Editor’s note: This is the tenth in a series of monthly mental health guest posts. This month I am really grateful to well-known journalist and author Jane Alexander. Having literally just returned from an inspirational trip to Israel she here writes candidly about online relationships and the support, or otherwise, that social networking offers to those experiencing mental health issues. Jane is a regular on Twitter and Facebook and has a fabulous blog at http://exmoorjane.blogspot.com/ , where today she has published a moving account of her recent trip to Jerusalem.
A few weeks ago I fell into one of my bad places…possibly the worst one for a very long time. One of those declines – oh, okay, let’s not mince words – it was free-fall skydiving without a parachute. At first I couldn’t speak. Couldn’t get my fingers to type. Couldn’t do anything really. As I sat at my desk, doing nothing, I watched social media drift by. And I wondered…what’s it all about? What is it all about
I have always advocated social media as a form of self-help, a kind of informal (and free) therapy. I know for a fact that I use my blog as a way of working out stuff. By writing out our feelings, our thought processes, our angst and our anguish, I do believe we can come to realisations. By watching our reactions to other people we can trudge through our issues with ego, shadow and so on. Equally, if we are writing about our mental health issues, it can be enormously comforting and validating when we get supportive comments. You don’t feel so alone; you don’t feel like such a freak; such a fecking waste of space. You’re not the only person in the world who has PND or who is bipolar or schizophrenic. You’re not the only one whose black dog deserves an ASBO.
I’ve watched people in anguish being *caught* (in the rescue kind of way) on Facebook and on Twitter too. Seen them being talked down from self-harming or even life-threatening situations and it has left me in awe of the kindness of strangers. For, remember, these are not our RL friends and family but chance connections on the web. The cynic in me says that some will simply love the drama; will want to be part of the do-good crowd – and fake love-bombing is a horrible thing. But many are totally genuine and some will go the extra mile. Angels. Seriously.
But you have to reach out in the first place. And sometimes, oh sometimes, you just can’t. Then, see, social media can be the loneliest place in the whole universe that exists inside your head-space. When you’re way down low, when you’re really in the pit or hanging on the meat-hook, you don’t have the energy to make contact. You watch people ‘being normal’, laughing, joshing, discussing minutiae or whatever and you simply can’t join in. Because none of it makes sense. It’s like they’re talking a totally different language.
It’s a hint of what you feel when someone you love has died – you’re watching the world bustle by through thick dirty glass, swaddled in steel wool.
Yes, I could have tweeted. Yes, I could have put out a ‘poor little me’ yelp on Facebook. I could have written a ‘hug me’ blog. But, you know, I really didn’t have the capacity. And then, as the days went by, I began to wonder. Does anyone even notice if you’re not there? Bald answer? No.
I had to laugh really. I felt like the online equivalent of the old lady in the council flat, lying dead on the floor being eaten by her cats.
I guess it’s a good lesson for the ego. Bottom line, if you’re not out there shouting or wailing or emoting or waving your arms in the air, nobody notices. And, let’s be honest, why should anyone? We’ve all got so many ‘friends’, so many followers and followees, how on earth can we keep tabs? Would I notice if one of my online *friends* wasn’t around for a week or so? Probably not. I’d assume they were busy or on holiday or just getting work done. One shouldn’t take these things personally. Yet one does. Because when you’re in the dark place, everything seems personal.
What am I saying here? A couple of things, I guess. Firstly, if you’re heading down and can reach out, that’s good – do it. But if you know you’re someone who won’t or can’t, then seriously, I’d say move right away from the PC screen. Don’t torture yourself.
Secondly, if you know people who are – shall we say – prone to fragility – then watch out for us. Not just for the messages we give out when we’re online but for the times when we go dark, when we’re off-line. Check in. Just a friendly nudge. It could be all we need to feel human again.
Don’t let us lie on the kitchen floor being eaten by cats.