Friday, 28 July 2017

Mental Health & Oversharing Online

When I first started my blog, and susequently my social media that goes alongside it, I spoke almost exclusively about what most would consider to be shallow topics. Fashion, style, beauty, that type of thing. I was 20 when I started my blog, a university student looking for a decent excuse not the study that may one day look good on her CV when applying for writing jobs. I wrote about what I thought was important to me, and I guess it was important to me at the time. These things are still important to me, but as I've became an adult (or as much of an adult as I could be considered at my current stage in my life) so are so many other topics which I've now developed the confidence to write about - mental health, politics, women's issues, social issues, LGBTQIA+ issues - the list goes on and on. I'd consider myself a much more rounded person now than I was then and I think that comes across in the content that I create. In broadening my scope, I've also became increasing confident discussing and sharing things online that I wouldn't necessarily want to share with people I know in real life. Or at least, not with all of them. One might even say that with this confidence, I've became a bit of an oversharer about certain parts of my life.

I remember when I first started to talk about my mental health online. Like most difficult topics I've shared online, I danced around the rough idea that something was going on before eventually one day just coming out with it. Mental health affects us all in some capacity. We all know someone with some form of mental health issue, even if you don't realise that you do. As a whole, I've found writers to be quite introverted people and putting our feelings down in words rather than speaking them aloud is often the easiest way to get them out of our jumbled up, overactive heads. My fingers trembled as a wrote that tweet, the first time I'd actually written the D word on Twitter. I think I deleted it about an hour later. I was scared. I didn't have a huge following at the time (I mean, I still don't, but you know) but it felt like I was shouting from the rooftops to anyone who would listen. Yet somehow that didn't seen quite as daunting as telling even the people closest to me. You see, if I share something online, nobody is forced to respond to it. Heck, nobody is forced to even read it. I don't make anyone follow me or read my content, I simply put it out there and if people enjoy it enough to follow or read, that's so wonderful but it's their choice. If I initiate a conversation with someone in real life though, there's no going back and that can scary sometimes. If I'm feeling depressed or anxious and I message a friend, I am kind of forcing them to respond. They don't absolutely have to, but I'm putting them in a position whereby they come across as the bad guy if they don't. People have lives and jobs and commitments and relationships and children and dinners to make and washing up to do and Netflix shows to catch up on. If I contact them, they have to take time out of their lives to comfort, talk to or help me and that's a lot to ask no matter how close you are to someone. So often it does feel easier to just write an 140 character ramble of how low I'm feeling, hope someone can relate or even better, feels compelled to respond, but if nobody has within half an hour, I can delete it and move on. Gone without a trace. Maybe from there, I can decide if I want to burden someone in real life with it. Maybe not.

Until not too long ago, I thought that was quite a healthy way of getting my feelings out but I've came to realise recently that although nobody is forced to read my tweets, thousands of people do and whether I want to admit it or not, I do hold some level of responsibility. Thousands of people who may or may not be experiencing something similar to me or maybe worse. I'm so incredibly happy that I'm in a place both with my own mental health and with my albeit small influence online whereby I feel like I have an outlet for feelings that all through my teenage years, I supressed and the very idea of literally any other human being knowing filled me with pure dread. That being said, I am also accountable for what I share and I'm not always aware of who's reading. I actively encourage an open dialogue about mental health and want people to feel safe to share what they want to and I would never want anyone who to feel shame for speaking as openly as they see fit, but for me, whatever this is that I'm doing just now, it's not working and it's not healthy either.
I'm not saying I never want to tweet that I've had a bad day or that things are getting really overwhelming for me or that I feel paralysed with anxiety or numb with depression. I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying that I need to stop with vague and graphic rambles that could trigger people or could cause concern or harm. That's not healthy for anyone. I need to be coherent, try and post it with some type of context and purpose so as not to worry anyone and while I try my best to use trigger warnings, remember that even when discussing about topics that most people would shy away, not everything has to be shared. When I was a teenager, long before the days of social media as it is now, my outlet was writing a journal. Maybe I need to go old school again when it comes to getting my thoughts out of my head, I don't know.

I don't ever want to completely stop talking about mental health altogether. That wouldn't help me and I don't think it would help others or the struggle that anyone who suffers with their mental health will know, the battle to normalise it and remove stigma. My complete silence wouldn't help that. But I'm started to realise that shouting as loud as I can with empty words and rambling thoughts probably won't either and that looking for validation online isn't for me any more. Very rarely do I tweet something about my mental health and don't instantly feel embarrassed as soon as somebody replies that I wasn't able to just keep my mouth shut, regardless of how nice their reply may be and very rarely do I speak to someone close to me in real life and not feel at least a little better and a little clearer about things. I guess mental health is all a learning process, you don't get a manual upon diagnosis and what works for some may not for others. These are just some thoughts I've been having recently. I hope they made some kind of sense. Probably not.


Friday, 7 July 2017

LGBTQA+ But Not Proud

So June was LGBTQA+ pride month. A time where us members of the queer community get together to celebrate our collective queerness and to rejoice in the fact that we're all just as queer as each other. Pride though, it's an odd word choice to me. Growing up, we are taught to be proud of our achievements, our successes, even sometimes of our failures. Pride is a feeling earned. So is it really any wonder that I struggle to feel proud of my queerness? It's not something I earned or worked towards but rather something I And maybe in this time of celebrating our sexualities and gender identifies, that is a problem that I don't feel proud of my sexuality. Not quiet yet anyway.

I was around 12 years old when I first began to realise I just might like girls in the same way that I was conditioned to think I ought to like boys. I'm a girl, so society taught me that I should be interested in boys. It was an unquestionable fact, almost. Growing up, I never saw non-straight people. On the TV I watched, in the books I read, in the music I listened to or in the films I saw. I still don't very often but even less as a child. While my parents never hid the existence of gay people from me or my sister, they also never really taught us it either. The common but problematic idea that most people are straight and some people are gay or lesbian was the mindset in my household but even then it was never really discussed unless necessary, or heaven forbid the very idea that sometimes people struggle to define or deal with their sexuality. I was only made aware of bisexuality in my teenage years as that's how a few of my friends identified but wasn't aware of pansexuality, demisexuality, asexuality or sexual fluidity until I began exploring feminism online in my early twenties. I kissed a few girls during my teen years but never comfortable with the label of bisexuality. I guess I've always known I fall somewhere on the spectrum between straight and gay but I fell victim of the bisexual stereotypes and therefore shied away from that label. While I still struggle with settling on a label for my sexuality and find parts of pretty much every identity that don't match me, I guess bisexual would be the closest. Although at this particular point in my life, my preferences definitely lie with women.

My older sister started dating her first girlfriend around the age of 14 and has pretty consistently been in relationships with other females ever since. She's now 27. To my knowledge, she was never 'in' as such and being queer has always just been part of her. Growing up unsure of my own sexuality but seeing the confidence she seemed to have in hers was hard, that confidence manifested itself in her jeans and baggy tshirt, cropped hair and trainers where I believed that I couldn't possibly be anything other than straight cause of my penchant for floral dresses, make-up and high heels. She had always been authentically herself and I envied that. Sure, I had confidence in a lot of other ways, I wouldn't think twice about asking for directions or paying in shops while she shied away from it and I'd wear the highest of heels despite my 5'8" stature and rock bright purple lipstick on any given day. Growing up, we developed and showed our confidence in very different ways, her's was low-key and authentic, while mine was much louder and showier. Her's embraced her sexuality while mine ran away from it. But you can only hide behind being loud and showy for so long.

While I had confidence in a lot of aspects of my life, I never found that confidence in dating to properly explore my sexuality. I dated a few guys during my late teens and early twenties to various extents but never really got much from it or felt like it was right for me. I even told one that I thought I might also like girls and his reaction was so unaccepting that it left me terrified to ever tell anyone again. Up until maybe 2 years ago, I had began to accept what I believed to be a fact, that eventually I could talk myself into being straight, meet some guy, build a mediocre and borderline boring life together and spend my every waking moment suppressing my sexuality but blending into the background and fulfilling my lifelong desire to be normal. I'd never felt normal in my whole life and I knew if I did decide to come out, I would feel even less normal. I truly believed I'd just have to get by hiding this huge part of me and eventually, I'd learn to just be okay with that. I didn't know what I was but with time, I knew more and more that I wasn't straight, but with that, came the desire to define myself before I could ever even dream of sharing it with anyone else.

You could say I started to come out last year. Firstly online, because it seemed less real and almost less scary and if people had a problem, I could quite easily just avoid them. It's much easier to block Twitter followers than family members, friends and collegues. Nobody was surprised, or at least told me if they were. People were supportive and didn't make a big deal out of it. I guess maybe it's came with years of blogging that it's sometimes easier to share parts of my life with strangers before I feel comfortable enough to do so with those closest to me. The influence of people online played a huge part in building confidence in my sexuality. For example, I remember watching Ingrid Nilsen's coming out video and something in my brain clicked. I'd never seen or heard of her before but almost instantly I could tell, she's like me, she's feminine and likes makeup and fashion. But she also likes women and maybe that was okay too. People would never suspect she likes women but that doesn't make her any less valid as a queer person, right? I wasn't a stereotype either and for so many years, that had held me back but maybe it was okay not to be a stereotype. The more I ran with this mindset, the more I started to notice other feminine women and I gradually started to feel more like maybe it was okay. Or at least like someday I might be able to accept that it's okay.

I didn't come out to any of my family until after I started dating my girlfriend. I remember each instance so clearly. I told my mum in her car outside of our local corner shop. It was raining. She'd just picked me up from work and I was very hungover. I'd told her I'd been out for a girl I worked with's sister's birthday. I hadn't. She was surprised but supportive. I didn't feel the instant relief I thought I would. I told my sister via Facebook. At midnight. I was going back and forth, in and out of her conversation and a WhatsApp chat with my girlfriend. She called me 'a big gay' and told me she loved me. Then she asked about my girlfriend and I told her a few brief details, one of which being that she has a dog. The conversation turned straight to the dog and never really went back to the topic at hand. I told my dad in our living room. He was probably the most surprised of the three. I was wearing a floral dress at the time. He looked me up and down, laughed and said 'I wouldn't have guessed!' but got up, hugged me and said 'Well done mate!'. The friend's who I've told, I've told via Facebook or text or WhatsApp.

While I love my girlfriend and am so proud of the progress I've made over the past few years in even facing up to my sexuality, I still don't actually feel proud in itself as such of actually being queer. I don't know that I will ever really feel proud. Maybe it'll come with time. I don't know, I hope so. Pride is a wonderful time, and I'm so grateful for the wonderful, strong and powerful LGBTQA+ voices who truly are proud, who don't care what anybody thinks, who are unapologetically themselves, who's sexuality or gender identity is as much a part of them as their name or their eye colour, but at this moment in my journey, I'm not quite there yet. I wish so badly that I was, I wish I felt that pride to fully embrace the queerness but I'm just not yet confident enough to withstand the hate or negativity I may face. I don't yet feel safe or strong enough quite yet. One day I will though, I promise.