This already feels like a bit of a weird post, so bear with…
I have been blogging now for just over a month but I have
been writing for years, I’m 34 and I think I wrote my first (questionable) piece
of fiction before I entered my teens. I have always enjoyed writing, putting
words down onto paper; creating new worlds and characters to inhabit them. Even
when I am not writing, I am imagining; whether through the words of someone
else, or just by myself. Reading and writing has always brought me great
comfort, even in my darkest moments.
A few years ago, I joined a site where I could be completely anonymous. The nature of the site wasn’t based upon writing, but I posted my words there nonetheless and people liked them! This was the first real validation I had received outside of close family and friends. I wrote fiction and I also wrote about my own mental health – and I received comments and loves and private messages thanking me for being brave (when I felt anything but). People commented on how I had helped them, or how I inspired them. I received support on my bad days and on my good, I was able to encourage and support others. There was a nice little community feeling and for a while it was fantastic. The Blurt Foundation posted a series of Instagram ‘prompts’ – initially for pictures to be posted on the platform, but I shared the list on this site and people joined in with their writings, sharing stories of their own struggles with mental health with complete openness and honesty whilst supporting those that had also decided to join in. New friendships were formed, it was a really positive experience and it got people talking about mental health which is so very important.
However, for reasons unrelated to writing, my relationship with
the site was never a completely comfortable one. On one hand, the anonymity allowed
me to be completely open, but in being completely open you can become quite
fragile. There were times, when being on the site consumed most of my time,
there were relationships formed there that weren’t entirely healthy and there
were times when for my own mental health I needed to step away. This was a
pattern I got into throughout the years, but last year I stepped away and I
never went back.
Around the same time, I also had a really difficult
discussion with a family member regarding the therapy I was due to start in the
winter – something that I had written got brought up in this conversation and I
had the overwhelming sense that they believed that writing about my experiences
and then sharing it was wrong. For
months after that, I didn’t write – I couldn’t write.
I had not only lost my place to share it and feel connected
with people, but I had also lost my confidence. I joined Fiverr briefly and
wrote short stories for people, but there was no real pleasure in it, I wasn’t
writing anything that felt true to me.
It felt empty and hollow and when I got commission emails through I felt
deflated, where once, I would have felt excited.
I did start the therapy though. On my second session I took
my therapist a folder full of things I had written over the previous ten years –
not all of it, but a carefully curated selection. I think anyone that has been
to see various doctors and therapists can understand the frustration of going
through the same (sometimes very difficult) stories. In my third session he
told me how impressed he had been with some of my writing, he also asked me who
I was writing to? I didn’t have an
answer for that.
The sessions continued over the course of the next few weeks
and in one of them I told him that I hadn’t written anything for months. He
took this in (as therapists do) and then about twenty minutes later he asked me
what my dream was, what my ideal life looked like.
“Well, I wouldn’t have to go to work…” The words escaped my lips before I had even really thought about them. Work is a weird thing for me; it is a challenge every single day. Not because of the work, but because of the toll it takes on my mental health. It is a catch 22 – I have written about it briefly here – but I know that ultimately work is healthy.
“If you were a writer, you wouldn’t have to do the job you do”
I laughed at the prospect, a writer! I hadn’t written
anything of note in the last four months. “I’m not a writer…” I said quietly. “Writers
“You write! I was
blown away by some of the things you wrote, there is real talent there…”
“Was.” I corrected him. “There was. I don’t know what to write any more.”
“Then write anything. It doesn’t have to be mind blowing, it
doesn’t have to be heartfelt, it doesn’t even have to be shared. It can just be
words, on a page.”
I went away and mulled this over for a few days, Friends gave me encouraging advice but still, blank screens and crisp white pages gave me the shudders. I had heard of a journaling challenge created by Michelle Chalfant who I had been following on social media after discovering ‘The Adult Chair’. It was a month’s worth of prompts designed to get you thinking about your emotions, your triggers and your reactions. I had downloaded them and looked at them briefly – but the first one, was simply ‘You’. That was pretty daunting…
I considered setting up a completely anonymous WordPress blog if I was going to do this journaling challenge. I didn’t really know anything about WordPress but I figured it couldn’t be that hard; it also gave me a good excuse to procrastinate, I was absorbed in fonts and colours and themes… writing? Ha!
But one day, I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer. So I
started on the first prompt… and after that first initial paragraph, it flowed.
It flowed with honesty, it flowed with heartbreak and beauty and all of those
things that makes writing so satisfying. But it was honest; very, very honest.
I couldn’t put it online, not where people would actually read it.
(I have covered some of those very honest subjects since,
but all in one go, it was a little overwhelming.)
I also realised very quickly that I didn’t want it to be ‘a
secret’. So, I went through some older writings and posted them on my blog. I
made an Instagram page, I made a Twitter account. I linked my Instagram to Facebook
and invited friends who I knew would get it.
I had a blog…
Shit, I had a blog. I would have to write stuff! On one hand, this was super exciting, I finally had a
place to share my words again and the people that had read what I had posted so
far were very encouraging. My friend had also decided around the same time to
set hers up too, and another friend that had not long finished uni was making
noises that he wanted more of a presence online to promote the nutrition work
he was now qualified in; we went and had breakfast and joked that we were becoming
‘influencers’ as we snapped pictures of our breakfasts and talked filters and
hashtags, before deciding that we wanted to create a post together about the
links between mental health and nutrition. This all felt really good, really
positive. I had written some new stuff, I was really enjoying the process of
writing and sharing it again.
I think the act of sharing it, for me, is very important. I don’t fully know why, but it feels like it gives the writing a sense of purpose – and especially with it being largely about mental health, that purpose is all about demystifying a topic that is not talked about enough. To have a mental health condition, any mental health condition, can be terrifyingly isolating. Over the last few weeks, I have begun to realise that the answer to my therapist’s question, was me. I was writing it to me, but not the me now; the teenage me who faced bullies every day and didn’t know how to fight back, the me who felt I had let everyone down by not being ‘strong enough’ or that ‘being too sensitive’ was a huge character flaw. I was writing for the younger me, the child me, the teenage me and I was also writing for the adult me who ten years ago forced herself into work every day whilst surviving on nothing but coffee, extra strong mints and insomnia. I was writing for the girl who was so terrified to put food in her mouth that impassable, yet invisible, lumps formed within her throat. I was writing to a woman who always felt cold, always felt scared, and always felt overwhelmed. I was writing to the person who didn’t know how to get all of these words out, to the person who had all the words but they formed an incomprehensible, jumbled mess within her mind. I was writing to the girl that just needed comfort and that needed to feel less alone – because I knew that even though it felt so incredibly lonely, there were thousands upon thousands of people who felt the way I did.
I read some of my older posts with a view to sharing them,
and I wept. There was so much pain, and also so many times where it sounded
like I had it all figured out – without having the foresight to know that
another blip, another illness, a difficult workplace or new anxiety was around
the corner. I read some words and felt embarrassment and I read others and felt
awe that even in the midst of a deep, dark depression, I had written something
that had encapsulated it all so precisely. I thought of sharing some on my blog
and I thought of who would read it… the words were too honest.
My mood was slipping, there were days when it all felt too
much; too overwhelming…
I didn’t know why, do we ever know why with depression? It could have been a number of ‘logical’ things; I am still, seven months later, adjusting to life without medication and trying to treat mental illness and fibromyalgia holistically (I do not have anything against conventional medication and I will be writing about this in due course), I have been more sociable lately and that, whilst lovely, always makes me very tired which makes me more prone to low mood. I am still in therapy, which can be very difficult at times. My dog is sick with an ongoing and seemingly undiagnosable illness… things mount up, but of course it really could just be that I was going through a blip and it would pass.
Or, it could be that suddenly I was being open about my
mental health again, and honest – not only with my words, but also with my
feelings. I wasn’t just bumbling through, carrying on regardless, I was
thinking about them because I was
writing about them. I also was beginning to follow other mental health bloggers
on Twitter and Instagram, and whilst those communities are wonderful and
supportive, it is all there.
It is, like many things that surround mental health, very contradictory. We need to talk about it, we need to get our voices and our stories and our support for each other out there – we need to be able to say when we are struggling and we encourage others to do the same, but in doing that it can all feel very… overwhelming. It can feel overwhelming for those of us that share because suddenly all of these thoughts that don’t feel like our own at times, but that definitely come from us are out there and it’s not just strangers on the internet that read it – it’s our friends, our parents and sometimes even our employers. I have spent my entire life feeling like I am too… sensitive/open/honest/experimental/generous/open minded/empathic and like I should always reel my behaviour in – and therefore sharing how I feel can at times be very, very difficult; as soon as it’s out there, I want to snatch it back in. I am an introvert by nature and pretty quiet and softly spoken; I am not one to get up on my soapbox or get in to big debates – but I do believe that conversations about mental health are so very important and as someone who has been there, done that, got the t-shirt and who keeps taking it back for an exchange, I need that to all be for something! If that ‘something’ is helping just one person, then I have done what I set out to do.
So… being a mental health blogger with a mental health
condition (or three), is hard. It’s hard because amongst all of it you are on
your own journey and you have your own demons to slay. It’s hard because you
know only too well the pain that others are going through and sometimes, that
pain can trigger your own. It’s hard because it means being open about an
illness that feeds off of isolation and it’s hard because that openness isn’t limited
But it’s worth it.
It’s worth it because it starts conversations and helps people to feel less alone and less scared. It’s worth it because it can help me to believe that all of this pain was for something, and it’s worth it because it means I get to write about something that I feel passionate about once again. I have learnt a lot in a month; I have learnt that in general, my confidence soars when I am doing something I love. That not only do I write passionately about mental health, I can also talk passionately about it to people, in person. I have learnt that in sharing my stories it encourages people to share their own and to have difficult conversations with loved ones… but, I have also learnt that there is a flip side. The flip side happens when I spend too much time on social media, or too much time analysing what I have written. It happens when I follow people back without really looking at their profile and then wake up to a highly triggering picture, it happens when I forget to take care of myself amongst it all.
Put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others
I have learnt that there are days when I am going to have to remember that one.
Thank you for reading 🙂 If you have enjoyed this writing, please feel free to come and join me on my following social network pages to see my new posts and daily musings:
Instagram ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Tumblr