Why I Post About My Mental Health on Facebook
As a millennial, I spend a fair amount of my day on social media. The usage tracker on my phone says that I spend approximately two hours per day on Facebook alone, which, yes, seems excessive. But consider the fact that most of that time spent on Facebook happens in the wee small hours of the morning, when I’m consumed with anxiety about an argument I had on the playground when I was six, berating myself for what I should have said to that bully. Or when I’m so locked in by my crushing fear of abandonment, I wonder why my husband is even bothering to sleep next to me when he should be packing my bags to throw me out of the house. Or those nights when it’s just plain old insomnia keeping me up, my physical body exhausted but my brain firing on all cylinders. Those are the nights I spend the most time on Facebook.
Those are also the nights I get really honest about my mental health on Facebook. Which, as has been brought to my attention, makes some people very uncomfortable. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t be so open about such private matters on such a visible platform. Forget about family and friends; what if a potential employer takes a peek at my social media presence and decides they don’t want to hire someone who constantly posts memes about how emotionally unstable she is?
There are a couple of reasons that I post so openly, so frequently, about the state of my mental health. And none of them have anything to do with the people who don’t want me to do it.
Firstly, and most importantly, I firmly believe that there are not enough people engaging in conversation about mental health. I was raised in a family rife with mental health issues — from a mother who more than likely struggled with bipolar disorder and who experienced severe bouts of depression, to a father who spent a lifetime battling a raging alcohol dependency, to not one but two siblings who (like myself) attempted suicide at some point in their lives. But there was a simple solution to the problem: don’t talk about it. Ever.
When I was around 13, my sister spent a week in the psychiatric ward of the local hospital after attempting suicide.
There was no conversation about why she did it, no call to arms amongst my family members to rally around my clearly unstable sister and help her get the long-term help she obviously needed. Nobody stayed with her after she was released from the hospital. A few days later, she was back at work as though nothing had happened.
It was never brought up again.
I had so many questions. Why did she do it? Was it an accident, or was she trying to kill herself? What about her kids? What would have happened to them if she had succeeded? Why wasn’t anyone staying with her to make sure she didn’t do it again? Would she do it again?
Why weren’t we talking about this?
I felt as though the most significant thing to ever happen to my family had just occurred, and it was swept under the rug and forgotten about nearly as soon as it was over. I thought she was a coward, trying to take the “easy way” out of her problems instead of just dealing with them, as was expected of members of my family. I remember feeling angry at her for being so selfish, for completely ignoring the welfare of the three little ones who depended on her, who loved her, who needed her if they were going to grow up right.
The irony was not lost on me when, 20 years later, I would be sitting in the psych ward of my local hospital after swallowing my own bottle of sleeping pills while my two-year-old slept in the bedroom next door.
It took a long time and quite a bit of therapy for me to come to terms with what I did and the real reasons behind it, for me to begin to crawl out of the darkness and see some semblance of light again. Is that what it was like for her? How could it have been? I had the support of my endlessly patient husband as well as my in-laws, a spot in an intensive partial-hospitalization program where my deteriorating mental health could no longer be ignored, as well as a private therapist and nurse practitioner to manage the fistful of medications I was prescribed. I had every resource available to me to get the help that I needed to make sure that I never looked down the barrel of a controlled substance again.
My sister had none of that.
Would things have turned out differently for me had there been a discussion at the time about my sister’s suicide attempt? Might I have had some more insight about why I did it, about the consequences of my actions, if her silent screams for help hadn’t been ignored? Would knowing more about why she did it have stopped me from doing it altogether?
I don’t know the answers to any of those questions, but I know that I spent a very long time denying that there was anything wrong with me. I ignored the depressive episodes, convincing myself I was just sad. The 72-hour hold I was placed on (for self-harm and suicidal ideation) in college was just a result of the stress of trying to manage life on my own now that I was away from home. I paid no mind to the explosive outbursts of anger I would experience, or how that anger would suddenly dissipate as if nothing had happened. My self-harming was a childish habit that I would eventually grow out of (guess what – it wasn’t). It would be years before I would hear the terms “splitting” or “dissociation” used to describe my all-or-nothing thinking and my feeling as though what is happening around me is happening to someone else (all of which are symptoms of borderline personality disorder, which I was only just recently, at 34, diagnosed with). I brushed my husband aside when he begged me to get help because there was “nothing wrong with me.” I have spent the last 20 years avoiding getting help because, hey, if my sister didn’t need it, then why would I?
