I started blogging in 2005 as a way to reach out to other mothers and share what i was going through. I had four kids in a six year period and after all the birthing and pregnancies and breastfeeding was done i found myself a little lost in motherhood. At the time it was really the beginning of personal blogging and i was lucky enough to get in on the ground floor and forge a path with an amazing group of women for the beginning of what would soon become known as “mommyblogging.”
I knew right from the start that what i was writing about was much more personal than just the normal “parenting” issues. In retrospect i realize that i was probably going through post partum depression compounded by an ongoing battle with anxiety and depression that had been slowly building for nearly a decade. Whatever the reason may be i quickly gained a loyal following and my traffic increased very steadily. By late 2006 i was nearing 200,000 unique visitors a month, the pressure to perform was immense. This also coincided with a rapid decline in my mental health. Some of the largest traffic days in the history of my blog happened to be the days i was in the psychiatric ward. I was writing on paper and my husband was transcribing it to my blog. I felt a frantic need to stay connected to my readers. I felt a responsibility to them, to let them know what was going on in my life. I didn’t want to let anyone down.
For the next several years i chronicled my troubles with medication, psychiatrists, counselors and the end of my marriage. Those years were the most open and personal i would ever be on the internet. Sometimes i was a total mess and screaming through words to page, others i was strangely calm, able to see exactly what was going on, but unable to help myself. I was in and out of clinics and doctors offices and emergency rooms, desperately unable to fix myself.
In December 2009 i overdosed on prescription medication and terrified of what i had done i reached out on twitter for help. It was a hard and humiliating time for me. I had thought that i was coping well with being a single mother and the aftermath of the breakup of my marriage, but in reality i was in deep mourning for the life i had thrown away.
That was a turning point for me. After i had recovered i made a decision to change my life, to be better, to be the best person that i could be. To live my life for myself, not for others. To seek acceptance only from within and live gracefully and thankfully in the world. For the first time in a decade i turned away from the internet and focused on myself, my family and rebuilding my marriage. I decided to stop telling my story and start living it. I began running, i gave up all prescription medicine, started taking vitamins and some homeopathic remedies. I ate and slept and lived as healthfully as possible. I ran a 10k race and a half marathon. My ex-husband became my husband again. I got a new job. I built a full and complete life.
I think through all of this i have learned three lessons. First is “You can’t take it back”
I do believe that writing about mental health is extremely powerful, it gives a personal connection and human element to a group of diseases that most people don’t even want to acknowledge exist. The problem is that once you put your story out there people will find it. Friends, family, even people who will go out of their way to say that you’re wrong, that you’re doing it wrong. People will say you’re a bad parent, wife, human. These things can be incredibly hurtful and work against any benefit you are doing for yourself or your community by telling your story. If you don’t want someone to know something, don’t write it down. Writing about mental illness makes you vulnerable. Being vulnerable is important because it makes you accessible, but it also makes you an easy target.
Second “You are not alone”
I have made some incredible friends from sharing my story. People whom i have traveled across continents to meet and others i have yet to meet, but hold close to my heart. Friends who i check in with on a daily basis, whom i have no doubt would be there for me anytime, under any circumstance. I have also had the opportunity to be a friend, offer support and advice or just an ear to whisper in and a shoulder to lean on. I have reached out to many people who have gone through and written a similar story to mine, in all these years i have rarely felt completely alone. A huge benefit has been being able to forge relationships on all levels without the burden of anxiety getting in the way. I have told my story within my own comfort zone and because of that i have become less alone.
You are your own best advocate (storyteller)
Doctors, counselors, family – they can only help as much as you let them. For myself, i needed to get to a place where i could be honest with myself before i could be honest with anyone else. I needed to accept and acknowledge that i was ill, that i needed to change something because not changing was killing me. Writing about mental health and winding through the medical system as a patient with mental illness is very powerful. The more people talk and write about it, the more the conversation is opened up, the greater variety of information and experience is released into the world. Information is truly power. If i write about how a certain medication made me feel like i wanted to kill myself instead of doing what it was supposed to do, i might just reach someone going through the same thing. I might let them know they are not crazy, they are feeling real and true things, i might help them. That is the advocate, the one who learns from others stories, finds ways to work through a clunky and old medical system, fights when no one else will. It is never as simple as a prescription, it never is, though they will tell you it should be. By writing about getting through the system we are offering advice, through experience, of what to expect, what is normal and what is not okay. That saying “this is not working for me” is often the best thing. The real truths come from people who have gone through the experience and sharing that is the bravest thing i ever did.