My Mental Health Is Different
It feels very strange to have to give a status report to the Internet, but here I am. Over the last two years, as my own presence on Instagram has become more intentional I’ve grown an audience that along the way became invested in my life, my mental health, and how both intersect.
Up until more recently than you would imagine, I used the platform like I still had the 900-odd followers I had before people really started to notice me. There’s an ease to feeling equal parts seen and anonymous on the internet. My words led before every other part of me or my story did and it gave me room to be parts of myself that I hadn’t experimented with in my day-to-day life.
I started having conversations about the importance of mental health with myself on the internet — it prompted me to stick to therapy, to learn what language my anxiety spoke, to figure out a dictionary that would help me translate it to those around me. The platform gave me a home before I ever managed to give it to others.
The internet likes stability though and it likes constant storylines. I didn’t realize how much of my life was involved in my writing until I went through a series of breakups, of varying levels of love - both romantic and platonic, and suddenly I could feel the weight of the number next to my name.
I’d so thoroughly convinced myself that Instagram has never been a numbers game for me that I left myself exposed to the harder side of the reality that it is a numbers game. That people who I didn’t invite to watch my life unfold still felt like active participants in it, for better or worse. That the higher the number the more my humanity diminished in the eyes of some.
Instagram has never been an ego-driven numbers game for me, that’s what I meant every time that I said it wasn’t a numbers game. I learned the distinction the hard way. The number next to my name doesn’t determine my worth or the amount of love I have in my personal life, but it does determine how many people I’m able to reach and how many people may feel a bit less alone because I can say words like anxiety, depression, or grief out loud.
But here’s the thing - there are other words in my dictionary that I haven’t used regularly because the number on the Internet started to scare me. I became extraordinarily protective of my happiness. My friends, my partner, my family, became lines I didn’t invite others to cross into because I’ve been burned before and being burned again didn’t seem like something I wanted.
Hiding your happiness isn’t sustainable though.
The culture around mental health advocacy on the Internet sometimes requires those who champion the causes to speak from deep within their own experiences - every.single.time. I’ve done it and done it often. But I’m learning that while there’s value in that, the only way that speaking about mental health becomes less taboo is if we also introduce conversations around what joyful seasons look like.
Would you want to follow me if none of my growth and coping tactics seemed to be working? Would you want to see someone who you sort of relate to, someone whose description of her pain points sound similar to the places on your own skin where the cigarettes burned, never take a step forward and into better seasons?
I wouldn’t. I work hard at my mental health because I want to learn to live a life that isn’t consumed by my anxiety. I don’t want to slip into depression and stay there. I can’t choose my triggers, but addressing my mental health has always been with the goal that I’m learning a skillset so my reactions to my triggers are better and better every time.
I’ve been wrestling for months, maybe longer, on the nature of growth and how pain is supposed to feel. I’ve had a hard time accepting that my credentials to write don’t come from my pain, they come from my ability to translate experiences into words that you can maybe connect to.
I’ve had a diagnosed relationship with anxiety and depression for a little over five years. Each year with both has been different. Some years taught me more about those two, other years taught me about co-dependency, disordered eating, or boundary-setting.
Cumulatively, they taught me about growth and healing. How over time it becomes very possible (knee-jerk even) to believe that no two days will be hard in the same way because the first is hard and the second is hard but has guideposts.
It’s supposed to.
You don’t go to therapy to support your therapist’s passion. You go to get to know yourself and where you can find tools that will help.
You don’t take medication just to support the incredibly well-off Pharma industry. You go because you want help getting rid of the cloudiness and seeing the joy again.
You don’t journal because Moleskin needs your monetary investment every few months. You do it because who can hold you more accountable than yourself?
You do it because you don’t want to be where you are further because sinking sucks and feeling like you’re not worthy of X.Y.Z. isn’t a sustainable way to live and grow. You do it because one hard mental health season without tools will (most times) scare you enough to want to not be without a toolbox the next time a hard season hits.
I didn’t do talk therapy and spend all the time I do sitting with myself to be exactly where I was five years ago. I have to stop pretending like I am. Because I think I have a lot to offer about what it feels to be within the darkness, because being in the light doesn’t negate the fact that I know bad days, and staying in the light doesn’t mean that you feel “cured”. You just feel able.