I recently posted a picture of myself on social media that got a surprising reaction. It wasn’t the usual post that you see of someone posing with their shirt off showing their abs (mainly because mine are hibernating for winter), a cat doing something hilarious or an amusing meme from a popular TV show. It was just a picture of my face. I don’t like posting pictures of myself as I’m not particularly comfortable with how I look (which is a subject that I’ll be coming back to for Mental Health Awareness Week) and especially pictures where I look terrible but it felt like I should as this was something that people needed to be aware of.
In the picture, I wasn’t smiling, exercising or trying to get all the kids into one shot, I just look empty and sad. You might ask why I would want to post a picture like that and normally I wouldn’t have even taken it but there was something about how I felt that morning that made take the shot and then post it. One of the many misconceptions about mental illness is that you are just trying to get attention, but nothing could be further from the truth. When I’m struggling, the last thing I want is attention or people asking how I am as I just want to hide away. I wasn’t trying to get a response or reaction from people but just wanted to say something that I felt compelled to say. The post read “This is me today. The sun is shining but it’s a bit cloudy in here. I’ve not been feeling great for the past couple of days and feel like I’ve been going through a battle with my head. Over the past few months I’ve felt really good and like I was getting closer but this week has been a bit of a wake up that everything isn’t always great. I’ve still been doing the things that have helped but exercise has slipped this week as I’ve just felt a bit lifeless. I know this will pass but I just wanted to get the message across that it’s ok to not be ok. Don’t always believe that everyone is as happy as they portray on social media as everyone has their struggles. If you are struggling, please find someone to talk to or seek some help but I just wanted to get the message across that it’s ok to not be ok. Don’t always believe that everyone is as happy as they portray on social media as everyone has their struggles. If you are struggling please find someone to talk to or seek some helpse has slipped this week as I’ve just felt a bit lifeless. I know this will pass but I just wanted to get the message across that it’s ok to not be ok. Don’t always believe that everyone is as happy as they portray on social media as everyone has their struggles. If you are struggling please find someone to talk to or seek some help”
Over the couple of months prior to that day I had been posting about how I had been feeling and what I had been doing. Things had been going well. I had put some things in place that were helping, I had started exercising again and was feeling positive and pretty good. I was putting out some positive messages and trying to keep myself accountable for keeping up with my self-care. Everything had been going my way, I was looking after myself better than I had for years, I was losing weight, exercising, meditating, journaling and doing things that made me happy like building Lego. As I had been sleeping much better, I was more present and was getting things done. I had even set myself some challenges for later in the year. Life was good.
Then it came out of the blue, from out of nowhere. When you have lived with mental illness for a long time, you know that there is no rhyme or reason why it comes on and that was the case this time. All my energy and enthusiasm seemed to disappear in an instant. Getting out of bed suddenly became more difficult. I didn’t feel like going out for a walk or getting some exercise as I didn’t have the energy or the will. Everything that I had been building up over months was collapsing in the blink of an eye. The strange thing was that there hadn’t been a trigger for it. In the past I’ve felt things build up over time and have tried to fight it off (which may or may not have been successful). At least previously I’ve felt aware of something coming but this time was different. It was like one of the dementors from the Harry Potter films had visited me overnight and sucked the life out of me.
When some people look at the photo, they might think that I’m just sad but that isn’t the case. I know what sad feels like. I’m probably more aware of my emotions than I ever have been. This wasn’t sadness, sadness is how I feel when I miss the kids, get bad news or watch an emotional film or TV programme. This was different, this was a lack of emotion, a lack of feeling, a numbness that left me feeling empty and isolated. You know that you’re not the only one who feels like this but when it hits you could be in a room full of your friends and still feel like the loneliest person in the world. It’s a debilitating feeling that make you feel like you’re alone on a desolate planet where there is no hope of escape and nothing to see other than the horizon.
I wanted to try and get how I was feeling across through the picture and the narrative as I get frustrated with social media just showing unrealistic images and always showing how fantastic life your life should be. Life isn’t like that as everyone has ups and downs. Some people have them higher and lower than others but as Ronan Keating put it – ‘Life is a rollercoaster’. Life can always bring you down when you’ve been on a high and anyone who says that they don’t have down times are deluding themselves. As you control what message you put out on social media it is easy to show people you at your best and to only show the upsides without showing the downs. I’ve done this in the past and stayed away from posting when I’ve felt depressed but given how this episode had come from nowhere despite all the positive things that I had been doing, this was an ideal opportunity to show what life is really like and that recovery isn’t linear. There are always going to be ups and downs along the way no matter what you do. Even when you put the work in it doesn’t mean that everything will always go as you plan, if that was the case then life would be easy which it isn’t. A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor and it is only by overcoming life’s challenges that we can truly grow.
By showing one of my low points, it might help others realise that they’re not alone and that we all have bumps on the road to recovery. The journey can be a long one, but you have to keep going otherwise you’ll never get there. Another hope was that It might also help show those who don’t understand mental health what it feels like and give them an insight into how it can completely blindside you when you least expect it. Since Dan passed, I’ve tried to be open and honest about my illness and this was my way of making a stand against the perceived perfection of social media and to try and put out something that showed that you shouldn’t feel like you have to hide the hard times and brush them under the carpet. Things will only get better when you accept that you have a problem and need some help.
I seem to be developing a love/hate relationship with social media. There are a lot of good things about it but equally there are a lot of things that upset me about it. Without making myself sound old, when I was growing up, we didn’t have social media (which some may say was a good thing). If you wanted to get in touch with your friends, you would have to ring their parents’ house from your home phone and if you wanted to get online you had to unplug the phone and dial in through the phone line. When you’ve watched a page appear line by line, fibre broadband is a welcome development!
As it’s a recent development, no one really knows how to deal with the impacts of social media on the generations that are growing up with it now as the previous generations haven’t been through it. It’s still very much a learning process for everyone as we all try and come to terms with what we put out there and what we take in from other people. It’s a great tool for getting information out to large numbers of people and raising awareness but it’s equally frustrating trying to get the messages past the algorithms without paying for the privilege. There are lots of people trying to raise awareness and get important messages across but there are far more people telling you things that aren’t true or posting pictures of how they built a beach ready body in 4 weeks.
It makes me wonder where it is all going to go as there seems to be a shift going on and people being more honest and open. That can only be a good thing but it’s getting a bit lost amongst the tide of filtered selfies, pictures of people’s glutes and everyone trying to show how amazing their life is. Hopefully it will eventually settle, and everyone will be able to find their place without social pressure and expectation. If that was the case then it could really be a power for good but it’s a long way from that at the moment.
Thanks to everyone who got in touch following the post as it meant a lot to have so many people that cared enough to contact me. Much love to you all.
As you may have noticed from some of our recent posts, Mental Health Awareness Week is coming, and this year’s theme is Body Image. If you have a story to tell about your experiences with body image or you have a message that you want to get out, please get in touch as we are always looking for more people to contribute to the blog. The same goes if you want to either join us at York Triathlon or want to do a different event to raise money to continue the fight. Let us know as we’ve got some awesome tshirts for you to wear when you’re doing it. There are a couple of things we’re currently working on so watch this space for further announcements.
Onwards and upwards