Guest Post: Connecting With Others Online
– by Fliss Baker for NewLifeOutlook
Connecting with other people is vital to surviving, living and enjoying life. It is imperative in managing our mental health; we are encouraged to talk, talk and talk some more about how we feel and how our illnesses affect us.
However, the stigma of bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses, and even bipolar communication problems, can stop us from doing so. It is incredibly hard to voice our pain and insecurities to others, particularly when other people aren’t experiencing what we are.
I have spoken to people many times who can’t show real sympathy or empathy because what I describe is too hard to comprehend. It is for this reason I have often recoiled and tried to hide how I feel, which has made my symptoms worse.
The best advice I was given was to talk to other people with the same experiences, where openly sharing is easy and people understand.
I was unable to vocalize my illness and its symptoms eight years ago because I had no idea what was going on, and neither did my family. My diagnosis came about from my father battling for me to see a psychiatrist after my behavior flew from depression to mania.
The struggle was hard but the hospitalization gave me something I hadn’t had before. I was around people who seemed to be having the same problems. If I was unable to share vocally, I could see others in pain with irritability, aggression, upset, self-harm or in the depths of suicide.
I met people from every walk of life, including soldiers with posttraumatic stress disorder, mothers with depression, a nurse with self-harm injuries and an artist with bipolar disorder. I suddenly realized I wasn’t alone and there was no limit as to the conversation we could have.
I could wake up and tell the nurses and the other patients that I couldn’t handle life and wanted it to be over. It felt impossible to do that in the ‘real world.’ The openness was crucial in my recovery.
Trust Is Essential
There are so many people available to talk and help us through our illness, moment by moment if necessary. However, the first step is being aware of where to go and who is trusted to support you.
As much as we should be opening up, it is important to go to someone you know will listen non-judgmentally and recommend strategies to help.
I was advised by my psychiatrist to link up with local mental health charities. They have excellent websites that not only educate you on your illness, but have chat rooms encouraging discussion.
I could read different posts with titles I could relate to, such as ‘I can’t cope today’ and read the replies. I didn’t respond to any posts initially as I was nervous to contribute, however, I soon felt able to ask questions and share my feelings.
It is an amazing feeling to be comfortable when you connect with others who simply get it.
I was inspired to seek out other places I could communicate easily and found independent chat rooms online. I was suffering with an eating disorder at the time so I was particularly interested in others going through the same.
However, I was warned by my psychiatrist about certain chat rooms, which can sometimes have a negative effect. I encountered this by coming across a chat room where young girls were sharing tips and picking the brains of others on how to restrict food and lose weight. It was scary and I stopped myself from being immersed as I felt it trigger my illness.
There need to be safeguards on chat rooms, and Facebook is often a good place where this is implemented. There are many places to talk about depression, bipolar, anxiety and other mental health illnesses and groups usually have hosts.
This means that any comments that are considered triggering are removed and users are aware of the regulations. Initially I almost felt bad that somebody might be told their comments were unhelpful, but then I realized that with a big group of people, we have to look after the majority to ensure everyone is kept safe and well.
I am still part of the Facebook groups, although I now don’t feel the need to contribute at the moment. I do, however, read the posts and if something is particularly moving and relevant to me, I will post something in return.
Connecting Offline With Phone Helplines
Offline, phone helplines are have been really important to my recovery. I personally find it helpful to listen to a voice at the other end that can listen, soothe and understand.
Charitable helplines are set up with highly trained individuals who know how to treat people who are incredibly vulnerable. They understand if you phone up with any problems where you are distressed and even if you are under the influence of substances or alcohol.
They also know how to deal with suicidal calls and will stay on the phone no matter what — keeping the call completely confidential.
The transition between needing to connect for support and to share support is crucial in recovery. I go through periods where I need advice and recommendations, but then want to share advice and recommendations.
Both roles are very important to me. I show my vulnerability in some cases, then feel real self-worth when I receive a message back saying “that helped me, that got me through my day.” We all know how much we need to have a purpose to keep our mental health in check.
Based on personal experience, talking to trusted people face to face, over the telephone and online using charities and regulated chat rooms is without a shadow of a doubt really helpful.
Because of this I know there is always someone out there for me. The key to is to search for the right places where you feel safe and comfortable to share and receive information.
I have asked my psychiatrist, community psychiatric nurse and mental health community team for recommendations. My only advice is to avoid triggering chat rooms, which could increase your anxiety and exacerbate your symptoms.
Take responsibility for yourself and look after your mental health. That’s the key when connecting with other people.
Fliss Baker was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar in 2008. She’s passionate about ending the stigma attached to mental health and blogs about bipolar disorder. You can find more of her writing on NewLifeOutlook.