You can read Martin’s answers over on: www.gumonmyshoe.com
So a while ago I asked you all to send in questions you’d like to ask me and one of my best friends and fellow blogger, Martin Baker. Of course I was bombarded and so I had to work really hard to whittle them down to the following questions…
Do you feel under pressure to keep going with your blog?
I used to. I think there was a point where I was really blogging for the sake of others… I recognised that I was maintaining it purely because I liked the idea of it helping others. In seeing that my recovery was giving people hope, encouraging them to reach out for help and support, and enabling them to feel less alone, I felt that I couldn’t stop blogging because it would be taking that away from them.
However, when I decided to close I’m NOT Disordered down in 2014, I found myself truly missing it. I was finally recognising that, actually, I – and my mental health in particular – were massively benefiting from blogging. In ending my blog, I struggled to really process my thoughts and feelings and to better understand my decisions, and the loss of the ability to do this meant that I became unsafe again and started to really struggle. That experience – of not blogging – has meant that I now blog completely for me but balance that with still considering how my readers would feel or think of the content I produce. And I really hope that shows.
Does your blogging ever feel like a job or is it for pleasure?
Completely for pleasure. There have been so many occasions where I’ll have a day with no commitments but I’ll say I’m blogging and a person (usually my mum) will say “it’s a day off! Stop working!” I used to be ready with my explanation that yes, I put a ton of time and effort into my blog and creating content, but I do so because I enjoy it. But, I think that that’s kind of like assuming ‘work’ isn’t enjoyable; and because I have a role with St Oswald’s Hospice, I find it reasonable for me to be able to say that even in terms of employment, ‘work’ can be full of enjoyment!
Another definition or assumption of ‘work’ is that it’s a commitment you get paid for… Being a blogger is the only role I’ve x🐰ever had where when it’s been mentioned, someone has had the audacity to ask me how much I earn from doing it! I mean, seriously?! Now, I try to think from other people’s views and appreciate that we all have different experiences that contribute to everyone having varied thoughts and opinions. In the same way I would want others to respect my views. So, I can imagine that a lot of the reasoning behind asking about a wage in being a blogger is mostly down to sheer curiosity. Blogging is still a fairly unfamiliar industry and so it’s completely reasonable for people to wonder about the ins and outs of it. However, I think it should be worth considering that no matter how curious you are, it’s kind of rude and a person’s role should be viewed with the respect and courtesy you would expect for yourself. But I will say that I worry people will think my motivation for blogging will be deemed as purely for financial gain and that definitely isn’t the case for me.
How does negative feedback impact what you’re doing? And how do you cope with it?
I’ve been extremely lucky (and I hope that the fact I recognise this says a lot about me) in that I’ve had about three pieces of negative feedback through the entire nine years I’m NOT Disordered has been going! I’m not naïve, I don’t believe that this means all my readers have absolutely loved the content I create, I’m sure there’ll be a ton of people who took one look or read one post and thought negatively of it. However, having over one million readers, really boosts my confidence in terms of recognising that it’d be fair to say there are plenty of people out there who do like the things I publish.
The fact that I received those three comments early in my blogging career meant that I had very little confidence or strength to let the feedback slide and not affect me too much. In fact they (particularly the comment wishing me luck on my next suicide attempt) completely floored me and led to my decision to close I’m NOT Disordered down. But I don’t regret doing that; because it inspired me to find a passion for blogging that was so much more powerful than any negative feedback. Which has left me feeling brave and much more able to face anything.
I think that if I received anything negative these days, I wouldn’t pay much thought to it… Unless, it was more constructive and something I could actually learn from, consider, implement, and improve. But if it was just plain rude, I’d concentrate on the fact that as long as my blog is helping more than it’s annoying, I can continue.
Do you think that you blog the same because of you both being mental health bloggers?
I actually don’t think we blog the same at all! A key example was when we attended the same event and our subsequent blog posts were written from a completely different angle. To be honest, I actually really don’t like the thought of anyone assuming we blog the same and therefore only reading one blog. I mean, isn’t this the whole point of blogging – to provide a different take – a different view point – on something?! Whilst I massively started I’m NOT Disordered for myself, I also recognised that there were no other mental health blogs written from the perspective I had (as a psychiatric hospital inpatient). And I’d like to think that this factor has been hugely influential on my blog’s popularity and impact.
Talking about blogging differently though, I think something that is something that really needs to change in this part of the industry. There really should be a lot less jealousy and competitiveness and much more inspiration and respect. And I think I’ve learnt the importance of these qualities through having Martin as a best friend. Like a lot of things in life these days, blogging is somewhere comparisons are a regular feature and it looks almost natural to look to another blog and come to the belief that yours is lacking in some way… but I feel like when we look at each other’s accomplishments, successes, and achievements in our blogging careers, Martin and I do so with nothing but pride in each other.
What’s your favourite memory together?
One time we were walking up this hill in a nearby town in Northumberland and I was talking about something and then I very casually said “do you know what I mean?” and Martin turned around and said “I thought I did, but I’m not so sure now!”
Favourite photo of you both?
Can either of you ever imagine ending your blog?
I, personally, have recently come to so many life changing moments (finding a job, turning 30, making huge steps in my mental health recovery) where I’ve found myself questioning just how practical it is to continue with I’m NOT Disordered… Like, whether I’ll have the time... Whether it’s an ok thing to do at 30... Whether I can still create content when I’m doing well…
In the end though, I have always turned to the thought process and belief that if my blog is meant to end, then I’ll know it. I won’t be ‘making a decision’, I’ll know that it’s the right thing to do. But I’m also really confident that it will take something pretty major and important to be the reason why I would stop. And I think that a huge reason why I’ve been able to recognise this, is from when I ended I’m NOT Disordered in 2014 after those horrible comments. Whilst that was eight years ago, I’ll never forget the relief and pure joy I felt when I started creating content again. That memory, is really such a good motivation for me to continue blogging and to believe that it’d take a lot to stop me.
Do you think that your content and blog is helping to reduce mental health stigma?
I’d really like to hope so! And I’m fairly sure Martin will say in his answers over on his blog (www.gumonmyshoe.com), this – the hope that our blog is making that particular difference is a huge part of why we even do this!
But, for me, it wasn’t always…
I think that the fact the motivation to start blogging was about me and the benefits for my own mental health, was kind of instrumental to everything my blog is now. I mean, I’d like to think that it reassures readers that I’m actually really passionate about blogging, that I’m fully invested in all of the content I produce/create, and that I’m completely genuine and have no ulterior motives spurring me on.
Obviously my reader statistics began to rise and I found myself recognising that the numbers gave my blog the potential to have a big influence on the mental health world. And the area I wanted to focus my influence on was the stigma that surrounds the subject. I hoped that in blogging honestly and openly about my trauma and mental health journey through illness and recovery, there might be a few results:
1. It would encourage others to speak about their own experiences
2. It will improve knowledge and understanding of those with very little comprehension
Fortunately, I’ve received many messages confirming these goals have proven efficient and effective; and that is a huge boost of motivation to continue blogging.
How does it feel to hear positive feedback when your content has resonated with a reader?
Seeing and hearing people like and comment on I’m NOT Disordered’s content led to me learning the potential benefits it can have on others too… I think that the main appeal to this realisation and the largest reason why I’ve worked hard to maintain my blog helping others, is because I can so vividly remember the notion of feeling alone in my mental illness…
I can recall how isolated and hopeless I felt from the belief that there was no one else experiencing anything even remotely similar to me. So, when I get messages from readers saying they’ve found comfort and reassurance in my blog because it is testament to the fact that there’s someone out there who understands, I can really comprehend how influential that can be for their mental health. And that means everything to me.
How is your own mental health impacted when you’re putting a lot of effort into your work, but people are still slipping through the net and taking their own life? Does it make you feel like you’ve wasted your time?
This actually used to be something I massively struggled with, but I’d like to think that’s completely understandable… I mean, of course if I’m trying to do all that I can for something and it doesn’t seem to make a difference, of course I’m going to feel defeated and hopeless.
The thing that has really helped me with this element of blogging is my experience in reporting the abuse I experienced to the Police. Initially, I did so because I thought that doing so – finally telling someone – would benefit my mental health which, by that time, had resulted in me making two suicide attempts and being sectioned to a psychiatric hospital. As the Police investigation began and they told me he had been arrested and questioned, I started to recognise that in reporting the abuse and removing him from his place of work, (the way in which he was able to hurt me) that would very likely reduce the risk of it happening to someone else.
The way in which this situation improved my thoughts and feelings around someone committing suicide, was that it taught me the meaning and importance of recognising that at least I was doing all that I could. I mean, when it came to the abuse, because the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him, rather than feel as though everything I had been through in reporting the abuse had been a complete waste; I saw it as ‘at least I’ve done everything in my power, now it’s on them if anything else happens.’
So, with mental health, I try to keep the same ethos and focus on the effort I’ve put into helping someone who is suicidal and believe that hasn’t been enough, the responsibility lies with those professionals and services who have failed them.
After writing something intense, how do you wind down? What do you use as self-care?
The fact that I work on content literally every day now means that I think I have a pretty high tolerance for what I’d consider to be intense writing… So I rarely find myself having to ’wind down.’ Sometimes though, I do find myself struggling to ‘switch off.’ Like, if I have lots of ideas or I’m planing a series, project, collaboration; it becomes more challenging to stop myself from wanting to just continue creating the content for it.
With that in mind, the most effective tool I’ve found to counteract this difficulty has actually been keeping a notebook on my coffee table so that I can quickly jot bits down and get them of my head. Then, I tend to turn to Netflix, Amazon Video, The Sims FreePlay, or some sort of beauty regime e.g. a shower, makeup, hair, nails as a method of self-care.
What would you like to see happen in the future for mental health services?
(in no particular order)
1. A general improvement of Crisis services
2. A larger chance of having the ‘right’ service for your mental health in your locality
3. Better funding from the government
4. A better understanding of medication benefiting individuals in different ways
5. An improved relationship with the Police to guarantee less discrimination
What are your thoughts on giving someone a diagnosis?
So, this might sound strange, but this is actually quite a controversial subject in the mental health industry – or at least I’ve found it to be!
There’s this one side, that is full of people who very passionately believe that being given a mental illness diagnosis is the equivalent of having a label stuck to you by professionals who you feel don’t know you at all, and which leads people to begin to see it as your definition. Now, personally, I can totally appreciate this opinion or thought process because it’s actually the basic inspiration for I’m NOT Disordered’s name.
It came off the back of me being in a psychiatric hospital which specialised in Personality Disorders. Being there meant I had really been feeling as though when I introduced myself to anyone, I needed to add that I had been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). As though it was such a hugely important part of my identity that it deserved to be the first thing people know about me. So, with my intention for my blog’s content to be so honest and open, I wanted to get across – as quickly as possible – the notion that this isn’t all that I am. I’m not just my diagnosis. There’s so much more… So much that I hoped would be illustrated through my content.
I think that a huge reason for me also not wanting BPD to become my definition was the stigma and discrimination that it was afforded. I remember after seeing the diagnosis on a discharge summary, I said to my Community Psychiatric Nurse “does this mean I have that now? Is that official?” And she told me “no, I don’t want you given that so soon. Once you have it, no one will bother helping you because you can’t get better from that.” She was right about one thing – once my BPD diagnosis became founded and agreed upon, the once concerned and kind professionals, became dismissive and rude.
On the completely other hand, is the extremely opposite opinion that being given a diagnosis can be really useful. There’s the recognition that it can provide someone with reassurance in that there’s some sort of validation in the agreement that yes, you do have a mental illness. And the element of reassurance doesn’t stop there; it can also be found in the notion that a person is no longer alone in their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The diagnosis can, potentially, encourage the person to seek out relationships and connections with others who have that same diagnosis.
My experience of my diagnosis being a helpful thing, was the fact that it awarded me the ability to be referred to the specialist psychiatric hospital which, amongst other things and other people, ultimately helped to save my life. Having BPD meant that it was finally recognised that the mental health services in my locality were completely insufficient and ineffective to help and support someone with that diagnosis. And this fact provided professionals with the ammunition to appeal for the funding for my two-and-a-half year admission to the hospital over 100 miles away.
Do you think there’s more that can be done for service users to really feel ‘heard’ by clinicians?
I actually just had a meeting where I was offered the opportunity to do some consulting on communications projects for my local NHS psychiatric Trust (Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust aka CNTW) and we talked about something sort of relevant to this question…
I told them (the Communications Director and Chief Executive) about how little to no involvement service users had on the help and support being offered – or not offered(!) – to them. Feeling dismissed, insulted, and patronised was a common experience amongst them, and it seemed as though there was no chance of that ever changing.
Well now, CNTW are almost the epitome of co-production! They try to encompass service users or ex-service users (usually referred to as ‘Experts by Experience’) at the heart of everything they do and I think that knowing this, can provide a level of reassurance for service users to feel that their thoughts and feelings will be listened to, respected, and appreciated.
How do you feel that for some people, mental health and mental illness is only really talked about on dedicated awareness dates?
This is something else that’s kind of controversial in the mental health online world…
On the last Suicide Awareness Day, I saw someone tweet that they thought it completely unnecessary to post photos of yourself on life support or in hospital, to illustrate the importance of the topic and your passion about it. I remember kind of cringing because I’d just posted the photo I have of me on life support after a suicide attempt; but almost instantly I decided not to let that one view change my own. Just because my opinion on this subject of Awareness Days is that at least there are some!
When my mental health first deteriorated in 2009, I can’t remember seeing anything in the media about mental health. It was actually a huge reason why I kept quiet about my thoughts and feelings because I had no understanding or knowledge of what might come from telling someone. All I had were the horror stories I’d heard about my local psychiatric hospital and those flyaway comments you get from the people around you talking about someone being ‘crazy’ or ‘mad.’
So, having experienced the harmful affects of there being silence around mental health, I feel that we’re very fortunate to have these Awareness Days, though I try to stay balanced… I mean, I understand those who express the thought that there needs to be more attention paid to the fact that, for so many people, mental illness is still very much prevalent outside of those days. And that opinion can very much be related to the view that those who seem to only talk about their mental health on these days are purely doing so to attract likes and followers. But maybe there’s room here to consider the possibility of that person simply feeling the need to stay private and focus on other things the rest of the time…? I mean, there are plenty of things in my life that I don’t blog about and, equally, there are days when I just want to change the record and talk about something other than mental health. Ultimately though, I believe Awareness Days should be appreciated and utilised in a way that reflects of the importance of talking more about these topics that – when publicised – can save a life.
Do you feel supported by the people around you?
Absolutely and completely.
My best friends are all amazing and kind in totally different ways, I’m NOT Disordered’s readers are incredible, and my Mum has always been the most important person in my life and her help, love, and support is completely unwavering and unconditional.
Don’t forget to pop over to Martin’s blog for his answers to the same questions: