“The harder I work, the luckier I get!”
I genuinely don’t know where to start with an introduction to the content you’re about to see this year for Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW)! I mean, I’m so unbelievably proud and happy with each of the seven blog posts you’ll see throughout the week! I’d like to think that I’ve tried to illustrate a lot of different aspects of this year’s theme of ‘loneliness’ through working with some incredible people/organisations, so I really hope you all like the content I’ve worked so hard on…
Starting to blog the way I did – with no real hope or intention of reaching anyone besides my ‘friends’ on Facebook – I couldn’t have even begun to imagine that one day I’d be blogging to over one million readers about being announced as number one of the entireties of UK Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Blogs! And whilst I’m so completely grateful and honoured to say I can do these two things; I won’t shy away from the fact that it – and blogging in general – comes with some challenges…
Since before the blog:
For the four years before I started blogging, I kept my struggles with my mental health a secret and it wasn’t until I was told that I’d be going to a psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away before I finally talked about it publicly. And I really only did so because the hospital had stated the average length of admission was 12 – 18 months and my immediate thought was ‘how am I supposed to come up with a lie about where I am that would last for that long?!’
When I had precisely zero ideas, I wrote a Facebook post about how the stigma of mental health had led me to remain silent when I was struggling, but that I couldn’t hide it any more. And it’s still one of my most ‘liked’ posts on Facebook that also had so many supportive comments.
Before publishing that post, I wouldn’t say that I felt ‘alone’ in terms of not having people around me, just that I felt isolated in that I felt as though only a few people actually knew me. It’s like that thing about whether you’d rather have a couple of really good friends or ten or twenty fake friends. And it wasn’t as though the people around me were even ‘fake;’ I hadn’t given them the opportunity to prove or disprove that.
In all honesty though, keeping quiet was kind of the ‘right’ thing to do at that time. It meant that I couldn’t really wallow in, or become overwhelmed by, just how much I was struggling, how suicidal and unsafe I was, and how loud and scary the hallucinations were becoming. It left me in some form of… Not denial… It was more about feeling protected. Like, if I wasn’t thinking about and accepting how far my mental health was deteriorating, I would be a bit safer and a bit happier.
I found that when I finally spoke about my difficulties on that Facebook post, I felt an almost immediate notion of a release of pressure. I think that I’m naturally a very open and honest person, so keeping something that seemed to be taking over my life a secret from the friends I was spending so much time with, felt like I was betraying myself. It wasn’t me. And I really wasn’t proud of myself for it. So, to finally be myself, and to be able to talk about things, filled me with a sense of relief.
Was there any loneliness in the early days of I’m NOT Disordered?
Having that first instance of me talking about my mental health online be so positive and reassuring, probably put me in a really good position for when I created, I’m NOT Disordered in 2013. It meant that I already had experience of the digital world being beneficial to my mental health, so I had no hesitation when setting up my blog.
I started I’m NOT Disordered after having a really productive 1:1 with my Key Nurse and had gone back to my room, logged onto my laptop and became suddenly overwhelmed by the notion that I wanted to start documenting what was happening because the 1:1 had felt like such a huge step toward recovery. So, after briefly considering which method I should use to keep a record of my journey, I created an account on Blogger and without even planning or brainstorming alternative possibilities, I typed in my blog’s title. It just seemed so natural.
I’m so grateful for that feeling and instinct of me blogging being sort of ‘meant to be’ because I didn’t really stop to consider the possible negative consequences and that meant going into the blog industry with a very positive and genuinely passionate attitude. I think that it’s one reason why I’m able to recall the day I started blogging, even though it was such a generally insignificant beginning. Plus, doing so, has been hugely helpful in maintaining a level of gratitude and appreciation for all the incredible opportunities, collaborations, and projects I’ve had as a result of it.
Another result of feeling that I was destined to blog, was that I didn’t speak to or consult others and ask for their own thoughts and opinions on whether I was making the right decision both in setting up I’m NOT Disordered and in naming it. It was pretty safe to say that I was alone in that immediate start to my blog, and I noticed this after writing my first post. It felt so purposeful that I was convinced blogging was going to be a long-term ‘thing,’ so I began talking to one of the girls on the ward in the psychiatric hospital and she agreed to do the design and layout for I’m NOT Disordered.
