Last week, I spoke to Felicity at BBC Newsbeat on the topic of mental health and social media. Her post (which is fantastic and can be read HERE) got me thinking on the topic and my story a little more.
The article summarised my own experience: when I first started to see the symptoms of my anxiety when I was at university, I had no idea what it was. It was through reading blogs and reading what people were saying on social media what I learned more about it, got the courage to see my GP, and learned it was ok to talk to my friends and family about it. I learned it was ok to talk, and ok to need some help.
Since speaking to Felicity, this idea has been stuck in my head so I thought I’d write a bit of a follow-up on exactly how social media helped me.
As I said, it was at university that my anxiety began to take on a big role in my life, and began to have a big effect. It was also during university that I completely fell for the world of blogging and social media. I was quite unhappy in my first year, which meant online was a safe place or an escape, and then as my anxiety really kicked in I was spending more and more time indoors, and hence more and more time online.
I don’t think my overall relationship with the online world at the time was that healthy – I spent too long online, and sometimes at the expense of my ‘real life’ – but in terms of my anxiety the online world helped me more than I can describe.
In ‘real life’, people still don’t speak much about mental illness. It’s mentioned, and I do think it’s improving, but there is an awful lot left to learn and to be done. I myself knew next to nothing about mental health until I began my journey to deal with my anxiety.
Online, the story is a little different. So many bloggers are open about their stories, and Twitter is another place where I see regular mental health discussions taking place. I can’t remember who tweeted the first thing I saw that made me realise that the daily nausea and painfully tight chest I had could be symptoms of my anxiety, but I really wish I could because I need to thank them. From there, I googled related topics and came across blog post after blog post of people describing me.
They were people like me. They were maybe my age. They had similar interests to me. They were people I’d want to associate myself with.
And they also happened to be struggling with this thing called anxiety.
As I read through these posts, I began to learn more about what steps I could take next and about the journeys these other people had been on to try and work through their anxiety.
When I first went to my GP, I mentioned how much these things had been helping me, and she recommended an online course I could take, through Living Life to the Full. This first course helped me so much, in terms of beginning to learn some techniques to cope, and I will definitely have to write a post on them at some point. It’s a free service, and helped me in huge ways.
Again, the online world triumphed.
Unfortunately, some of my face-to-face experiences with anxiety treatments haven’t gone so well. My experience with private counselling was disappointing, due to having no connection with the counsellor, and my treatment with the NHS seemed to fall through the cracks after my initial assessment made it clear that I needed some help.
In between, there have been fantastic experiences, namely the conversations with the two GPs I’ve seen through this journey. The first was a woman who had felt just like me when she was younger, and I felt really connected to me in that way. The man I saw when I moved back home was wonderful, and he would schedule in regular phone calls to catch up with me, always remembering the tiniest details of things I had spoken to him about.
As time has gone on, I’ve opened up myself about my anxiety online. My blog has been a place where I’ve felt I can speak about it, and the process of writing these posts has also helped me to sort through my own feelings.
Here are some of my recent ones:
I think the point I want to make here is that everyone’s journey will be different, but that the power of the online world cannot be underestimated. At a time where I was confused, worried and embarrassed about what was happening to me, I was able to read the words of people I’d never met who were just like me. I was able to learn from their journeys and learn that it was ok to talk about what was happening to me.
For that, I can’t thank this wonderful little world of the internet enough.