“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it…”

Alan Wilson Watts

When my mental health was at its most poorly, even just the idea of change was genuinely so de-stabilising that I avoided it at all costs! Then, when it would happen out of my control, I coped in the most unsafe of ways. I think it was because the abuse was such a huge change – I mean, I’d confided in my abuser and felt supported by him for months, but then he started hurting me and changed into my enemy as I became filled with hatred towards him. So, any change in my life became a terrifying reminder that something innocent can very quickly change into something life-changing and utterly traumatic. Through my mental health recovery though, I’ve learnt the positives and the healthy side of change and can now view it as productive and an opportunity to improve things. And so, here are the biggest changes I’ve seen in I’m NOT Disordered since creating it in 2013…

When I first started blogging in January 2013, the majority of my passion and motivation for doing so was actually for the sake of others. I firstly, wanted to keep my loved ones updated with everything that was going in the psychiatric hospital I was an inpatient in because it was over 100 miles away from them. Having spent the first three years of my mental illness keeping quiet and not confiding in my friends and family, it was as though things were just building up inside of me and I had to finally find the courage to speak up.

So, I hoped that in writing so openly and with so much detail about my day-to-day life, the people I cared about would be able to better understand and therefore be better educated both in supporting me, but also in supporting others and especially, I hoped to instil the knowledge that asking for help is no weakness for if it might come to getting support for their own mental health. The majority of the motivation for my silence had been the fear of stigma and discrimination, which, I believe, are both reduced – and sometimes completely eradicated – by education and knowledge.

When my loved ones began sharing my blog’s link with others (I swear word-of-mouth publicity is the best – and cheapest! – marketing tool you can get!) the views began wracking up and I found myself becoming more and more appreciative of that… And initially, maybe it was a bit addictive to see the numbers rise and rise; but after a little while, I began to see the real benefits of that – the benefits that have helped me to become so much more passionate about blogging and more determined to continue with it.

I saw the first, and still the greatest, benefit to come from an increase in audience when I began receiving messages from readers telling me my content had helped them in some way. You know, even though it was a few years ago, the one comment that stands out the most was when an older woman said that she’d read my post about reporting abuse, and it had given her the courage to report her own experiences of abuse and doing so resulted in her abuser being imprisoned. And all I could think was not only would that lady have an increased chance of experiencing peace and closure, but that his prison sentence might have made others safer too. The notion of my blog posts having such a profoundly positive impact on those reading them, had an incredibly important influence on my drive and my passion for I’m NOT Disordered.

Alongside such amazing feedback though, it was sort of inevitable that I’d receive some negative comments too… And those – the encouragement to make another suicide attempt etc – left me with a reduction in my passion for blogging. A reduction in my dedication and my determination to continue with it. I started to see the therapeutic value it held for me and my mental health as insignificant when comparing them to the impact of the spiteful messages. And so, I closed I’m NOT Disordered down; and for a few months, it felt as though I was just treading water and not getting anywhere. Even though I was finally being discharged from the psychiatric hospital after two and a half years. Even though I was getting my own home and buying a cat!

Turns out, closing my blog down and going through those few months without it, was probably one of the greatest moments for I’m NOT Disordered and for its current standing in the industry. I mean, it allowed me the time to step back and gain some perspective and establish just how beneficial blogging was for me. It helped me to get my priorities straight. And that really, that factor should guide my true passion for it. All the other amazing details are just… well, the most incredible bonuses.

Once I resumed blogging, the next new spark in my passion to come from gaining a larger audience, was seeing the opportunities it awarded me. The first one I really remember and which I’ve noticed the biggest change in when doing similar opportunities these days, was the Story Camp event with Time To Change in 2015. I had worked with Time To Change for around one or two years by the Story Camp came around and they asked me to make the closing speech for the event. I remember ringing my Mum before it and saying that everyone was talking to each other, but I didn’t know anyone, and I was absolutely convinced that I would fail epically in making my speech. As usual, my Mum talked me ‘down’ and I got up on the stage, said my bit and got all emotional when everyone clapped. These days, I think that I have a lot more confidence in making speeches and delivering presentations – or at least, I’m more able to pretend that I have confidence!

When the invitations to events began to increase, and the opportunities to work with well-known organisations and individuals flooded through my inbox – for a short amount of time – I worried that being so proud and excited about these things was changing my priorities. That being bothered about events and opportunities was making me seem as though I’d lost sight of helping myself and others. But, after a few months of amazing experiences, I came to realise that these things were helping me. I absolutely thrived on them! I mean, I had an interview for a new contract with St Oswald’s Hospice in the Communications team a little while ago and was asked how I would cope if there was a lot of things going on at once with events and social media etc and I said I would excel. Funnily enough, I think it’s actually when my best work comes out because I feel like I’m in a place (mentally and physically) where I belong.

Seeing I’m NOT Disordered continue to improve, seeing the reader count rise beyond one million, seeing it being ranked as number one in the UK for Borderline Personality Disorder blogs, seeing the opportunities overwhelm my diary… Well, I’ve found a sense of purpose in blogging. You know, I spent a lot of years when my mental health was poorly believing that I was put on this earth to kill myself so as to draw attention to the failings of psychiatric services. So, to finally feel as though I’m actually meant to do something good… That I have a purpose and a reason to be here that would be beneficial to me and others… Well, it’s more than comforting. It’s everything.

When I created, I’m NOT Disordered in 2013, I had very little knowledge or skills when it came to computers and websites etc. I mean, so little that I wouldn’t be surprised or offended if someone had doubted my ability to manage a blog back then. Sort of fortunately, I had grown really close to another inpatient in the psychiatric hospital I was in back then and her bedroom was the next but one down the corridor from mine. Our bond meant that when I started blogging, I talked to her, and she agreed to help me with the design of the thing. I mean, I knew how to publish posts and the basic setting up, but I had no clue when it came to the aesthetics and layout of it!

So, the blog’s first design was mostly pink and, on the top/banner, was a circle of flowers with a photo of me inside! Looking back, it was kind of cringe; but at the time, I liked it(!) and that was probably the most important element because back then, the priority of my blog was to find help in it for myself and for my own mental health. And when I first found myself developing a target audience, the fact that it was purely my loved ones, meant that I still didn’t feel that the design needed less personalisation or a more neutral colour scheme. However, there were still the odd edits to things and the fact that I was very blatantly relying on the other inpatient to make these changes meant that when the professionals began discussing discharging her before me, I recognised the need and urgency to learn how to do everything for myself.

To be honest, as challenging as it was doing things myself through either Google’ing how to do what I wanted or watching some YouTube tutorials of it, I much preferred it this way because it’s meant I’m fully responsible for I’m NOT Disordered. And after being abused and making suicide attempts, responsibility is something I had pounded into me time and time again in various ways and by various people. So, it matters to me. It’s important that I feel I’m taking responsibility for my actions. I mean, in all honesty, failing to do that – being overly defensive, refusing to recognise any part you’ve played in something; is definitely rife in the blogging industry. Especially in cases of collaborations – one of the organisations I worked with quite regularly in the past, have made a number of ‘blunders’ and decisions I wouldn’t want anyone to even remotely wonder whether I would support them. So, I had to find the balance in distancing my blog from them whilst also accepting and remaining positive about our previous work together.

So, learning about creating my blog’s design, may seem small or insignificant, but it means a great deal to me. As did the original aesthetic of the blog, which is why I maintained the idea of the floral circle on the top – or what became the logo – and kept some sort of colour scheme throughout the blog and its pages/functions e.g., coloured social media icons. The oldest re-design of I’m NOT Disordered that I can remember, was the 2016/2017 one where I re-designed the logo and changed the colour scheme – until then, I’d done smaller, more gradual changes/edits. I remember feeling so tentative and anxious for putting it out there. Not because I wasn’t sure whether I liked it; but because I hadn’t asked readers for their thoughts on whether things should change. I hadn’t polled people to ask what they preferred when I was between two different designs of the blog’s logo.

Initially, I thought this was really wrong of me – hence the nerves – but I came to the conclusion that really, the person whose opinion of the blog mattered the most, was me! It’s my blog and it’s like I said before about responsibility – if I had designed it according to everyone else’s preferences and then received criticism, it would’ve been difficult to challenge that because I’d know that none of the design was my choice. How could I defend something I maybe didn’t agree with? So, being confident and satisfied with the blog’s design, is something I’ve found to be really important.

The most recent re-design (with a ton of help from pipdig) has been my absolute favourite – I mean, I finally feel as though it looks the way I’ve wanted it to for nine years! I’d wanted my Instagram or Twitter feed featured and I’d wanted the ‘popular posts’ sort of function and just for it to have a more professional and ‘clean’ appearance. You know, in the beginning of I’m NOT Disordered, it was more like something I could do in my spare time – something that was helpful for my mental health but also that purely stopped me from feeling bored. Then it became a hobby, and I became more and more dedicated to it; until the last year or so when it now feels like a career – though, I would argue that I wouldn’t refer to it as ‘work’ in the sense that it’s still enjoyable and I’m still very much voluntarily dedicated to it! And with that change in the way I view my blog, it kind of makes sense that, after nine years, I would want it to now have a very different appearance compared to how it looked in the very beginning.

As well as making alterations to the colour scheme and logo etc, I’ve learnt a lot about creativity over the years and one big bonus of that teaching was in my Digital Marketing Internship when I was first introduced to Canva! I now use it for creating images for almost every single one of my blog posts. I also really turned to it as a creative tool when I was putting together my book; Everything Disordered: A Practical Guide to Blogging.

Aside from creativity in the aesthetics of I’m NOT Disordered, I’d like to think it also radiates through the actual posts – through the content. A huge reason for the creativity of my posts to improve and change over the years has been the gradual but extreme saturation of mental health blogs in the industry. It’s almost given me the notion of deciding to either step up my game or back out, because staying the same, wasn’t going to get me very far when there was now a larger chance of very similar content being available elsewhere. Fortunately, even since I was little, I’ve loved creative writing; and yes, back then it was short stories about horses going on adventures; but it has given me a really good foundation and starting off point for finding writing blog posts and social media content enjoyable.

If you know me personally, then you’ll know that I really struggle to keep secrets! I think because through I’m NOT Disordered, I’ve become so much more honest and open, because when my mental health was poorly, I was lying a lot of the time – telling people I felt ‘ok’ or saying that I hadn’t self-harmed. It’s made telling the truth feel like a relief and so when I’m faced with planning or working on a collaboration or project which I can’t just immediately announce to you all and give you every little detail; it’s pretty challenging!

So, what I can tell you all is…

1.       There are no plans to make any edits to the aesthetics of I’m NOT Disordered

2.       There’s going to be A LOT more collaboration work with the North East Ambulance Service

3.       I’m about to pitch a huge project/idea

4.       And there might just be another book in the works!!!

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