“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.”
Going to start this post in the most predictable way by saying that I can’t believe I’m typing a piece about having 900,000 readers on my little mental health! In all fairness, it was only three months ago that I was blogging about reaching 850,000 readers, it’s so obviously surreal and surprising. So, to mark this occasion, I thought instead of talking about the special moments from my personal life and my recovery, I’d talk a bit about some of my most favourite moments in my blogging career from the beginning in 2013…
1. My first blog post
I always love looking back at this first blog post on I’m NOT Disordered because I still find it so surreal to remember how little my expectations were for my blog. I mean, my initial target audience were my friends and family on my private Facebook account so I couldn’t have ever imagined I would one day be blogging about reaching 900,000 readers!
Honestly, in writing that first post, I couldn’t imagine even just maintaining I’m NOT Disordered and remaining so passionate and dedicated to it over eight years later. I started blogging as an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital so I think it was fairly obvious – at least to me – that it probably wouldn’t continue for very long because chances would be that either a suicide attempt would be ‘successful’, or I would get better and be discharged from hospital.
Not appreciating the potential of I’m NOT Disordered really meant that my first blog post wasn’t all that amazing; it didn’t reflect the importance it has ended up having. It wasn’t particularly special; it wasn’t an announcement or an opportunity or event… it was just me talking about my situation in an honest way. And do you know what, maybe that is a true reflection of all the blog has become eight years later.
Either way, after all that I’ve gone through, I’m someone who doesn’t wince at the thought of looking back at the beginning of something. It’s taken a number of years to develop this mindset because there have been several times that I’ve come close to deleting that first blog post. Then I realised, to do so would be like pretending it hadn’t happened. Pretending I’m NOT Disordered hadn’t begun in the small, naïve way that it did. And beginning in that way, is something I’ve become so proud of and so appreciative of. Something which I’d like to think will give other Bloggers or prospective Bloggers hope to see that a blog can go from that small beginning to this…
2. Realising I could bring hope to people through my blogging
When I think back, I actually feel a bit bad for not having faith in the potential of I’m NOT Disordered. I really didn’t appreciate just how powerful the digital world in general could be; I didn’t consider that my words might impact others rather than just being therapeutic for myself.
I guess I sort of started blogging in a very selfish way of purely considering the impact it would have on myself. Even then though, I didn’t recognise all the ways in which it would impact me. I didn’t imagine it would become such an enormous part of my life that I think it’d be fair to say it almost defines me. I didn’t envision it bringing me so many therapeutic benefits in providing me with relief from the notion that I was writing all of the words that were clashing against one another fighting for attention in my head.
In finding blogging a therapeutic relief, it meant I have always been open and honest about my experiences, my thoughts, and my feelings. And I think that this attitude has really lent itself to my readers in encouraging them to also be honest around their mental health. Being so open, has also meant those who have experienced similar things in their life such as abuse or self-harm, are able to relate to my content and draw hope from it in seeing that things have gotten better; that I went from being in a coma on life support after a suicide attempt to now being discharged from services for a year having not self-harmed for almost 300 days, and having my own home and a job.
Ironically, recognizing that me and my blog can bring hope to the lives of others has sometimes ended up being challenging on my mental health. This was mostly down to my anxiety that if I were to write about struggling again, then others might lose hope. That readers might be thinking ‘if she can be safe for so long and then it all go back to the beginning, what’s the point?’ Worrying that people reading of a ‘relapse’ made me reluctant to blog about any ‘relapses’ or ‘hiccups’ in my recovery and that meant all my thoughts and feelings around them were repressed inside of me and I had no outlet like writing them out.
After a little while, I recognised that there was actually two bad consequences from not writing about my struggles… The first, was around not having that therapeutic tool which blogging has become for my mental health. The second, was that not talking about ‘hiccups’ in recovery, could give readers the impression which we are taught by so many psychiatric professionals, that recovery is linear. That once you can say ‘I’m in recovery’ that’s it! You’re in it and it’s done. I’d had to learn that this mindset was wrong and had only learnt it because I’d experienced the relapses. So surely, telling my readers not to expect a smooth, linear recovery could prepare them for if they were to feel things were going backwards. They may not panic – as I did. Or feel hopeless – as I did. Or feel they couldn’t ask for help – as I did.
The biggest lesson from learning about giving hope to my readers was really around accepting the power and the influence; and using it as motivation for I’m NOT Disordered’s content when considering what I wish someone had told me when I was struggling.
3. I’m NOT Disordered’s First Birthday
I’m so pleased that I wrote a blog post for each year (all eight of them!) of my blog’s Birthday because even though each was written with a different angle, it’s meant I have some nice little yearly ‘reviews’ of I’m NOT Disordered’s journey.
For the first few years, even though I blogged the Birthdays, I don’t think I really held a huge level of importance to them because I didn’t really appreciate just how committed and dedicated, I was going to be to my blog. I didn’t appreciate how important and special it was going to become to my mental health and actually, my life on a whole.
Celebrating each Birthday of I’m NOT Disordered has really been motivated by that ever-evolving recognition that it was coming to mean more and more to me. And that each year was starting to feel like an achievement in itself. Being able to say that I had put in the time and effort that was needed to maintain my blog for another year, felt like an accomplishment and a testament to me and my mental health.
Over the continuation of I’m NOT Disordered, I learnt a lot how helpful blogging was for me. So, in reaching a whole new Birthday, seemed – to me at least – to show that I was still trying to get better, I was still determined, and I still had fight in me. It was as though continuing to increase my reader count and improve my statistics was proof that no matter how terrible I felt, nor the things I did to myself, I was still alive. And I knew that I could use that life in me to do good. I could use my terrible, upsetting experiences for good. And each Birthday was like an acknowledgement that I had spent another year trying to help others…
4. The pause of I’m NOT Disordered
Just over a year after starting I’m NOT Disordered, I seemed to come to a crossroads when I had a few negative comments from readers and then found myself about to be discharged from the psychiatric hospital I’d been an inpatient in for over two years.
Firstly, the negative comments. The first was a bit of a dig at me not having a job and whilst it was ironic considering the person who posted the comment was doing so during typical working hours, ultimately it wasn’t the most horrifically unking comment I received. The worse one came after my blog post about my three suicide attempts for National Suicide Awareness Day, and the person wished me ‘luck’ for my ‘fourth attempt.’
Now that?! That is just plain spiteful! And honestly, it is people who make these comments who become a huge reason for so many of the people who are making suicide attempts. I think I was very fortunate that my mental health was in a good, healthy and stable place at the time of the comments, because it meant they weren’t debilitating and triggering me to self-harm.
Next, my discharge from hospital… I kind of think this was an obvious one – I started blogging because I was in a psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from my home and my loved ones, and I wanted them to know what was going on for me. So, it really seemed to make sense that me being discharged back to my hometown and having the ability to really reconnect with my friends and family, would mean I didn’t need to blog.
I think that in pausing I’m NOT Disordered; I was really recognising the importance of these comments and the situation. And whilst I had been blogging for over a year, I was still yet to really see, or learn, of its crucial role in my life and my mental health recovery. And I guess it’s really like that saying about not knowing what you have until it’s gone; because I really hadn’t appreciated just how therapeutic blogging was until I didn’t have it.
Whilst once I’d realised how much I needed I’m NOT Disordered in my life, it seemed like a straightforward move to start it up again; anyone who knows me will know that I used to have a really big difficulty in accepting any sort of change in my life. So, to go from not being a blogger for a few months, to recognising I really needed it back in my life, was a hugely daunting change. My concern that re-starting I’m NOT Disordered would make me inconsistent and untrustworthy, was sort of mitigated by the number of comments I had been getting in those months the blog was shut down, asking me to do just that.
Now that I’ve been blogging for eight years, I absolutely hate the thought of losing I’m NOT Disordered again. At the same time though, I do recognise that there will probably come a time in my life where it’s no longer appropriate or even possible… For example, if I were to get a fulltime job or if I’m getting reeeeeeally old! So, I can imagine it happening, and the change – or the improvement – is that I can imagine being accepting of that.
5. My first ‘connection’
If I were to be asked for advice on blogging, building connections is one thing I would definitely recommend.
That first really important connection (not that any people I met prior to this occasion weren’t important!) I made which I’ve linked above, was with John Lawlor, the Chief Executive of what is now known as Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW). CNTW are my local NHS Trust who are basically responsible for more than 70 mental health related sites across the North of England.
I remember going to meet John at one of CNTW’s sites; St Nicholas Hospital and finding it sort of ironic that just a few years previous to this, I had been an inpatient of the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and now I was going into the building in the capacity of being a part of the interview between the radio programme; Mentally Sound, and the trust’s Chief Executive! (Until I made a speech at the Trust’s Board Members meeting a little while ago, I hadn’t known that actually, I was the first ‘Service User’ John had directly met!) Having the opportunity to visit the site with such a different role almost felt as though I’d come full circle.
Hearing John talk about his own experiences of mental illness and accessing psychiatric services in his locality, gave me the immediate feeling of an emotional connection to him. And having this, really motivated me to build an actual connection in working with him on various projects for I’m NOT Disordered.
