With not long left until December, I thought I’d do a quick post to get everyone in the mood for I’m NOT Disordered’s Budget Blogmas which will mean festive, daily posts from December 1st until Christmas Day. So, here’s a few of the lessons I’ve learnt over my years of blogging at Christmastime…
LESSON ONE: APPRECIATE THE LITTLE THINGS MORE
The first Christmas of I’m NOT Disordered was way back in 2013(!) and I was still a psychiatric hospital inpatient – and had been for over a year. It had meant that my first Christmas in the hospital – the one before I started blogging – was literally spent in the hospital because I was deemed not to be safe or well enough to be allowed leave from the section of the 1983 Mental Health Act that I was detained under. And to be fair, all I can vaguely remember about it was watching old re-runs of the comedy The Inbetweeners on Christmas Eve until past lights out and everyone convincing the staff to let us stay up until after 1am!
Spending Christmas without any of the little traditions my Mum and I had developed over the years, meant I was so much more grateful when my Psychiatrist finally agreed to grant me leave from December 23rd until the 27th to spend the entire festive period at home. And in doing so, I throughly reaped the joy and laughter I had with my Mum to the point that I wanted to write it all down before I forgot and so my blog post went up Boxing Day!
So, the little things?
ü Pantomimes at the Playhouse
ü Food and a Baileys on Christmas Eve
ü Inappropriate giggles at the Christingle service
ü Watching the children turn up as Dinosaurs and Robots for the Church Nativity
ü Having a restriction on how early I can get up Christmas Day
ü My plush red stocking with the dog on that I’ve had since I was a baby
ü Thinking that we’ve lost Jesus in Mum’s nativity scene because the crib was upside down
ü Bucks Fizz in the morning
ü The fact that advent calendar chocolate always seems to taste different and special
ü That there’s always the same movies on TV – even when they aren’t festive!
LESSON TWO: BE MORE GRATEFUL FOR GOOD HEALTH
My first Christmas back in the community and in my own home with my own cat (Dolly) was assumed to be a huge success and massively enjoyable… But I had some physical health problems (which I talk more about in the blog post) and sadly, they took up a lot of time that Christmas. Time which I’d obviously have much rather spent with my Mum and Dolly in my new home. And it was actually kind of devastating and definitely disappointing to see that after all the time and effort I’d put into my mental health recovery, it wasn’t enough to protect my physical health. It didn’t ensure a more homely, happy Christmas that really felt like a reward for all that time and effort.
However poorly I felt at the time though, I think that going through that has been a good lesson in being more grateful for occasions when I’m in good physical health – whether it be Christmas or not! I mean, I’m definitely one of those people where it seems like there’s always something wrong… Thing is, this can be misinterpreted as there being something very superficial or even imaginary and that is definitely not the case for me! I can’t recall ever going to hospital and them saying that everything was actually ok. That my test results were normal. That the scan or x-ray showed nothing. That like, never happens for me!
I’ve found that having such poor physical health so frequently has really empathised an importance on my mental health because if I’m physically poorly and struggling with the hallucinations or my mood has dipped? Well, it’s a very unsafe combination. Whereas, when I’m feeling positive and stable, I can cope with being sick or in pain in a much healthier and better way.
LESSON THREE: I CAN USE I’M NOT DISORDERED AS A PLATFORM FOR OTHERS
For December 2015, I discovered the art of collaborations and partnerships in blogging by taking a set of Christmassy questions from a popular YouTube video and posed them to a whole host of different people – publishing each person’s answers individually and on separate days. And the whole thing was such a success - I think largely because people are so incredibly nosey these days that they were curious to know everyone’s answers. But also, another contributing factor to the popularity was that the people I worked with were from a variety of different roles/organisations and that meant double the publicity!
I really enjoyed the idea that the ever-growing and increasing readership of my blog (it was on over 100,000 readers by then!) could provide the opportunity to give a voice to others as well as my own thoughts, feelings, and passions. I mean I’m definitely one of those people who – when I find something helpful – my first thought is how I can turn that into something that will help others too! I guess that sometimes it’s kind of like questioning my worth because I believe that I’m no more deserving of help and support than anyone else. And that belief leads me to feeling determined and dedicated to helping others in whatever way I can… Especially where that involves my blog. I mean, it makes everything worthwhile. All the hours of planning posts, writing content, attending events and meetings, travelling, and so much more(!) are suddenly validated by the fact that my effort can help someone else.
