I saw another
mental health blogger post about ten things you should know before starting
therapy (you can read Cara Lisette’s post on her blog)
and it inspired me to begin thinking about all the things I’d like to tell
someone before they started to blog…
You should make
the effort to remember how it started
I enjoyed writing when I was younger and would put together short
stories about horses going on adventures; but when the abuse started, the
writing stopped. I was so used to writing about the things that were in my mind
and, for so many reasons, I couldn’t tell anyone what was happening to me. So,
I worried that if I picked up a pen and a journal, I’d write out the entire
secret and the whole world would know, and the already horrible situation would
be magnified by the opinions of others.
Having quit writing for a few years, I didn’t immediately think of
it as a coping skill when my mental health deteriorated in 2009, but it finally
occurred to me when I was sectioned under the 1983 Mental Health Act and
admitted to a psychiatric hospital for the first time. I remember looking
around and seeing all these older inpatients muttering seemingly to themselves,
crying, screaming, punching walls, slamming doors… and I realised that if I
didn’t start talking about what had happened to me and got help for it, I would
be in the exact same place years down the line.
Even though it was two years since the abuse ‘finished,’ I felt that I couldn’t find the words to do justice to all those horrible memories. I mean, what word would accurately describe all the damage he had caused? So, I borrowed a pen and some paper from the staff office and decided to just begin by writing down all my thoughts and feelings and then see where I ended up!
It turned out, that writing became my favourite way of communicating
with psychiatric staff – even when I was discharged from hospital and under the
care of a Community Treatment Team. I would write about my week and take it in
to my weekly appointments with a Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) and to
monthly reviews with the Psychiatrist who would use my writing as a basis for
their decisions around my treatment e.g. whether to increase my medication or
if I needed to be referred to the Crisis Team… Doing that, really taught me
just how powerful writing can be – that it can completely influence a person’s behaviour
and attitude in their relationship with you. So, I kind of think that I shouldn’t
have been so surprised when blogging was instantly therapeutic!
After coming around from a coma after a suicide attempt left me on
life support, I was transferred to a specialist psychiatric hospital where the
average length of admission was stated at being 12 – 18 months. Even knowing
that statistic, I was pretty confident that wouldn’t happen to me because I was
sure that one of two things would happen: I’d either ‘succeed’ with a suicide
attempt, or the staff would get fed up with me and I’d be discharged! And the conviction
that one of these would be my reality, was so fierce that it didn’t fade until
almost one year of being in the hospital; at which point I came to accept I was
an inpatient and realised that if I didn’t put the effort in to get better then
it wasn’t going to happen – people/professionals can throw all this help and
support at you, but will it actually help if you don’t cooperate?
So, I came to the decision to use my passion for writing as a form
of communicating parts of the abuse with the ward staff (particularly my Key
Nurse and the Speciality Doctor) in the hope that it would provide them with a
better understanding of the motivation and influence behind so many of my actions.
On agreeing with my Key Nurse that I would do this writing, I got the sensation
that this was a huge step forward in my mental health recovery and recognising
this, I decided that I wanted to have somewhere to start documenting the
journey and so, I’m NOT Disordered was born!
I remember going to my hospital bedroom to find my laptop sat on
the bed and with no real rhyme or reason, I picked it up, googled ‘blog,’ and
created an account with Blogger. I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into
starting to blog nor even into creating the title! I think this was mostly
because I didn’t hold a whole lot of expectations or faith in my blog’s potential.
I didn’t imagine it would become such a huge part of my life or that it would
still be a part of my life over eight years later!
Having this lack of hope in the beginning of my blog has meant
that I’ve been really pleasantly surprised and so grateful to find that I can
still remember the moment I’m NOT Disordered was born. I mean, you’d think that
not predicting any sense of significance would mean I wouldn’t have absorbed
any memories of those early days. So, I’ve been really lucky in that respect, and
that feeling of privilege is a real motivation in wanting potential bloggers to
remember the creation of their blog so that whether it becomes successful or
not, they have something special to refer to when thinking about it.
All your initial ideas
on your blog’s aesthetics will matter
I won’t lie and say that I put a whole lot of thought into much of
the aesthetic elements of I’m NOT Disordered when I first started blogging. I
didn’t consider a ton of options for the title, I didn’t research layout designs
of popular blogs to inspire my own, and I definitely didn’t put any thought
into creating a logo or some sort of colour scheme.
Firstly, the blog title: I didn’t draw out a mind map of possible
titles for my blog (even though this is something I would advise potential
bloggers do when they’re first starting out!), but I did put thought into ‘I’m
NOT Disordered.’ I wanted to use the title as an opportunity to really get across
everything I wanted my blog to stand for in those few words, so I concentrated
on the aspect of wanting to use blogging to raise awareness of the fact that
mental health shouldn’t define someone.
Then, it might seem quite insignificant but the ‘NOT’ is actually
in capitals for a reason: I wanted to illustrate that the phrase should have a
lot of strength to it. That it was meaningful and should be taken seriously as
opposed to it being just a flippant statement. I hoped that in putting
attention on that part of the title, it might emphasise the passion and
strength behind the words, and that could set a tone for the rest of my blog.
Recognising the importance of the blog’s title, meant that I didn’t feel the
need to hash out ideas; I was convinced my immediate idea of ‘I’m NOT Disordered’
Having that confidence has meant that over the years, I’ve not
once doubted that decision or considered changing it. I’ve always felt reassured
that every interpretation of the title still matched my hopes and intentions
for it. I’ve also never received negative comments about it – in fact, if anything,
I’ve had a lot of compliments on it!
Unlike the blog title, in terms of the layout and overall design, there
were no immediate thoughts or inclinations to do anything in particular. I think
a large part of the reason for this was that I had very little knowledge and
skill set in that sort of area of technology. I remember asking one of the
inpatients I was friends with if she would do the design side of, I’m NOT
Disordered for me and it instantly felt like a weight was lifted because it
meant I could just concentrate on the writing. Which was probably another
reason for my lack of interest in the aesthetics; I was too focused on enjoying
the process around creating the content and held more importance to that than I
did to the layout of my blog.
Setting the content as my priority meant that I made absolutely no
effort to learn how to do the design bits for myself. Sometimes, I realised
this wasn’t good; especially where I wanted a change to be made but she couldn’t
do it straight away. But still, it wasn’t until her discharge began being
planned and I found myself with the very abrupt realisation that how on earth would
I’m NOT Disordered continue to increase in popularity if no design updates were
made and it became ‘behind’ the standards and trends of newer blogs?
And so, I taught myself! Well, I obviously googled bits here and there(!),
but not being a fan of instructions in any sense, I mostly learnt about designing
my blog through trial and error. And all the stress and screams of fury seemed
to slowly become worthwhile as I watched my blog’s appearance improve and saw
it begin to reflect aspects of blogs I was inspired by. I felt so proud that
those changes came from me and me alone; it meant that if someone gave positive
feedback, I felt totally able to take the credit, and if there were negative
comments, I knew that I was responsible and could accept constructive criticism.
Having struggled with change so much throughout my mental health journey,
deciding to make even the slightest change with I’m NOT Disordered has felt like
an important moment in my blog’s journey. Having this hesitation in changing
things lent itself to decisions around the blog’s logo and the colour scheme…
I had started blogging with a logo of a wreath of flowers and a
selfie of me in the middle, and I kind of liked the idea of keeping that general
setup. So, the other two or three logos I’ve had since that first one, have always
been designed around a circle of flowers, but I decided to feature text in the centre
rather than my face! I think that a reason for this was that my blog was beginning
to feel like a bit of a ‘business’ and so a selfie logo felt a bit too personal
Another aspect of the blog’s aesthetics which has sort of stuck
through the years of re-designing has been the colour scheme. I don’t know why
exactly, but purple was quite a central colour in the blogs palette from the
beginning and that left me with a sense that it might be a bit of a trademark?