I don’t speak with my sister anymore (or anyone else in my family, but that’s a story for a different day), so I can’t ask her about it. I wish I could. I wish I could tell her how much more we should have done, as a family, to support her when she needed us most. I wish I could tell her about my own stint in the hospital and the seemingly endless ramifications that one impulsively stupid decision would have on the rest of my life. I would tell her that I don’t think she’s a coward, or selfish, that I now understand what it feels like to think you have nothing left to live for, even if what you’re living for is sleeping in the next room. I want to tell her that, even now, I love her, and that I’m sorry she had to go through that alone.
This brings me to the second reason I talk so openly about mental health, mine in particular, on social media.
No one should ever, ever, have to feel like they are battling mental health issues alone.
Mental illnesses are terrifying. They take up space in your mind and your soul and they make you feel like you are less than human. They tell you things that aren’t true, and convince you that your own senses can’t be trusted. They reach in and infect every aspect of your world, leaving you to desperately try to keep up, to desperately try to keep the pieces of your broken life intact. But you know that no matter how hard you fight, your illness is stronger than you. It is smarter than you. It is bigger than you.
You are the 6-year-old on the playground, and your very mind is the bully you are trying to defend yourself against.
Trying to navigate mental illness with a firm support system in place is hard enough. Trust me — it’s been nearly two years since my suicide attempt and I am still nowhere near where I want to be in my recovery process. But to have to go through it all by yourself? No wonder there were more than 47,000 suicides in the United States in 2017 alone.
I belong to a number of mental health support groups on Facebook. We share silly memes and complain about our spouses, even share book recommendations and recipes (which would be helpful if I cooked, but whatever). But we also reach out for help when we’re feeling like we just can’t make it another day. We ask about side effects of the innumerable medications we are all on. We connect and we share and we support each other. We make sure that every single one of us knows that we are not alone. I know, without knowing a single one of those group members in person, that I could message them at any time, day or night, and they would respond to help. Because they have been there. They know what it feels like to battle an entity so ingrained in your psyche that it can convince you it doesn’t even exist. Talking about something makes that something seem smaller, more easily managed. Talking about something with someone who knows where you’re coming from? That takes the scariness factor down a couple of much-appreciated notches.
So why not just post in those groups? Why post on my main page, where anyone unlucky enough to follow me has to read about my daily struggle to keep my shit together?
Because some of you don’t know that you’re not alone.
For every 10 people who have told me that I shouldn’t post such private material in a public forum, I’ve had one person message me to tell me that they appreciate the fact that I do it. I’ve had friends I haven’t spoken to in years talk about their PTSD or their depression, ask me for therapist recommendations or for more information about one of my Pandora’s Box of diagnoses (ADHD, BPD, postpartum depression, and generalized anxiety disorder for those keeping track). From people who don’t suffer from a mental illness, I’ve been thanked for opening their eyes to the difficulties faced by those who do.
I don’t want to come across as though I think I’m doing the world a service by complaining about how awful my brain makes me feel sometimes. But, really? I kind of am. Because there are other people out there whose brains make them feel awful sometimes, too. I want those people to know that I feel them, that I feel for them, and that I am here for them.
I want you all to know that you are not alone.
I’ve been told that my constant posting of material related to my mental health (and mental health in general) is inappropriate. That it makes people uncomfortable.
It should make you uncomfortable. It should make the hair on the back of your neck stand up to know that a person you know is going through something so unfathomably bleak. You can never truly understand what it is like to be at war with your own mind, but you should understand that it’s happening to people you love, to people you work with, to people you meet on the street. People who seem so together and so “with it” might be struggling with a demon you can’t begin to comprehend. People you would never suspect may be holding a razor blade to their wrist at night, wondering if they can make it through just one more day. People you know are turning to drugs or alcohol to make the voices stop, to make the pain go away, to make their world make sense again.
People are hurting, and you need to know about it.
That’s why I post.
Photo credit: diego_cervo/Getty Images