LESSON FOUR: LOVE YOUR LOVED ONES EXTRA HARD
Even though I had spent a Christmas completely in the Psychiatric Hospital and one on leave from it, 2016 was definitely the worst Christmas I’ve ever had… I remember being at my ex’s family’s house on Boxing Day and as usual I had no signal so that I didn’t get all the missed calls from my Mum until later. When I finally got to talk to her, she told me that our twelve-year-old family cat; Saffy, was at the Vets after she seemed to have difficulty breathing.
The Vet asked Mum and I to go along to their practice and once there, we were told that the Vet had heard fluid on Saffy’s lungs so she’d drained them and after doing so, she’d done an x-ray and found a tumour wrapped around some of her organs. The Vet explained that the fluid would continue to build and we made the difficult decision to have her put to sleep. Fortunately, Saffy was still quite sedated, so when they brought her to us she wasn’t in pain and we talked to her until she passed away.
Having been in my own home with my own cat for over two years, I wasn’t as close to Saffy as I had been growing up. But whilst I’d been in the psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away, Saffy was my Mum’s only companion in the home so that fact left me feeling more saddened. I struggled to know what to say to my Mum around Saffy’s death. I wasn’t sure how to phrase things and was worried I’d say the ‘wrong’ thing and make her feel worse. This was challenging because losing Saffy had ended up making me so much more aware of how grateful and how loving I was with my loved ones (particularly my Mum and my own cat; Dolly). Her death really made me much more appreciative of my own support system as she had been such a huge help for my Mum.
I think that loving your loved ones becomes especially important at Christmas because it’s such a celebration that it leaves people more often considering who they want to celebrate with. It sort of asks you who you regard as important. Who do you want to be with on such a special day that doesn’t come around too often? It’s definitely a notion that has helped me to really recognise and be thankful to my loved ones.
LESSON FIVE: IT’S ENJOYABLE PRODUCING A FESTIVE SERIES
I first created a Christmassy series in 2017 when I started ’12 Days of Christmas with I’m NOT Disordered’ – a series of posts which asked a variety of people a set of festive questions over the twelve days before Christmas. And I really enjoyed using my blog for something so light, happy, and positive. As many benefits as I get from talking about mental health, it can definitely be deep and all-consuming, and so talking about a more fun and happy topic, was kind of a welcome holiday!
A few times – particularly recently – people from mental health services have suggested I consider becoming a Peer Support Worker for their organisation. It’s meant that over those occasions, whilst my ultimate answer is still ‘no,’ I’ve developed a more thoughtful reply. I say that I really appreciate and have the upmost respect for Peer Support Workers, but I couldn’t do it.
One reason for this is that as huge a part of my life as ‘mental health’ is, I don’t want it to become my entire life. I don’t want my whole career to revolve around it – which is one of the many reasons why I’m sticking with the Communications Team of St Oswald’s Hospice; I want to work with one foot in the Comms/marketing/publicity/media industry, and still have a foot in some area of the healthcare sector. It’s probably a big reason why I’m still blogging about my mental health – whilst my content is mostly on that topic, it’s also about creating content, considering what my readers might want, looking for inspiration, finding where there’s a niche in the industry… etc.
Whilst having that balance has definitely helped me to still be blogging almost nine years after creating I’m NOT Disordered, it has still left me with an eagerness to create lighter, more fun content – especially at Christmastime. And so, when I started creating festive series posts, I found myself falling in love with blogging all over again!
LESSON SIX: MY BLOG CAN INFLUENCE ITS READERS
My enjoyment influenced me to run another twelve days series, and in 2018; I collaborated with Cats of Protection and published the ’12 Cats of Christmas’ – a series of posts asking different people a set of questions about their cat. The goal was to raise awareness of how important and special pets can be in the hope that people would think twice before adding a pet to the family purely as a Christmas present.
Since Day One of I’m NOT Disordered, I’ve known that my statistics – my blog’s readership – isn’t just about the numbers. Each of those ‘numbers’ represents a person. A person who’s reading my posts and who I have the potential to influence in some way.