In talking about building connections in my blogging career, I think it’s also important to touch on the aspect of ‘name dropping.’ Actually, the other day, a member of staff from CNTW asked if he could drop my name at an event, I had been invited to but couldn’t attend! And whilst that’s probably not the first time someone has ‘dropped’ my name, actually being asked about it meant that I got to sort of see this issue from the other side!
I won’t lie, I have sometimes mentioned people I’ve worked with (particularly the people listed below!) in order to achieve something… I mean, it’s usually around an instance of approaching someone to collaborate with and then mentioning that I have experience working with… And I don’t just use this about individuals, in fact, I probably reference organisations a great deal more! Usually, mentioning well-known people and organisations to others will influence them into deciding to work with me.
Honestly, I sometimes don’t like doing this because part of me thinks that me – my personality – and my writing ability should be good enough without having to mention my statistics and dropping some names. At the same time, I recognise that in a lot of instances, this is kind of what you need to do in some industries to progress and to achieve well in it.
I always really appreciate every single one of my collaborations and I would never deem one more important than the other. In fact, sometimes it’s really nice to work with smaller organisations or companies because I really feel as though I’m using my position in the blogging world to do some good for someone else.
Inspector Baker, formerly of Northumbria Police:
Kerry Daynes, Author:
Dave Chawner, award-winning Comedian:
Yvonne Ormston, former CEO of North East Ambulance Service:
Victoria Magrath of award-winning inthefrow:
Em Sheldon, award-winning Blogger:
6. My first speech
Whenever I have an event where I’ll be doing a speech of a presentation and I voice feeling nervous of anxious, my Mum will always reference the above instance because she remembers me ringing her almost in tears and panicking, saying, “I can’t do this!” She uses this example because even at such a dramatic point of panic and nerves, I managed to do my very first speech which ended up actually being the closing speech for the entire event! So, it’s kind of like ‘if you can get through that, then you can do this!’
I had this friend at the event I hosted for reaching 100,000 readers and he was making a speech at the event and my Mum (who was also going to make a speech) asked him how he got through his nerves and he said that he actually always had something in his trouser pocket which he would hold onto. It made me realise that I had never thought of having a piece of advice in my mind if someone were to ask me how I cope with the nerves of public speaking…
When I thought about it though, I realised that whilst it’s not as practical a coping mechanism as my friend’s was, my advice would be to focus on why you’re standing up there in front of everyone. Is it to promote something you’re passionate about? Is it to talk about someone important to you? Is it about raising awareness of something you find meaningful? Recognise why it’s important that you do this and use it as drive and motivation to carry on and push through the nerves and anxiety.
Other speeches, presentations etc.
7. My reader milestones
I’ll never forget when I saw my reader counter on, I’m NOT Disordered’s home page reach 100… As many of you will know, another inpatient in the psychiatric hospital I was in did the design and layout of my blog in the early months and as testament to our friendship, we had both been looking at the statistics at the same time so that when I ran out of my bedroom to go scream with excitement with her, she was already coming to my bedroom to do the exact same thing! So, we jumped up and down in the ward corridor and screamed so loud that the staff came running because they thought someone was ‘kicking off.’
We told the staff I had 100 readers and the staff’s response really set my assumptions for the reaction of others when reaching the milestone; they just smiled and walked off. They really didn’t understand the importance and the significance of it. They didn’t realise that actually, at the time, it meant much more to me than staying safe because I saw it as having had the opportunity to help one hundred people stay safe too.
I guess that knowing the excitement from me reaching 100 readers will make it easy to recognise and understand just how happy I was when I reached 100,000 in 2015! As I’d followed my statistics, I had a rough idea of when I would reach the milestone, so I began organising an event to really celebrate the occasion with my friends and family and people I’d worked with over those first two years of I’m NOT Disordered.
Looking back, I think that my attention was so drawn to the planning of the event that I didn’t really like the achievement sink in until the last hour of the party when everyone had started to go home and I was on the dance floor with two of my best-friends. I finally kind of stopped (in my mind) and just let go of every thought which wasn’t related to reaching 100,000 readers on my blog. I allowed my mind to really soak up that milestone and to enjoy the huge sense of achievement which came hand in hand with recognition of how hard I had worked to reach that exact moment.
Since that party, I haven’t hosted another to celebrate reader milestones and sometimes that’s actually felt quite ‘wrong’ because I’ve worried it’s looked to others as though those moments aren’t as important as the 100,000 mark. Which very obviously, isn’t true. Honestly, if I had the finances, I’d have hosted a party for every single subsequent milestone! Instead, I’m trying to focus on creating some sort of celebration for when I’m NOT Disordered reaches one million readers (if my statistics continue at their lowest rate, that will be in about 200 days!). Ironically though, I’m actually struggling to think of a kind of celebration which will really do justice to that enormous milestone…
I’d also like to explain my appreciation of the statistics! Years and years ago, another blogger asked me why the numbers mean so much to me and it initially left me feeling like quite a shallow person. As though, I was in some way wrong for having this appreciation. But, over the years, I’ve come to learn and recognise why it’s important.
Firstly, the numbers can reflect the number of people my words have reached and the higher that number, the greater the chance that my words have helped someone. And secondly, having an audience of this magnitude, really opens opportunities for me and for I’m NOT Disordered and its readers. If you approach an organisation for a collaboration and just state your blog at being in whatever category you would deem it to be, you’re less likely to get a positive response than if you reference your statistics.
One danger in putting so much appreciation into the numbers can be that if your statistics are to drop in any way, it can become more upsetting than if you hadn’t regarded the reader milestones with such importance. Where this difficulty came to me, I reminded myself that the digital world on a whole can really be about luck sometimes. People can come to read your blog just through chance at seeing your links or reading a mention by someone they follow… Having this insight means that if my numbers do change, I manage not to criticise myself and wonder where I’ve gone wrong.
However, I do use my statistics as a guide for making any particular changes to my content. If I try a new layout or start using images etc then I like to keep an eye on the numbers in case, they reflect a decrease in popularity. In doing this though, I’m mindful that even if there is a drop in readers, I continue to produce content which I’m proud of and which I’m happier about.
Other reader milestones:
8. My first Christmas series:
I first learnt about ‘Vlogmas’ on Zoe Sugg (Zoella)’s YouTube channel, and it is where you film a video every day for the entirety of December. A year before my first Christmassy series in 2015, a lot of Bloggers began producing ‘Blogmas’ which was obviously a very similar concept but with the difference that rather than videos, you produce blog posts.
Having been inspired by Zoe’s content, I took the questions from her video with her brother where they answered these questions to talk about their Christmas history. Initially, I was going to answer one question myself every few days for December, but instead, I decided to ask for the answers of some very important people. I also decided that rather than ask a range of people from one organisation, I would speak with a whole host of individuals and they ranged from other Bloggers to a Police Superintendent.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t had these ideas until it was too late to publish the answers every single day of December, and in doing this, it meant that for some continuity, the following two years were around the concept of the ’12 Days of Christmas.’ Doing this meant that when I found that I was really enjoying producing these series’ I decided that 2019 would be the year to do a fully-fledged Blogmas.
I’m glad I had really had some level of practice in producing daily content because if I hadn’t, it would have been an even bigger shock to my system than it was even with the experience! I mean, I really didn’t expect or appreciate just how much time and effort I would need to put in in order to have a successful Blogmas. This was probably especially exacerbated by the fact that I decided for my very first full Blogmas series, to do it as a collaboration with one of the biggest online retail marketplaces, Etsy! It meant I had to send so many emails to the different sellers I worked with and it took a lot of organising to have the gifted items delivered, reviewed, and photographed in time for the posts.
I learnt from that though, and last year I started putting Blogmas together in September!
Other Christmas series:
12 Days of Christmas 2017:
12 Cats of Christmas 2018:
Blogmas 2019 | Etsy collaboration:
9. Achieving recognition
There’s been a number of occasions that I’ve felt I’m NOT Disordered has achieved some sort of recognition, but I think the link above was one of the first real awards I’ve been mentioned in connection with.
But recognition isn’t all about winning an award or being given a certificate…
A huge number of other methods of recognition that my blogging has had, have been appearances in the media which have ranged from the radio to newspapers to magazines to the TV. I obviously really enjoy speaking publicly about mental health and about I’m NOT Disordered in particular because I look at it as a huge opportunity to help others in a number of ways… Firstly, it might reassure some people that they aren’t alone in their experiences of abuse or different aspects of mental illness and suicide or self-harm. Secondly, it might encourage those going through similar difficulties to speak out about their own experiences. Thirdly, in me – and other people – speaking out more, it might better the knowledge and understanding of those who might be supporting someone who is struggling and that could improve the care a person receives.
Finally, in keeping with recognition, I think it’s important that I recognise all of you! All of the people and organisations who have collaborated with I’m NOT Disordered. All of the people who have mentioned my blog to others. All of the readers who have stayed with I’m NOT Disordered from the start, and all those who are with it for its future.
Take A Break:
Staff Excellence Awards:
Channel 4: Dispatches: