With this year’s theme for World Mental Health Day being: ‘making mental health and wellbeing for all, a global priority;’ I thought about my own priorities. Initially I thought about how much they had changed from being at my most poorly to being in recovery, but then I realised that actually, they had changed – almost a dizzying number of times – at various stages throughout the entirety of my mental health journey. My blog, however, has always remained so high on that list of priorities that I thought I’d write a piece that purely focuses on the priorities which, I believe, are essential for when you’re blogging about mental health…
There are a number of factors which I believe have contributed to I’m NOT Disordered’s popularity and success, but the one I feel has been most key is that from Day One, I have focused on myself, and the impact blogging has on my life. I mean, for so long the main priority in relation to myself, was centred around self-harm and suicide; and I was utterly convinced that I didn’t deserve for anything ‘nice’ to happen to me. But then, after over six months in a psychiatric hospital, I finally began to see that I was worthy of doing whatever I could to maintain my safety and keep my mental health in a positive state. And when I had a really therapeutic 1:1 with my Key Nurse that left me believing that I was on the right path for recovery, I had the very appealing thought that I wanted to document it; and so, I’m NOT Disordered was created…
As soon as I began blogging, I felt this sense of purpose. I had spent over three years honestly, utterly convinced that I had been put on this earth to commit suicide in a way that would highlight the failure of mental health services. So, to discover that maybe there was an alternative – maybe I had gone through everything I had in those past three years to be able to write about it and help others. I say ‘others,’ but in the beginning, my target audience was solely my family and friends on my private Facebook account. The intention with that was to improve their knowledge and understanding of mental illness in a way that might not only help them to support me and other loved ones, but also that it might encourage them to speak up if they were struggling too. This kind of reminds me of that Friends episode where Phoebe is saying that there’s no such thing as a selfless good deed because even if you’re doing something for the sake of others, you’re still wanting that good response. It’s still about you benefiting from it!
In all honesty, the feedback I get from readers every day is so motivating and really contributes to my assurance that what I’m doing is worthwhile. I mean, as beneficial and therapeutic as it is for me to have the opportunity – through blogging – to talk about things and process them in a better, more efficient way than doing so in my head; it can sometimes be challenging. Besides the typical difficulties in blogging e.g., the time and energy it takes to create content, the chaotic nature of attending events, conferences, and meetings, and the need to have some sort of knowledge of technology; it can also be hard and draining when I have to put some emotion into a piece. When the post means I need to delve into the past… And the hardship with this is that I’m paranoid that if I was to moan and groan about stress levels, I’d be met with a response centred around “no one’s making you do this!” And that I’d be told to be “more grateful” for all the opportunities my blog and its popularity have earned me. To those who hold these beliefs; I just want to reiterate the fact that I’m still a person! No matter how much I may want to blog about something, that doesn’t mean it’ll always be easy to do so. You can have all the motivation in the world to talk about a trauma, but that shouldn’t lead to the assumption that it makes it somewhat less difficult.
Aside from the beneficial thoughts and feelings I get as a result of my readers, and that bringing on the notion of me finally feeling that I have a purpose, another way blogging has helped me is that it’s really strengthened my ability to put my mental health into words. I think that I turned to writing because I’ve always enjoyed it – ever since I was little and wrote little short stories about animals (mainly horses because I used to go horse riding) going on adventures – and so, when it became apparent that the professionals were completely misunderstanding what I was experiencing… Well, their misjudgements labelled me as an attention seeker and they doubted the validity of the hallucinations I was seeing and hearing; so, I was kind of desperate to find a way that would help them understand because I believed that in doing so, I would be better treat and supported. In fairness, I shouldn’t have had to do this – I should have been treated with kindness, empathy, and respect regardless of any doubts or conflicting opinions.
The thing was, however, I could kind of appreciate where they were coming from. I mean, what they saw was this girl saying she was suicidal, asking for help, and then running away and causing a massive drama! When actually, the hallucinations and overwhelming thoughts would encourage me to self-harm or attempt suicide and doing those things would silence everything. With everything silent and manageable, I recognised that I didn’t actually want to die and so I’d go to hospital or tell someone what I had done. But then, upon getting help, everything would start up again and I’d feel like I was completely under the control of the hallucinations, memories, and my thoughts and feelings and so, I’d run away or refuse medical treatment for whatever I had done.
Fortunately, starting to write about how I was feeling, what I was thinking, and why I was doing the things that I was, almost instantly changed the response I received from the various professionals – particularly the Crisis Team. And in doing so, I found that when it came to reporting the abuse, doing a ‘written statement’ was actually kind of therapeutic because I had learnt the power and importance of words/writing so I had a decent amount of hope that the statement would prove effective and helpful for the Police’s investigation and everything that came with it. And I think this – both acknowledging the impact of writing and experiencing that impact in a beneficial way for myself – has proven quite crucial in my blogging career. It’s helped me to really be aware of the potential influence my content can have on all its readers, and that makes me more conscious of what I publish so that I can aim for the best possible response.
In blogging, though, you definitely can’t always get it right; and I think it’s arguably fair to say that the more readers you have, the more likely you are to not be able to please everyone. And this is another aspect of mental health blogging that can affect you having yourself as a priority, because it can lead to the question and consideration: ‘how much does my readers response affect me?’ I mean, you have to weigh up whether you can still enjoy blogging when you are told – or find out – that your content has had some sort of negative impact on a reader. And do you want to continue blogging if people are sending you nasty comments?
So, this is where the notion of ‘balance’ is so important, because whilst it says you’re such a good person if you feel some sort of sadness for this, it’s equally essential that you do things to protect yourself from that overwhelming you. This is yet another aspect I’ve learnt from personal experience because just over a year after creating I’m NOT Disordered; I received three horrible comments on my content and quickly found myself making the decision to close the blog down completely. I think that as much as I enjoyed blogging, I hadn’t yet recognised the benefits it was having on my mental health and how it was genuinely contributing to my recovery. But, after a few months, I realised that my blog was more important that I had ever appreciated, and resumed… With vengeance and a new-found passion, strength, and determination to resist any power negative comments could have over me and I’m NOT Disordered.
There’s an opposite side to that too though. There’s the side where you find yourself disinterested, less passionate, or just too busy to maintain your blog, but the thought of the impact that could have on your readers leaves you reluctant to stop blogging. Now, after a little while at the psychiatric hospital I was admitted to in 2012, I found myself adopting the belief that I should start putting more effort into therapy and cooperating with the staff to get better for the sake of my Mum and other loved ones. The hospital staff stressed that I needed to get better for me. That I had to want it too. As it turned out though, working harder at recovery for the sake of others meant I became safe and stable enough to then find the motivation from myself. And having that experience, of doing something for someone else left me questioning ‘what would be wrong if I wanted to stop blogging but continued purely from considering how readers would feel?’ My experience left me wondering ‘if I did push myself to continue for readers, would I rediscover my dedication in the meantime?’
I’ve come to the conclusion, though, that if I were to publish content under some sort of pressure or without my heart being truly in it, that would be worse than just completely closing I’m NOT Disordered down. I think that it would be obvious to readers that I was writing things under some sort of duress and without any real passion or interest. That it would show through the quality of the content and that would make it all really off-putting because I think so many people are used to me publishing pieces that I’m really, personally, invested in. And I’d like to think that element of dedication, is an attraction and draw to my blog. That – through my posts – it really shows just how much I benefit from blogging, and if I were to lose that quality, I don’t think I could continue to blog with the one reason for doing so being for the sake of others.
Blogging alongside my recovery (which I’d say is something I’m still journeying through) really helped me to feel that I have a source I can turn to when I convince myself that I’m taking more steps backwards than I am forwards. I can look back to the blog posts I wrote whilst in the psychiatric hospital, ones I wrote after self-harming, and ones where I was so overwhelmed by the hallucinations; and see that I have come so far – I mean to the point where I’d say I feel like a totally different person! Which makes sense because when I read some of the things I thought and felt back then, that just doesn’t really relate… Like, they’re things which I could never imagine myself saying these days. To the point where – when I’ve needed to go through the archives to quote or link to a previous post – I’ve genuinely considered deleting some of them because I just don’t like the thought of people reading them and thinking that I’m still that person! Ultimately, though, I like that they illustrate just how drastic things have changed and in addition to this encouraging me, I hope that it reassures readers too. That it shows they should have hope and that they find comfort in the notion that recovery is possible.