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.



  1. It's a tough one, this. I definitely think there's something to be said for shouting into the social media void at times of mental distress, particularly when you're feeling alone - there have been times when getting that little notification back can make all the difference in the world. But what if you DON'T get the response that you need in that moment - or, worse, get an insensitive or troubling response? We've all seen those news stories about people who have sought support online and found... something else. When our social media accounts are public, attached to a body of work like a blog, is it helpful or harmful?

    Personally, I don't often find it helpful to post on social media when I am in the middle of a mental health crisis. It doesn't come naturally to me to shout those things to 5,000 strangers anymore. I've gotten better about reaching out to my partner, my close friends and even my family when I'm in distress. While I believe it is important to be completely open about my mental health issues online, I prefer to do so in a way that is... almost like something approaching advocacy? So I'd rather have a think about something appropriate and helpful to say and put it in a blog post, or maybe a string of tweets. And I can do that when I'm feeling better, putting less pressure on myself.

    Such an interesting post Sophie, and one that's really got me thinking. It's always good to hear your voice in the blogger-void. I hope the place that you are in these days is one where there are more good days than bad.

    Lis / last year's girl x

  2. I totally get this! I do post about my mental health but I try not to when things are at their absolute worst because 1) I'll say something that the calmer version of me will cringe at and 2) I don't want to use it as a crutch. I find it easy to rely on social media to support me and I don't want to do that - I have some lovely friends who are so supportive and I know that it hurts them to hear that I'm having a hard time over twitter. I will say if I'm having a bad day but it's in a more relatable, "lol who else gets so anxious they literally vomit" way rather than how I actually feel! In a way putting a brighter/more comedic spin on things helps me see them in that way in reality and makes it easier to deal with but at the same time it's not denying my mental health issues.

    It's all about finding something that works for you and makes you feel good - if it's just making you feel worse no one will judge you for not discussing it until you've figured out how to do it in a way you're comfortable with. I love you & your blog and I'm always amazed by how strong you are!

    Róisín xx