lot of others – particularly those with the same diagnosis or ‘symptoms’ – and if you’re caught out in a lie, that can reflect back on those who are being genuine about the issue. This also means that another benefit from your honesty could be that it’ll encourage others to do the same and in doing so, they are more likely to be able to access help and support in a more appropriate way than if they hadn’t been so upfront. They’re also more likely going to feel unashamed around their mental health and be more confident in speaking up against any stigma or discrimination.

 

CHALLENGES IN FINDING INSPIRATION

When I first started, I’m NOT Disordered it seemed that there were only three mental health blogs out there; one written by someone who had once been an inpatient of a psychiatric hospital, one by a mental health nurse, and another by a Police Officer who was interested in mental health law. It meant that I wasn’t inspired by another blogger to start blogging myself. I hadn’t found anyone to really admire and look up to – someone to aspire to be – until a few years into I’m NOT Disordered when I discovered Zoe Sugg of ‘Zoella.’ She wasn’t exactly a Blogger, more of a YouTuber… but it wasn’t really her content where I found inspiration. It was mostly about watching someone in a similar industry continue to increase her audience. Watching her go from filming in her bedroom at her family home, to her having an entire office and filming set-up in her own home that’s worth millions!

Of course, I can’t really identify with her sort of following (absolutely millions!) but I sort of understand that massive shift in your reality. The feeling that you were celebrating your first 100 readers only yesterday and now the figure is so much higher! Her response to that feeling was so inspirational and I hope I embody some of that continued excitement no matter what the figure and that dedication to not stop even when you feel that you’ve hit the peak!

Once ‘Zoella’ became more than just a YouTube channel; she had created a brand – books, homeware… I felt some need to look a little further for inspiration and I came across Victoria Magrath of the blog and YouTube channel InTheFrow. Victoria was definitely more of a Blogger than Zoe so that helped me to identify with her. I think some people found it a bit strange that I found inspiration in a luxury fashion and beauty Blogger, but it wasn’t really about her content; it was more around her work ethic and other core elements that make her so successful. I mean, the fact that like Zoella, she didn’t stop working hard just because she’s achieved so much. I love that she just continues to better the content she produces and that once she’s created one thing, she almost seems to challenge herself into creating something even more incredible next time. Another quality is how loyal she is with brands and it’s something which I think I’ve actually talked about on here before because I’d like to think that I do the same in that once I’ve collaborated with an organisation, I’ll forever appreciate them and will always try to help them in giving something back when they have so massively supported myself and my blog.

Another inspiration I’ve found from Victoria’s collaborations has been seeing her work with high-end, luxury brands and realising that for a fashion and beauty Blogger, that’s such a huge achievement and whilst I’d love to collaborate with a luxury brand, I have to think of what is relevant to my blog. So, it really inspired me to think a bit more about the mental health industry and consider which organisation or charity or individual I would hold to such high esteem that is equal to what brands like Armani and Dior mean for Victoria’s content. And I think that doing that, has really helped me to secure more collaborations because that thought process has really motivated me in feeling like it is a huge achievement.

 

BE PREPARED TO KEEP LEARNING

I did an interview with Newcastle University about therapeutic relationships the other day and we ended up talking about technology because the meeting took place on Microsoft Teams and we were both struggling slightly to use it efficiently. And I told Lin (the interviewer) how it always makes me laugh that people assume that because my blog has so many readers and I do so much work on it, I must be good with technology! Honestly? I’m usually one of those people who just needs to know where the ‘on’ button is and then I’m good to go! I mean, I had another inpatient do some of the design of I’m NOT Disordered when I first started blogging and when her discharge from the psychiatric hospital was being talked about before my own, I realised that I really had no choice but to learn how to do it for myself!

Fortunately, Blogger is actually quite straightforward and relatively easy to understand so I managed ok and I ended up being happier with things because I felt that I could really take credit for the changes and improvements now that I was responsible for them all! I also enjoyed doing it because I love learning – I’m not a good classroom learner though(!) – so coming across new things and ways to do things was really interesting.

Then there was the fact that as more and more blogs came out, I felt the need to keep bettering the design of I’m NOT Disordered and to put more effort into the creation of the logo and the entire layout. The increasing competition in blogging has really motivated me to continue learning because I don’t want to have put so much time and effort into my blog only for it to fall behind the times and lose its relevance.

Another teaching point in my blogging career is about the actual content. Sort of similar in that there’s so much competition now that you really need to be driven to continue improving your content. But also, I’m learning lessons in terms of what my readers want to read. For example, blog posts about self-harm, suicide attempts and being an inpatient, tend to attract more readers than any other mental health related subjects. At the same time though, I have to remember that whilst I want to give readers what they want, I have to be happy with my content too and feel confident with what I’m writing/typing. I mean, I wouldn’t publish something just to get more readers; at the end of the day, I have the most control and sometimes you have to exercise that control and power. It’s a constant learning curve to find these balances and to decide what they mean for you and your blog.

 

IS IT ‘WORK?’

This is something I’ve thought a lot about recently. I think that it’s because I’ve been blogging for so long now and it’s obviously become such an enormous part of my life that it leaves me questioning whether I should look at it as though I’m ‘working’ when I’m creating content. And it’s hard because I wouldn’t deem myself to be like a full-time Blogger where I can afford to class this as employment. I have absolutely nothing against Bloggers who do that, I actually think it’s incredible and a real achievement for someone to be in a position where that’s possible!

I guess that my reasoning for being reluctant to deem typing blog posts or creating collaborations as ‘work’ because I worry about the connotation that ‘work’ has in society, with some people interpreting it as being something you do reluctantly and not by choice or out of love and passion for it. And love and passion are definitely two things I associate with blogging! I think naming it ‘work’ leaves me concerned that someone might consider me to be in employment too and with my mental health, that’s definitely not something which is feasible or appropriate.

On the complete other hand(!) ‘work’ might prompt people to recognize how hard I – and every other blogger – works and how much thought and effort can go into creating content. I think that blogging can be a very misunderstood responsibility/position in that those who have never done it sometimes assume it can’t be that hard to create a post and publish it. They don’t know the planning that it can take – especially where it’s a collaboration and your partner wants to give quotes and check over the post before it goes live. Honestly? When I was in the psychiatric hospital when I first started, I’m NOT Disordered, I’m not all too sure that I put much thought into my posts at first. I mean, I kind of just experienced something and then wrote about it. Now that I have a larger audience, there’s more motivation to put so much more thought into what I publish because I recognize how many lives it has the potential to impact in some way. So, I make notes, I brainstorm, I create collages and mind maps, I look through Pinterest and other sources of inspiration, I send emails, I research… there’s just so much more to it and I love that!