As in perhaps ‘purple’ comes to mind in hearing ‘I’m NOT Disordered’? Sort of
like my red hair!
Making changes and having the aesthetics of my blog naturally evolve
over the years, I’ve come to learn that actually, those original decisions have
remained relevant and inspirational over eight years later! And I think that
through this fact, I’ve learnt a lot about being proud of where you come from. Where
your beginning was. I think it kind of recognises that no matter what my blog
looks like, I’ll always remember – and hold dear – how it started.
There’ll be times
when you’ll struggle to find inspiration
In all honesty, this is something I didn’t really learn until the
last two years maybe (six and seven years into my blogging career), but I think
that’s actually why I needed to include it in this blog post; because I’d be
concerned someone felt as though they breezed through ideas for content for
their blog and then were suddenly faced with this fact – the exact way I was…
In starting I’m NOT Disordered as a psychiatric inpatient; it was
very obvious that my content would be inspired by the daily events and occurrences
on the ward. With the hospital’s healthcare organisation declaring that the average
length of admission to the ward I was on was 12 – 18 months, and I had barely
been there six months at the time of creating I’m NOT Disordered, I figured I
would have plenty of inspiration to fuel an almost constant stream of content for
My one challenge regarding inspiration of content during the years
I blogged whilst in hospital was keeping some sort of control over how much information
I shared. I especially struggled to maintain discretion when referring to any
particular staff, but otherwise I just seemed to blurt everything out in my
blog posts. One time, one of the ward managers actually said, “I was going to
say something, but it’ll just end up on your blog!” And I remember feeling a bit
indignant at the thought that maybe he – and other staff – thought of my blog as
something really negative and unhelpful when, in fact, it was the exact
opposite. But that made me wonder if even though it was the opposite for me, maybe
it wasn’t for anyone else? Maybe no one else benefited from I’m NOT Disordered?
It was actually this concern, which inspired me to reach out to
organisations and other individuals and offer them the opportunity at creating content
for my blog. Initially, I worried that extending the invitation to produce a
guest piece or to collaborate on something, would be a bit presumptuous and as
though I was saying that working with me and I’m NOT Disordered would be some
sort of ‘achievement.’ But actually, I view collaborations as a rewarding
experience for me and my blog; it’s honestly been an honour and a privilege to
have worked with every single one of the people and organisations I have.
A huge part of that appreciation for collaborations has been that
it’s really enabled me to be even more creative with finding inspiration for blog
content. I love hearing of an organisation or person’s work and then me being
able to put the effort in to make their work appropriate and applicable to be featured
on a mental health blog. I really enjoy when a collaboration has readers surprised
and confused as to how it’s relevant to my typical content because it allows me
the opportunity to raise awareness of the enormously huge and widely spread
impact and influence mental health can have in life.
During those almost two years from me starting to blog to being discharged
from hospital, I remained pretty much unchallenged in creating content. Which
meant that when my discharge from the psychiatric hospital came up in December
2014, I had no idea as to where to look for content inspiration. This new, challenging
confusion was a big reason for me to consider closing I’m NOT Disordered down because
I was sceptical that I would be able to create content whilst being a person in
recovery and living in the community. I wondered ‘how would my life be any
different to the lives of so many other people?’
I mean, when I started blogging, I was very aware that I had found
a bit of a niche in the mental health blogging industry because there were
really only three well-known blogs in that field. The first was written by a Police
Officer who talked about his interest in mental health and the call outs
related to it. Another was by an ex-service user who focused on talking about
her experience of one hospitalisation. Third, was by a psychiatric nurse who
had struggled with her own mental health. As far as I knew, at that point,
there wasn’t a blog by a psychiatric inpatient. Whilst this is something, I’m
really grateful because I wonder whether my blog would have been so popular if
that niche hadn’t been there; there was also a drawback to it. And it was
around the thoughts of content; because how could I continue to provide niche
content when I was no longer in that position? And if I couldn’t, surely that
would leave my blog more crowded by those which were starting to pop up and were
managed by community service users?