Before my Christmas series in 2018, I have used that influence almost exclusively in terms of my readers’ mental health. I’ve tried to use my content to help and support those who might be having similar struggles as me, by encouraging them to seek professional help, reassuring them that they aren’t alone in their experiences, comforting them with the knowledge that things do get better, and providing advice by talking about the things that’ve helped me. And of course I’ve really enjoyed doing that; it’s given my life a real purpose and passion; but sometimes it’s draining. The notion that there are people out there who need those qualities in their life and for their mental health, can be upsetting and to challenging. So, to recognise that I can actually create some fun, and more light content that could still have an influence and an impact, was so lovely. And it was something I decided to make the most of for Christmas 2018 by way of encouraging readers to put more thought and consideration before adding a pet to their family.
LESSON SEVEN: THERE ARE HIGHS AND LOWS TO BEING GIVEN GIFTS
Bolstered by the influence my blog posts could have on the ever-growing readership, I created my first full Blogmas in 2019, which was in collaboration with Etsy. Through the series, I alternated between days when I would review an item I had been gifted by a seller on the site, and days when I would write a blog post inspired by one of the many events/occasions during that month. Then, on Christmas Eve, I launched a first for I’m NOT Disordered – a competition where the winner could receive a gifted item from each of the sellers I had featured during Blogmas.
With blogging not really being a ‘thing’ when I first started, I had very little expectations in mind; and this was mostly a good thing. Particularly when it came to be gifted items and offered free opportunities because these days, there are so many people who start blogging with the assumption that they’ll almost instantly be gifted from their favourite companies. Those people don’t realise that the bloggers who they’ve turned to in order to build that assumption, have most likely worked their butts off to be gifted the things they are. It isn’t something that’s just handed to you on a silver platter!
It meant that whilst I recognised that by 2019, I had been blogging for over six years, and had worked incredibly hard over that time, I still questioned mine – and my blog’s – worthiness when I began approaching Etsy stores with my idea. Knowing the number of readers I had really loaned me some confidence and courage because I believed that if I centred my pitch of a collaboration around that, I would have a good case. It would illustrate that the possibility of raising the awareness and publicity of the store, and also show that I must be even just the slightest bit good at what I do to have attracted so many people. And I guess the fact that I managed to be given over £100 worth of goodies meant that to some degree, I was right.
Having some good, positive experiences with gifting, is one reason why I chose to collaborate with Pretty Perfect Products to publicise their ‘Christmas Planner.’
LESSON EIGHT: ALWAYS LEARN FROM EXPERIENCE (GOOD & BAD)
The success and response from my readers that year, led me to go on to create ‘Blogmas 2020 with I’m NOT Disordered.’ That year, having reflected on previous festive series’, I settled on a theme to run throughout the series: recommendations. I spent the blog posts giving my thoughts and ideas on everything from online courses to Christmas presents for your loved ones!
Another aspect I’ve always known since I started blogging was to learn from everything I do with my content – its popularity and general response, how much I enjoyed creating it, how much time it’s taken to create, and the impact and influence it’s had on my own mental health and recovery.
I think that a danger with not learning, is that you’ll either repeat the same things you wish you had done differently or you’ll just end up floating along with no real change – no improvement. No progress. And these things are essential where you want to ‘make something’ of your blog because the industry is so flooded with blogs for all different topics that whilst it can be supportive, it can also be extremely competitive. It is this competitive nature in blogging that can either put people off taking their blog further – or of even starting to blog in the first place! – or encourage and spur them on to strive to better their content to enable their blog to stand out.
From my previous Christmas content, I learnt a lot about the importance of deciding on a theme for the series – it attracts a specific audience who will benefit the most from the posts, it aids me in ensuring my content is consistent, and it’s a great way to put attention and raise awareness of a specific topic/issue/cause that I feel should be highlighted. Hence why this year, Blogmas is being dubbed ‘Budget Blogmas’ as each post will be centred around the importance of budgeting – particularly at this time of year. And I really – really, really – hope you all like it!
Whilst you’re waiting for Budget Blogmas to start though, go check out my collaboration partner and consider purchasing some of their amazing products with the discount code below…
ALL THE PPP LINKS:
10% Discount Code on either the PPP website or their Etsy store: ‘AIMEE10’