“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” ~ Toni Morrison
As I’ve debated with myself lately as to whether this blogging is worth persevering with I thought I’d have a go at answering those questions to see if it helped me to make a decision.
When I started Make-Up & Mirtazapine I didn’t really know the first thing about blogging. I certainly didn’t know that mental health blogging was a thing, or that there was a wide and wonderful blogging community – I just hadn’t been able to find it.
You see, I started this blog because I hadn’t been able to find the kind of website that I was looking for. When I first started receiving treatment for my mental health issues I’d spend hours on end googling my symptoms and diagnoses, and the things that I’d been doing to try to alleviate them, trying to find some other people like me.
The problem is that when you google symptoms and diagnoses you don’t end up finding blogs and the real people behind them you just find reams of clinically written information about symptoms, diagnoses, and treatments. And then with PTSD if you manage to get beyond that to find people writing about their personal experiences the first thing that you’ll find is the vast military community sharing stories and helping each other out with their problem of combat PTSD.
And of course both of these things are very important and very valuable. They just weren’t the things that I needed.
And then I happened to pick up a copy of Glamour magazine featuring, I think it was Frankie, from The Saturdays talking about her experiences with quite severe depression. And it was a pretty standard issue of the magazine but it had running through this theme of ‘It’s OK’ to not be okay, and to talk about the fact that you’re not feeling particularly okay.
And I remember thinking that was a wonderful premise for a magazine and that it was a shame it couldn’t be like that every issue. I mean, most general interest magazines include health features as standard, so why not mental health features?
It was the first time I’d read something about mental health that I felt that I could relate to as a whole person instead of just, ‘oh yeah, I feel like that sometimes,’ vis a vis a description of a set of symptoms.
And that’s something, I think, that is really important and not addressed nearly enough, certainly in the any of the treatment that I’ve had. It’s very easy to get bogged down by the fact of being unwell and the frustrating battle to become less unwell. But the thing that had done me the most amount of good besides my psychiatrist prescribing me mirtazapine was my wonderful friend Jenna dragging me out of my flat and making me focus on just about anything other than my mental health problems.
So, I’d stopped going out because I had a problem with anxiety and being around other people who I didn’t know made me skittish at best, and at worst flat-out terrified. No-one can actually carry on like this. Not if they live alone and need to be able to feed themselves anyway. So, she persuaded me to go with her to our out of town shopping centre, in the middle of the day, to wander aimlessly around looking at pretty things.
Which I managed okay with because in the middle of the day there’s nobody there. But it got me used to being an hour away from my living room.
And then she took me to the Chanel counter and insisted that I get a make over. And the nice make-up lady made me feel pretty. And presumably made herself a nice chunk of commission out of the small fortune I ended up spending on make-up, moisturisers, and perfume.
But she made feel pretty. And while I was feeling pretty there was less room for feeling anxious or depressed.
The time I spent focussing on my face was time that couldn’t also be spent obsessing about the things that were going wrong inside my head.
And my face needed focussing on, as did my hair, my nails, and well, most of the rest of my body. People in the depths of a major depression tend to be very neglectful of what the mental health profession politely term ‘self care’ and the rest of us understand as ‘personal hygiene’.
Then we’d go back to Jenna’s flat and talk for hours over rolled up cigarettes and endless cups of tea, about mental health stuff, but, also about anything and everything else. The news, stuff we’d seen on TV, art, fashion, photography, gossip, philosophy, our relationships, other people’s relationships. And the next thing we’d know was that the sun had set. And then come up again. And that we were still talking.
And this was all very new to me. It’d taken me the best part of twenty years to work out that I was even sick, much less that there was anything that could be done about it. And I was working in a field – social welfare – where you’d expect people to have a greater than average awareness of such things.
But it was hard work getting myself diagnosed properly, and even harder work to get myself treated properly.
And, occasional lapses into craziness aside, I’m confident, and assertive, and articulate, and by no means accepting that the doctor is always right. (Plus I now have one of my own at home, which makes far more difference than it has any right to. Medical staff seem far less inclined to dick you around when they know that everything they do and say to you will later be appraised by somebody who knows all the same things that they do.) I couldn’t imagine how it must feel for others – like a lot of my client group – who were shyer, or sicker, or more deferential to their doctors, or just didn’t know how to describe what they felt.
So I decided to put it all on the internet.
I wrote about what depression felt like and how I’d told people that I was sick. I wrote about things that people had said that had helped me and things that they’d said that hadn’t. In the hope that somebody might read them, and recognise them, and not have to wait as long as I did to find out that there was something wrong with them rather than feeling like they were the thing that was wrong.
And they did.
In the first month half a dozen or so people emailed me to say that they’d found my writing had given them the courage to seek help with their own mental health problem. Some of them had even printed what I’d written off and taken it with them to their doctor. Which was encouraging.
And then I wrote about make up, and body image, and travel, and relationships, and all those other things that Jenna and I had spoken about over our tea and cigarettes. Hopefully in something like the same way that we spoke about them – some posts are just conversations we had at three o’ clock in the morning written down on a page – because I think those things are important in feeling better as well.
I like to think that I’ve created my own mini version of that mental health magazine that I’d thought would be such a good idea.
But mostly in writing here I’ve helped myself.
I’ve mentioned before that I had this ambitious idea that if I take all these things in my head that I was afraid of and just put them ‘out there’, tell them to the the internet, and then be comfortable with leaving them sitting there, then maybe I could learn to be comfortable with telling them to myself. And then later with telling them to other people – just as a matter of course rather than because I had to because otherwise it might kill me.
I’m still not sure how well that’s gone.
But on a much more basic level it’s helped by giving me something to do with my brain while for months I’ve been too sick to work. By allowing me to have achieved something in my day besides waking up and going back to sleep. And by giving me people to talk to when all the people I know by their faces have been busy being at work.
Writing has helped me to remain literate and verbal.
You know that feeling when you haven’t seen anyone else all weekend and then you go back to work on Monday morning and when the first person you see starts talking to you your brain has to work that bit harder to form coherent sentences in reply than it did on Friday? Now amplify that by weeks of not working or speaking to anybody – blogging and thinking about the words I used online saved me from emerging from my sick leave a gibbering wreck.
Which for the time being all seems like reason enough to keep doing it.