The sheer number of responses I have had to my first post, Hello…, has been completely overwhelming. Likes, comments, personal messages, written letters, texts, phone calls, -sometimes even photos!- all of it has meant more to me than I could ever put down here in words. So thank you, every single one of you, for getting in touch, and for showing your support. And please do keep spreading the word so this blog can reach even more people who might benefit from reading it.
You’ve all given me plenty to think about. Over the next few weeks I want to address some of the themes I saw repeating throughout all of your messages. Many of you said things like, ‘I never knew… I never realised…’, or something along the lines of, ‘It’s so easy to forget that other people have problems and dark times too’. And it’s so true. Unless you have some awesome instinctive sympathy skills, it is nigh on impossible to know what is going on in any given persons head as they walk down the road right by you. Especially when we’re all working so hard on appearing like we know what we’re doing. You only have to scroll through the news feed on your Facebook page to see dozens, hundreds even, of reminders that everyone else is having a great time, a fantastic day, are in complete and total control of their lives, and that, perhaps, you should be too.
The NHS, as well as many other health organisations, have actually begun to research the links between the use of social media and effects on users mental health. According to some studies, ‘Facebook envy’, as they call it, could lead to an increase in feelings of depression and anxiety, as users feel like their lives are somehow inferior or less exciting than many of their friends. I don’t know about you, but I certainly recognise this feeling. Moreover, I’m sure I get ‘Facebook envy’ of myself when I look back at my ‘better’ days and say, why am I not as exciting or happy as my old self seems to have been? Some studies even claim that ‘Facebook envy’ might even be as powerful as to actually cause the onset of depressive episodes. Now that’s food for thought.
Another thing lots of you mentioned in your comments was the stigma that sometimes comes attached with mental health problems. It’s undeniable that even I, as a long term sufferer, held many prejudices against it, and probably still do now without even realising. I’ll go into this- and into how I overcame some of those prejudices- in more detail another time, but for now I want to look at just one prejudice in particular. What I’m talking about is the actual physical image of mental health, anxiety, and depression. The pictures and photographs that I saw time and time again when searching on the internet, and repeatedly came up in doctors leaflets. Pictures- that showed what I felt I was somehow meant to look like while I was feeling so low.
It goes along the lines of something like this…
More often than not it was someone sat on the end of their bed with their hands on their head, while their partner looked on in the background, helpless, confused, or oblivious to the ‘inner turmoil’. Alone and isolated completely from their ‘normal’ world. When the reality is, to begin with, I was still functioning in a highly social environment. I live with students, in the middle of a bustling city. On my good days I was still cooking, and going into town, and taking trips out by myself and with my friends, and working. I was even able to give blood, and volunteer occasionally when I was feeling strong enough.
And on my Facebook?
It’s no wonder that so many of you were surprised to hear what I’ve been going through for the past year when I’m putting up photos like this:
Those glasses may look like a funny gimmick to you, but the real reason I put them on that night was because I was feeling so anxious that I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone else, not even my boyfriend, without feeling like I was about to burst into uncontrollable sobs. I didn’t want anyone to see the panic that I was feeling on the inside. It’s only on close inspection of the photo that you can see I am clenching my fist- I developed a habit of twisting my fingers painfully around each other, just to try and distract myself from my shakiness, or perhaps to let out some of the nervous energy I was carrying in my chest. Later in the night, this picture was also taken:
This photo was probably taken about ten minutes before I had one of my more terrifying breakdowns in public. I had been drinking desperately all night to try to drown out the anxiety that I was feeling (not a good idea). When I felt myself becoming claustrophobic under the lights, and with a pounding tempo racing through my head, I hid in a darker corner and took some ‘sedative’ medication that my doctor had prescribed to me to use when I had an anxiety attack in a public place. I knew I shouldn’t take it with alcohol, but I was falling into a dark, dark place, and I was desperate. So I took it. My boyfriend, who was never far away throughout all of this, took one look at my tear stained face and swept me back home- where I proceeded to howl and scream blue murder, waking every one of our friends who had chosen to stay behind that night. A quick side note: when a medication says not to take it with alcohol, just don’t, ok?
For those of you who read my last blogpost, and know my story, it might surprise you to see that this is the photo, according to Facebook, of my Christmas this year:
In fact, if you have me on Facebook, the very photo that is my cover picture right now was taken on a night where I had a terrible anxiety attack. I had to run away from all of my friends and go home, without telling any of them where or why I was going because I didn’t want to spoil their fun- all, that is, apart from my ever vigilant boyfriend of course, who, yet again, came back with me, the hero that he is.
I guess the moral of the story is, do use Facebook to see what people are up to, by all means, but also do remember: if you are prone to the odd bout of ‘Facebook envy’, as I’m sure most of us are, all you are really doing is comparing what might be some of your worst days to what might be some of their best.
And remember to look out for each other.
I guess that’s it. xx
All conversation is welcomed 🙂
This blogpost was inspired by this Buzzfeed article. If you’re interested in seeing more happy picture of people with mental health problems, and hearing their stories, please read it.
For further information about a movement away from the typical Mental Health ‘images’ please see this website.