Unfortunately – or fortunately depending on how you look at it – recovery
isn’t linear and so me being discharged from the psychiatric hospital didn’t
mean that I would have no bad days, no hallucinations, and no thoughts of self-harm
or suicidal ideation. Initially, the fact that things didn’t stay all bright
and happy was something I was very reluctant to talk about on I’m NOT
Disordered out of concern for the chance that doing so may rob readers of hope.
I worried it might leave someone thinking that there’s no point in engaging in
therapies or taking medication if ‘recovery’ doesn’t make everything permanently
perfect. Developing a sort of ‘why-bother?’ kind of attitude… Over a short time
though, professionals reassured me that it was normal to have ‘bumps’ in your
recovery journey and so I realised that if I didn’t blog about recovery not
being a straight line, so many people might feel like they’ve failed in their
recovery. In creating I’m NOT Disordered; I have a huge opportunity to raise
awareness of some really important aspects and experiences and I kind of feel
like it’d be almost wrong to not use that platform to help others.
After deciding to include blog posts about any bumps in my
recovery, I still found that I was occasionally needing to actively hunt down
inspiration for some of my content. And I began viewing creating content as a
more creative task and having always loved being creative (since tearing up catalogues
with my Nana and making collages out of my favourite toys) it meant that having
to source inspiration actually felt more like being assigned a really nice task
than facing some sort of difficult challenge!
Even with me not having any real expectations in creating I’m NOT
Disordered, I immediately had priorities for the beginning of my blogging journey…
The first priority I can remember establishing when I started
blogging in 2013 was to create an outlet for myself. Being a psychiatric
inpatient and on a ward, which specialised in Personality Disorders, the environment
was mostly extremely volatile and unsettled. There was always someone arguing
with staff. Always someone slamming doors or stotting their head of the wall. It
was so noisy and there were so many instances where inpatients really clashed
with one another and having been a part of some of those instances, I had
learnt that nothing productive ever came from responding to someone who was screaming
in your face, or who was being rude, or expressing an opinion and behaving in a
way which I didn’t support or agree with.
But, of course, in biting my tongue in these heated moments, all
of my frustration and argument was internalised, and I began to feel like I
would just explode at the slightest of issues! So, I thought that in blogging I
would have a space where I could really let my passion run wild, and an outlet
for all my thoughts and experiences. I thought it would be a healthy,
therapeutic way to be honest and open without really causing a complete imbalance
in my environment.
When I started to feel a bit braver with, I’m NOT Disordered, I
developed a new priority which was all about using my blogging in a way that could
benefit others. Initially, this was through wanting to improve the knowledge of
mental health among my loved ones. Prior to the hospitalisation in which I
started blogging, I had kept the majority of my mental illness and my
experiences of self-harm and suicide attempts a secret from my friends. After
being told that the average admission to this hospital was 12 – 18 months, I
realised I needed to be honest and put together a post on Facebook which proved
to be very popular and I was relieved to see the comments on it were full of support.
So, knowing that pretty much everyone in my life knew about my mental illness,
I recognised that this didn’t automatically mean that they understood any element
of it; and how could they if I didn’t talk about it?
Having my blog benefit others in some way has remained a priority over
eight years later! And honestly, I’m not sure you should even be blogging if
you don’t want your readers to benefit from it in some way. My priorities for
my readers are still around educating them because so many people are being misinformed
about mental illness through different media channels or through stigmatised comments
from others. But, since talking more about the abuse I experienced when I was
younger, I’ve come to learn/realise that my blog can also benefit readers
through reassuring them that they are not alone in their own experiences of
trauma. And this holds true to my blogging about the help and support I’ve
received with my self-harm and suicidal thoughts and attempts. My readers
seeing that someone else has struggled with those aspects of mental illness can
encourage them to reach out and ask for help too.
