Wednesday, 11 November 2020

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


MAINTAINING PRIVACY & BOUNDARIES

I recently had an interview with Newcastle University and at the beginning of it, the interviewer explained that I could be in control of how much information I revealed to her and that I could decide how much detail I went into. I laughed and told her that talking about my mental health and experiences to over 800,000 people probably makes me quite an open person!

I think that a lot of people would label me– and I totally understand why they would – as being a hypocrite to talk about and encourage other mental health bloggers to maintain a level of privacy and have boundaries around what you will publicise and what is off limits. The possible hypocrite accusations will probably stem from the fact that I talk about the rape and sexual abuse I experienced when I was younger. I guess that it’s a really personal subject for a lot of people and I think that it still makes quite a lot of readers feel a bit uncomfortable.

The way I look at it – the reason I blog about such an intimate experience, is in the hope that it will reassure others, who may have similar experiences, not to feel alone. I hope that in doing that, those people will go on to share their own stories and for some, that might be the first time they’ve done so; which could mean that it aids them in receiving help and support from professionals.

The benefits I get from sharing these details are mostly the knowledge that it might be helping others, but there’s also an element of me feeling some sort of relief when I talk about the abuse. I feel a sense of contentedness to think that all the thoughts and feelings around the trauma that were overwhelming my mind, are now out of it and by doing that, I can process them so much more easily.

I don’t think I really consciously made the decision to be so open and to forget a lot of my entitlement to privacy, but I did make the decision to change my Facebook account to private so that only family and friends see my posts on there. I did this because I wanted a space on the internet where I could control exactly who saw what I published. It also gives me a good opportunity to be able to tell the people I love about exciting news or achievements before anyone else.

I definitely recognize that for a lot of people, privacy is pretty big deal and that there’ll be some who might have had similar experiences to me, and yet they wouldn’t even debate putting it out there for all the world to see. And whilst I have friends and family who wouldn’t be so publicly open, they still respect my decision to be; in the same way that I appreciate their rationale for remaining private. Being so open, though, one thing that’s been particularly frustrating is being legally unable to talk about some of – what I think – are the most important aspects of the abuse I experienced.

 

DO EVERYTHING WITH PURPOSE

From the very beginning of I’m NOT Disordered almost eight years ago, I’ve had a purpose in everything I’ve done. Creating my blog, I wanted to use it as a means to tell family and friends what I had experienced and what I was experiencing whilst in a psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from them for two and a half years. Having this goal – this purpose – meant I was more driven and motivated to continue blogging when I began facing challenges with maintaining the blog.

And every single blog post since 2013, has had a purpose to it. Granted, sometimes, I haven’t fully consciously considered and been clear for each one, but the purpose has been there… And considering my blog is summed up as being a mental health blog, the various ways I’ve talked about that, have meant that my purposes have changed considerably! I mean, they’ve ranged from raising awareness of the importance pets have on your mental health, to encouraging others to report any experiences of sexual abuse or rape, to reassuring people that it’s ok to appreciate material things in life! And I think that having a purpose when you’re writing a blog post, encourages you to put so much more time and effort into it.

For me, purpose hasn’t just been about finding it in my content, it’s also been blogging in its entirety! When my mental health was poorly, I used to really struggle with the belief and the conviction that I was destined to die young. Like, I honestly believed that was my purpose in life. I guess a big reason for that was that I’d lost all sense of hope and felt that the only way the memories and the hallucinations would go away, would be to kill myself. But blogging took all those thoughts and feelings away and I was left with a really overwhelming feeling that I’d finally found my real purpose in life. And I think that’s been one of the greatest feelings to have come from I’m NOT Disordered because it has really contributed to my recovery in motivating me to put so much more effort into getting better. Feeling that I had a reason why I was put here – that it wasn’t all about me suffering – gave me the courage to co-operate with therapy and to take my medication because I knew that doing so, would help me to stay alive and to continue blogging. And I’m not saying ever mental health blogger should feel they were put on this earth to blog, just that I believe having a purpose to doing it, will really shine through and be reflected in the quality of your content.

 

COPING WITH ABUSE/TROLLING

I have been so so fortunate to have only received a handful of horrible comments on my blogs. I say ‘only’ as if I should appreciate it and be grateful! Bullying and abusive comments should never be accepted or even tolerated. It’s hard though because part of me thinks that I should recognize how few comments I’ve had compared to others, but at the same time; I believe that we shouldn’t dismiss our own experiences by comparing them to those of someone else.

And whilst I had a few comments, they did still have a pretty big impact on me and on I’m NOT Disordered. I think the one that stands out was when I published a post for World Suicide Prevention Day in 2014 and I talked about my own attempts. The comment wished me luck with my next one. I felt so angry and upset that just two days later, I decided to close I’m NOT Disordered down. A lot of people encouraged me to keep going and to ‘ignore’ the comment and not to ‘let them win’ but I felt so defeated and lost so much confidence in talking about my experiences on such a public platform, that I thought closing my blog would feel like a relief.

Almost two months later, I can’t even begin to explain just how much I missed blogging and that realisation that I talked about earlier about how I believe that blogging is my purpose in life, gave me the courage I needed to get I’m NOT Disordered back up and running. Having that willpower to defy the comments and maintain my blog meant that I was so much more dedicated and passionate about it than I had been prior to closing it down. And having those qualities – I think – has really contributed to the blog’s popularity/success and all of the opportunities it has afforded me so far.

It also really boosted my determination to not let any other negativity get in the way of me and my blog! It helped me to find the confidence to stand up for myself and to develop a refusal to allow any other comments to stop me from doing something that is so important to me and which has such a positive impact on my life. I guess that an element of that which has also affected my attitude around bullying, has been the realisation that I’m worthy of good things in life.

For so long, I believed that I had deserved the abuse and every other bad thing that had happened to me or came into my life. Through Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and psychology sessions, I came to learn that the abuse, was completely my abusers’ fault. His responsibility, and his alone. Something like that – like abuse and rape – should always say more about the person inflicting it than it does about the person it is happening to. And I think it’s the same with bullying. Whatever the bully is doing – however low they stoop, that says so much more about them than it does you.

To finish up this little bit, here’s my five tips to cope with abuse/trolling:

1.      Report it

2.      Get support from friends, family, and other Bloggers

3.      Know that their comments say more about them than you

4.      Don’t let them win

5.      Do something fun/distracting

 

INCLUDING MISTAKES

I wasn’t sure if this was an even important enough point to discuss but then I wanted to include absolutely everything around mental health blogging and I guess this would fall into the ‘everything’ box!

Having a best friend who’s a Blogger; Marty from Gum On My Shoe, has meant so many great things! One of these great things, has been discovering how differently we both prepare, plan, and publish blog posts. I mean, before talking about it with Marty, I had never really considered or wondered about the idea that other bloggers might do things differently to me. And it wasn’t that I thought my way was the right way, or the only way, just that I have never contemplated the alternative methods to the process behind publishing a blog post.

In case you’re wondering, for larger/longer blog posts, I usually make notes or create a collage from magazines in my notebooks. If it’s a shorter post or after the collaging, I move to a word document on the laptop and get typing! And then – the most important part of the process – I copy and paste the document into blogger, add an image (which I usually create on Canva) and publish! Literally, the only editing I do is as I type and usually only if Word highlights and spelling mistake or a need to change punctuation.

For me, I like to think of my blog and my content as being real and genuine, and sometimes I think that does mean not over-editing it. Obviously, if I notice a spelling mistake that Word hasn’t picked up then I will correct it; I just don’t go through everything with a fine-tooth comb! But this is something which every blogger feels differently about – and I think that should be the case because it can make two people’s content on the same subject, completely different.

Including mistakes is actually fairly unheard of for me for elsewhere in my life because I’d definitely deem myself to be a perfectionist in a lot of other areas! But, for some reason it feels like the right to do.

 

DELEGATING RESPONSIBILITIES

This aspect of blogging is probably only particularly relevant when your blog has really ‘taken off’’ and you find yourself needing help to keep on top of emails or even to edit your content. Even though my reader count is kind of high, I’m definitely still far away from the stage of needing to delegate!

