I want to get something down ‘on paper’ about social media and its positivity. Particularly for those living with their own or 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 teen in the 90’s; arguments, slamming doors, attempting to sneak usage of the one family phone to rant to my best mate, 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. This was all fine and dandy because it was my experience. I knew no different.
When I was in my teens my mum began suffering with depression (or so it appeared. It wasn’t till later there was diagnosis and openness. See other possibilities for this!). 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.
I think back to that teenage me and try to recognise how I believe social media may have helped. My first step into social media experimentation has actually been this blog. I had spent probably 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. Social media, blogs specifically, provide millions of people with this ability. These posts allow me to write freely and then to make contact with others. These online relationships can offer me awareness, knowledge or just plain comfort. My secondary foray into social media was Instagram and twitter. I looked to them as a way of sharing my blog with people i didn’t know. It was all so new, following and getting to know strangers. What was that all about? BUT…What Social media has given 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. I know!!!!
Through associations with people who both have Bipolar (and other diagnosis) and those who have been carers like me and my family, I have, for the first time ever, felt that other beings have been, and are, experiencing the very same as me and mine. Incredible. While I would hate to think I have gained pleasure as such from reading that others are struggling,
for example, it makes my experiences feel not quite so awful. “Oh!, It happens to others, it really does”.
Of course what this new epiphany 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 depression and then Bipolar, in my family that meant no one spoke to me openly about what was happening or thought to offer me support. 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, well, remove the stigma! 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, or the importance of being responsible for ones own words/thoughts, I don’t think the breaking down of silence and allowing people to feel ‘its not just me’ can ever be a bad thing.