Then, as my blog’s popularity grew (initially through word-of-mouth,
but now through some features in the media and shares on social media) my priorities
changed again. I’m NOT Disordered became a bigger commitment which had a much stronger
and more obvious importance in my life than I had originally anticipated it
would. And this led me to beginning to view my blogging in a more serious and
professional light with my priority becoming partly (because part was still
about benefiting my readers) about improving my content and building on my audience
Initially, I was kind of reluctant to talk about this new priority
because I worried that it was actually kind of superficial and shallow to be so
passionate and concentrated on the popularity of my blog. I thought that some
people might begin to believe that I was blogging for all the ‘wrong’ reasons.
That I was doing it for the notoriety and attention. As someone who was – at one
point in my mental health journey – labelled an ‘attention seeker’ by so many
professionals, I know the damage that label can do. I know the connotations it
has, and I know the consequences of using the term wilfully and ignorantly. And
knowing these things, means I’m so aware of doing anything that could possibly
be interpreted that way.
After a little while – after really learning to acknowledge and accept
my priorities – I found the confidence that gave me the ability to provide
context and rationale to those who questioned them. I found myself able explain
that in striving for an increase in I’m NOT Disordered’s readers, it was
actually about the fact that the more people who read my words, the greater the
chance that they will help someone in some way. I was also able to talk more
about the fact that my statistics – my blog’s popularity – are a huge reason
why I secure so many amazing opportunities.
I mean, it’s very obvious that saying ‘I’m a mental health blogger’
or ‘my blog has over nine hundred thousand readers’ make a huge difference when
approaching organisations or individuals with the idea of a collaboration.
Initially, realising that sometimes I needed to mention the number of readers was
kind of upsetting because it inspired the thought in my head that just me and
my blog weren’t good or deserving enough. However, that evolved into the
realisation that my blog wouldn’t have such a big audience if it was useless –
of course I recognise that some readers might not like I’m NOT Disordered and
might not come back to it – or if the content was no good!
You’ll risk being
vulnerable and open to judgment
When I was going through the abuse, a huge motivation for me
keeping quiet and not reporting what was being done to me was the thought,
worry, and concern that the second I told someone, I’d be judged. Judged in
terms of some people will think I deserved the abuse or even just simply that
my abuser hasn’t done anything wrong. Judged in terms of some people accusing
me of lying about the entire thing! Isn’t it kind of unbelievable that I’ve gone
from not talking about the abuse to anyone, to blogging about it for the whole
world to see? It’s one of those times where you look back and then forwards and
can’t believe you were the same person in both instances!
Remembering all those pent up, secret thoughts and feelings still
makes my head feel all full and overwhelmed. And when I think about how open
and honest, I am now, it’s like a weight was lifted and someone added a faucet
to my head so that all of those scary, intimidating things were able to escape and
to relieve the pressure in my mind.
The turning point – the moment I went from being full of secrets
and terrified of judgment, to blogging it all out and having very little regard
for how it might shape the way others see me – was when I was in the psychiatric
hospital in 2013. I guess that the admission – and a few other things – gave me
the notion that the thoughts of others really didn’t scare me. That their opinions
of me wouldn’t destroy me, my life, or my mental health. It was like; ‘I’ve
literally got nothing to lose at this point!’
Ironically, it isn’t just about the words you blog which could
influence some sort of judgment; it’s also about the fact that you’re blogging
about those words. You know? It’s not all about readers thinking I deserved the
abuse, it’s also about readers questioning my motives as to why I’d share my
experience (both in the abuse and in my mental health). I mean, was I just doing
it to gain sympathy and attention?
In blogging about the abuse and my mental health, self-harm and
suicide attempts, I definitely made myself so vulnerable and open to the
judgment, the criticism, and the stigma. Initially, this was actually really
risky because at the time, and nasty comments might have been enough to leave
me feeling unsafe and unhappy. However, I think that over time – and with the
popularity of my blog behind me – I began to develop a thicker skin and whilst
I’ve only ever had two or three spiteful comments on my blog, I believe that
being slightly robust in blogging, is a good and helpful quality to have.
