I want to get something down ‘on paper’ about social media & mental illness, something positive. Particularly for those living with others mental health issues.
When I was a teen, social media didn’t exist (imagine that!). I remember our family getting our first computer, a humongous PC with dial up internet that never worked or took forever, when I was 16. Before that it was the telephone and letters (yes, really) to keep in touch, empty one’s thoughts, communicate. If you were really on it and brave you could even, shock horror, consider face to face communication!
My relationship with my mum hadn’t been an easy one since childhood and I dealt with this like many other teens in the 90’s; slamming doors, attempting to sneak usage of the one family phone, reams and reams of bad poetry in notebooks, playing music very loudly in my room on my cassette player. And, in my case, living on the Yorkshire moors; storming outside, down the track, and soon regretting not having a coat. I also dealt with it through screaming rows, smoking and drinking from 12, using drugs, having inappropriate relationships, and lying all the time. This was all fine and dandy because it was my experience. I knew no different.
My mum began suffered with depression (or so it appeared. It wasn’t till later there was a bipolar diagnosis and some openness). Her bouts of depression would take her to bed for weeks, have her cry a lot and generally diminish into herself (from someone who normally was hard to avoid, and believe me I would usually be trying). As a family I don’t recall us really talking about what was happening. My granny had had similar episodes in the previous years so my recollection is that I had a vague idea of this ‘depression’ thing but none of that came from fact, information, or from a responsible adult. I know I was often asked by family members to take care of mum and I felt innately duty bound to look out for my brothers. I certainly wasn’t offered any kind of support and it didn’t occur to me that I should be.
I don’t believe anyone at school had a clue, something that as a parent now, shocks me. I didn’t tell my friends because I had nothing to tell them – I didn’t have a label, an actual name for it, I just occasionally let slip that my mum did my head in. But according to them who’s didn’t. And my dad was too panicked trying to work out what was eBay for nun, I guess, so there was no thought that we kids needed anything or for anyone else to know.
I think back to that teenage me and try to recognise how I believe social media may have helped if it had existed. My first step into social media has been the blog I began 8 years ago. I had spent years thinking about writing. I always felt an urge to write about my experiences of Bipolar. A lot of this, for a long time, was purely personal – it was a natural form of release, like the poems of my teenage years. But more recently (after therapy) I began to think about my writing having a purpose; an ability to connect with others in a similar situation and share ideas/views etc.
As a teenager there was no way of me having what is both a personal and anonymous, free, time efficient way of getting my thoughts or questions out there. The internet and Social media provide millions of people with this ability. Blog entries or insta posts allow me to write freely and then make contact with others. These online relationships offer me awareness, knowledge or just plain comfort. What Social media gave me (and believe me I feel ridiculous waxing lyrical about this!) in a few short months is perhaps more comfort than in the rest of my 30 odd years combined when it comes to living with my mums bipolar.
Through associations with people blind, I have, for the first time ever, felt that other beings have experienced the very same as me. As a teen I had no idea . Incredible.
Of course what this new realisation has demonstrated wholeheartedly, is that of course, the stigma of mental health holds us all back. Because it was the stigma, (consciously or not) of mental illness that meant no one in my family knew what they were dealing with or spoke to me openly about what was happening. That same stigma stopped me talking to friends or teachers to gain help and advice.
And what social media can do so well is to remove the stigma by allowing communication.It allows people the easy, non-scary opportunity to make connections with others, to put themselves out there and be heard, to feel not quite so alone. While I recognise the importance of people making ‘real’ connections, I don’t think the breaking down of silence can ever be a bad thing.