I have learnt about delegating in an almost similar aspect though when my position with Listening Ear And Positive Support (LEAPS) went from being an Advertising Assistant to being Chair of the entire organisation! Becoming Advertising Assistant was my first real voluntary role in the industry/career I want to ultimately work in so I was really honoured to be trusted with the position and responsibility regardless of how little experience I had in the field. After a year or so though, I found myself eager for a new challenge and some more duties, so I put myself forward to be Deputy Chair. The Chair at the time, said that he felt he’d had a ‘good run’ of being in that position for a few years and was happy to completely hand over the ‘reins’ to me! And the entire group unanimously voted me into the position. I was so surprised and really overwhelmed with pride that they obviously felt I had done such a good job being Advertising Assistant that I was ready for such an incredibly important position.

Becoming Chair obviously meant so many more responsibilities and I was determined to maintain I’m NOT Disordered so I knew that something had to change – something had to be delegated to someone else. So, we (LEAPS) took on a Social Media Manager to run the group’s Twitter account so that I could continue to dedicate time to blogging and being almost/pretty much ‘in charge’ of the whole group. Initially, there was obviously some guiding and training for the Manager but she’s a really quick learner so once I’d delegated the sense of relief, of feeling unburdened, was pretty immediate.

It’s actually ended up being a really interesting and enlightening thing to have done and to watch the Manager go from having very little confidence in her content, to having the initiative to put forward her own creative ideas and suggestions for the Twitter account. I’ve actually ended up feeling inspired by her into using similar methods that she’s developed without my guidance, for my own content on my social media and for I’m NOT Disordered! It’s also been humbling to watch someone go from the very uncertain, early days of using social media to being so talented at it. It kind of reminded me of myself a bit and made me feel so privileged to be able to use my own experiences and the lessons I’ve learnt to educate someone else.

 

LOSING MOTIVATION

As with many things in life, you might not always be in the right mood or frame of mind to blog. In all honesty, that really doesn’t happen to me very often… I don’t know if it’s to do with how much I enjoy what I do and how important it is to me, because I’m sure there’ll be other mental health bloggers who have these qualities too and yet still struggle with motivation… Perhaps it’s also about my life in general and that I’m in a position where I can spend so much time on my blog. That I have a lot of free time in the day to do it, and a lot of mental health bloggers have some sort of part or full-time job or are still in education.

I think there’s been two times in the almost eight years I’ve been blogging where I can remember really feeling that I had lost my motivation. The first was when I received the nasty comments I talked about earlier because they left me reluctant to continue putting myself out there at fear of more bullying. As I said that fear was so intense and so bad that I closed I’m NOT Disordered down for just over a month.

The second instance where I lost motivation was when I relapsed after finally being discharged from the hospital, I’d been an inpatient in when I started blogging, and moving into my own home. I was so terrified that if I talked about the relapse and told readers that I had self-harmed and attempted suicide again it would have a hugely negative impact on their lives.

 I receive so many messages every day from readers I’ve never met telling me how helpful my blog has been for their mental health recovery so I’m fully aware of the influence my posts can have. And that just meant that I worried talking about my relapse would take away a lot of hope that my recovery has inspired in readers. I thought that it would leave people thinking ‘if she can go from being so much better to this, what hope is there for me?’

Eventually, though, after talking it through with people, I learnt to be open when I was still struggling and was motivated by the idea that it would raise awareness of the fact recovery isn’t linear. Motivated to reassure others who might relapse that they aren’t alone and to encourage them not to lose hope because it’s perfectly reasonable to have ups and downs in recovery.

 

IT’S ALL ABOUT CHOICE

What are you going to name your blog?

Which platform will you use for it?

How often will you publish content?

Will you put up boundaries and maintain a level of privacy?

Will you collaborate with organisations and people?

Will you be open and honest or regulate what readers know about you?

Are you going to accept or request gifts from companies?

Where will you take your images for your posts from?

Will your blog be the most important thing in your life?