I think that one aspect of this vulnerability and judgement that
is really important to remember, is recognising your responsibility in any
difficult, upsetting situations that arise. Firstly, it’s so incredibly ‘easy’
to say that someone’s actions made you feel or act in a certain way rather than
examine why you’ve responded the way you have to someone else’s wrongdoing. And
in blogging, it’s very easy to have some sort of insult thrown at you and go on
the defensive… A huge controversy in blogging is around whether what you choose
to put out there on your blog or on social media is kind of ‘asking for
trouble.’ It’s sad, but true that talking about your mental health or expressing
an opinion in any way(!), has the ability to open you up to criticisms and
personal, hurtful insults. And who takes the blame for that? Is it on the
blogger? Did they make themselves vulnerable? Or should the bully or troll be
held accountable? Do they deserve some sort of consequence for being spiteful?
AND HERE’S WHAT MARTIN BAKER OF GUM ON MY SHOE
I’m grateful to Aimee for inviting me to contribute to this
article. In some ways the best lessons are those we learn for ourselves, but
here are a few things I wish someone had told me before I began on my blogging
You may not find your niche at the first attempt
You may not find your niche at the first attempt My current and
most successful blog is Gum on My Shoe (www.gumonmyshoe.com) which I began in
2013 with my best friend and co-author Fran Houston. Before that, I had two
blogs that never got anywhere. The first was a home for my poetry (my Collected
Poems 1977–1984 is available on Amazon). The second was meant to be a forum for
my more or less random musings. Neither blog lasted long, because I had no real
aims and little idea of my target audience. Gum on My Shoe was and is
different. It sprang from a desire to share our experience of mental illness
and supportive friendships, and serves as a platform for our books and other
content. The lesson here is don’t worry too much if your first, or even your
second, blog doesn’t work out the way you hoped. Give yourself permission to
start again. You’ll know when it feels right.
You will wonder why you started (but don’t stop!)
As with anything creative there will be times when you find
blogging hard. It’s not all glamorous and there’s a lot to learn, remember, and
work at if you want it to be successful (however you measure success). I’ve
written about some of the things I struggle with before [link].
There have definitely been times when I’ve wondered if the hard
work was worth it, and seriously considered giving up on it. It’s so valuable
to have a good support team at times like these. Having Fran, Aimee, and other
friends on board helps me keep going when I’m struggling with ideas,
motivation, or a lack of confidence. It’s okay to pause your blog, of course,
if you need to step away for any reason, or stop altogether if blogging no
longer serves you, but having a supportive team will help you make those
decisions consciously, rather than giving up because things are tough.
Keep a notebook (or app) handy!
Blogging ideas come at the most random of moments, and if you’re
anything like me you’ll forget the best of them unless you jot them down
straight away. Keep a notebook and pen with you at all times, or use a
note-keeping app on your phone or tablet. I use Google Keep because it’s quick
and simple, and synchs seamlessly across all my devices, but use whatever works
for you. It’s a good idea to date your entries so you can find them afterwards
and relate them to whatever was going on at the time.
You will change people’s lives
This might seem an odd thing to include, for a couple of reasons.
Maybe the whole point of your blog is to change people’s lives in some way, so
you hardly need reminding! Or maybe what you write about seems unlikely to
change anyone’s life. My first two blogs definitely fell into the latter
category; Gum on My Shoe into the former, because Fran and I hope we can help people
by sharing our experiences and story. In either case, it’s something you cannot
really appreciate until it happens. And it will happen. No matter how “serious”
or “light” the topic you write about, no matter what genre you blog in, if you
write with integrity and passion, your words will move and affect people. The
day you receive that first blog comment, or email, or social media message
telling you how much your words meant to someone, will be a big day. I wish
someone had prepared me in advance. Savour those moments, whether they are rare
or frequent, because they are what blogging is all about.
You can follow Martin
on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GumOnMyShoeBook
And read his blog: www.gumonmyshoe.com