I really enjoyed having someone who seemed invested in my blog and who could help when I noticed trends on other blogs and wanted to make similar changes and improvements to my own. However, just as I was starting to feel a bit frustrated with the fact that I was having to rely on someone else to make edits, the Doctors started talking about discharging the girl and I realised I wasn’t going to have that option soon anyway. So, it was as though I was forced into learning how to do everything myself; and whilst I was initially kind of intimidated by all the jargon, I also really enjoyed being in control and responsible for everything on I’m NOT Disordered. Being able to completely rely on myself felt so good.
Why the reader count even started:
When I wrote my first blog post (you can read it here) I began considering having an audience… I mean, before that – whilst I was setting my blog up – my only real intention was to have some sort of place that I could look back on and see how far I’d come and to just have a place I could sort of ‘vent’ because there was always some sort of annoying drama going on in the ward. But, in writing that first blog post, I found myself doing it as though it was for someone else; and so, I began to think about the benefits it could have on others rather than just me.
I thought about how the hospital I was in was all those miles away from home, and that maybe sharing my blog posts with my ‘friends’ on my private Facebook account would help provide them with some insight and understanding into what was going on for me. Then, hopefully, in seeing me talk so openly, it would inspire others to speak up too. Encouraging people to talk more about their mental health – I believe – is fundamental to a person’s safety. I mean, I’ll always wonder whether, if I’d accepted help sooner, mine would’ve still deteriorated to the point of being on life support after a suicide attempt. So, I’d like to think that in reassuring readers that speaking up and getting support when they’re struggling isn’t a sign of weakness or defeat, it might save someone from resorting to desperate, unsafe coping mechanisms. And the thought of potentially saving a life through my writing? Well, that’s kind of magical!
I was once asked a long time ago when I was shouting about reaching 500 readers, why I found the reader count so important. Knowing the person who asked me, it was kind of a dig. As though she was trying to prove I was superficial and wrongly motivated. And at the time, I had very little insight into my thoughts and feelings on a whole to do with that, so I struggled to think of and articulate the reasons why I was grateful for my blog’s following. Now, though, I’ve had nine years of doing this, and whilst no one else has asked me this again, I’ve managed to consider what my answer would be if they were to…
How having readers took away the loneliness that was caused by professionals:
Ironically, the thought of the benefits my blog could have on others, then benefited me and I found myself feeling sort of comforted when I was writing blog posts. It was nice to know that my words weren’t just being propelled into the digital world! I felt less alone in doing it.
You know, for a long time during my mental health recovery, I was keeping myself safe and engaging in therapy and taking my medication purely for the sake of others. I was doing it in a desperate attempt to end the pain I was causing to my loved ones. So many people would the tell me that I needed to want the recovery for myself or all the help and support I was finally accepting wouldn’t really sink in. Turns out though, during the time I spent completely motivated by others, I got well enough to actually want the happiness and safety myself. So, with my blog, the thought that I was helping other people, was a huge motivation for me to keep it up and give myself the time to really see the gravity of its benefit on me.
So, as word-of-mouth publicity (the best and most reliable kind of publicity, in my opinion) excelled my reader count, the first rewarding aspect of having so many readers was the pure thought that there were more people out there who cared about my journey. It wasn’t as though having my friends and family be as supportive as they have always been, wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate their understanding and kindness. It was just that it meant something different to have complete strangers show an interest in me and my mental health. And I think I felt this way because for a year or two before being admitted to the specialist psychiatric hospital, I was badly treat by the professionals who were supposed to be caring, non-judgmental and indiscriminatory.
It started when a Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) told me that she didn’t want anyone to give me the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) because she believed it to be a death sentence in that there was no hope that I’d get better and that no one would want to treat me. Sadly, she was right about the second bit – once that diagnosis was stamped onto my notes, professionals no longer seemed to care or worry when I was struggling. I was suddenly being treat as an ‘attention seeker’ who was ‘wasting’ services every time I self-harmed. It was a very hard time, and regardless of my Mum’s incredibly life-saving support, I felt alone. I mean, the people who you’re encouraged to seek help from were turning me away and propelling me into a suicidal abyss.
Having readers meant that whilst I still very much wished that the professionals had been the ones to care, I found myself becoming more and more grateful and appreciative of the fact that these complete strangers who had absolutely no real responsibility over my mental health, cared a whole lot more. My readers became a bit more like a support system. I mean, not having those professionals meant that it seemed I had no one to turn to in a way that was less controlled than how I felt I needed to speak to my friends and family. Blogging gave me back the ability to do that.
The importance of your gratitude for having others becoming too influential:
One thing I really wanted to say at this point is that as much as I am appreciated and grateful to every single one of my readers, I’m very aware of the level of influence and impact they have on I’m NOT Disordered’s content and the bigger decisions I make around my blog and in my blogging career on a whole.
I think a lot of me being influenced by others stems from my experiences with my mental health. I mean, having a mental illness can almost naturally make you so vulnerable and being in a psychiatric hospital surrounded by others who are unwell, can have a negative influence. When I was in the hospital far away from home, it specialised in my diagnosis of BPD, so all the other inpatients had the same Disorder, and with some of the key symptoms of BPD being an unstable mood and difficulty maintaining relationships, it made the ward a very volatile environment (one reason why starting my blog and writing its posts was a great sort of ‘escape’ and the perfect place to ‘vent’).
That volatile and unhealthy environment was the perfect breeding ground for the girls who ended up sneaking a blade onto the ward and passing it around – knowing full well what the person after them was going to do with it. I remember when the staff finally realised that all the recent self-harm was similar and there was a ward lockdown to find the blade, and I honestly felt sick at the thought of someone actually encouraging another person to self-harm. It made me so furious to think that those girls could see just how much self-harm had affected their lives and yet, they would still recommend it as a coping skill!
So, seeing that negative influence people can have on one another in the mental health world, I was very conscious of being too easily guided when it came to my blog. I think that the crux of it has been that in appreciating the number of readers I’m NOT Disordered was gaining, I would feel somewhat pressured into regarding their thoughts and feelings and prioritising them over my own views and opinions. It meant that when I was faced with having to make any sort of decision around my blog, I felt almost obliged to either ask others what they thought I should do or allow my final decision to be solely determined by my predictions as to what readers would want.
Recently, I found myself recognising this when I noticed I had stopped producing posts around ‘essential items for…’ or ‘gift guides’ purely because they aren’t my most popular type of content. And the reason I realised they were missing, was because I actually really enjoy putting them together. I feel like they’re so much more fun and light-hearted, and that’s a really nice break from writing about really deep, emotional and challenging topics, thoughts, and feelings. I mean, whilst I chose to write a mental health blog, and whilst other bloggers can produce gift guides to a much higher standard, I want my blog to be beneficial to me too. And sometimes that’s hard to get right because there are now so many people reading, I’m NOT Disordered clearly for the content completely centred around mental health, and I don’t want to lose or disappoint them by publishing a gift guide!
The notion of being so grateful for my blog’s readers with the recognition that neither myself nor my blog, would be where are today if it weren’t for the readers, has me feeling as though not prioritising them is a form of betrayal. Like, I owe it to them to consider their wants and needs over my own enjoyment. But maybe, it’s important to just reach a balance. To find a way to create content I want to create as well as posts that will benefit my readers and endorse the reasons why they come to I’m NOT Disordered in the first place.
Is it lonelier being number one?
For quite a while, I’m NOT Disordered was ranked as number two in the UK for BPD blogs, and whenever I remembered; I would check feedspot.com to see if it had changed. Every time it hadn’t, I’d be asking myself why. ‘What do I need to do to make it to number one?’ And it became a bit of an obsession, if I’m honest. It became one of those things where you’re striving so hard to achieve something for so long, that you end up not even remotely considering all the possible results and consequences you’ll experience if you do actually reach it.
When my blog reached number one a week or so ago, my immediate reaction was to scream and then to call my Mum! After that, I began posting an announcement about it on each of my social media accounts and before I’d finished, I had the stark realisation that now I’d need to stay at number one. It was kind of bittersweet. Having that notion of stress and pressure so early on, put a bit of a dampener on the actual achievement. It was as though I was in the middle of laughing hysterically and someone slapped me and told me “it wasn’t that funny!”
Almost instantly after the realisation of pressure to maintain my blog’s new position on the list, I remembered that Mental Health Awareness Week was coming up and received another ‘slap’ that told me “good luck matching those expectations!” And I think that in that very moment, I have honestly never felt so lonely in my blogging career. I mean to the point where I was just blaming myself for even becoming number one. The way I saw it, I was the one responsible for creating this new pressure and stress I was experiencing. And, at the same time, I was the only one who could do anything about it.
To cope with the stress and pressure and feelings of isolation though, I just remind myself of how hard I’ve worked to reach this point in my blogging career; and recognise that I’m not about to let that all go to waste just because I’m struggling to deal with something that no one has really said or caused. The pressure has come from me. Me putting it on myself. And I haven’t come this far, to only come this far. So, I’m grateful. And appreciative. And full of respect for each and every single one of my readers. And I won’t let you all down by picking negatives out of this.