Starting a Mental Health Blog: Insights

I’ve put together a few tips of things I really wish I had known before starting this blog in hopes of providing a little useful information for anyone leaning toward starting their own.

I’ve been writing the bi[polar] curious blog now for five years and there have definitely been some big lessons I’ve had to learn along the way. I wanted to put together a list of a few of those lessons to share for anyone in the early stages of blogging or thinking about starting their own mental health blog. Of course, keep in mind that I’ve remained relatively unstable over the last five years because of the treatment resistant nature of my bipolar symptoms so you may find that your approach to navigating some of these issues may be a lot different than the way I’ve gone about dealing with them. Really I just thought there were several things I wish I had known ahead of time, things I could have coped with before starting this blog that might have helped me remain more stable through this process.

The spam is real.

WordPress does a pretty good job of helping filter out spam comments from real ones, but sometimes spam comments show up where they shouldn’t. Early on it would be a little heartbreaking to think I’d received a comment only to find that a robot was trying to sell male enhancement products on my page, and while most of these spam comments are harmless (just annoying to clear out when they happen) every so often I would get one that would throw me into a fit of paranoia because it would use a jumble of words nearing something rational and related to something I was experiencing (hello psychosis!). I’ve had many situations where I’ve had to sit down and remind myself that spam is just spam, it is meaningless, and it happens.

The comment commentary.

Five years ago I convinced myself that I would respond to every comment a real-life human posted on my blog. That seems like common courtesy, right? Of course, that was when I’d have a comment or two a week, and they were nice, fluffy sort of, “you did it!” comments. Unfortunately, negative comments are something that happen, and sometimes they are a product of someone failing to understand the point of a post, or not liking the content, and sometimes they can just be random, cruel turds someone left behind for no apparent reason. For a time I even had a commenter who liked to point out every spelling and grammatical error in every post. Negative comments happen, and it took some time for me to be able to take a step back from them and understand that they didn’t mean my blog sucked. They didn’t mean I sucked. They didn’t mean I wasn’t doing a good job, and choosing not to respond to them (because doing so would send me into a fit of panic) wasn’t the end of the world. In fact, these days I find I can’t respond to most comments because I simply don’t have time, and I’ve reached the point where I am ok with that, even if it means looking somewhat aloof or elusive.

The real trick here is having a plan for what to do when these negative comments occur, because living with an emotional disorder makes responding to something that pisses me off or is making me cry very difficult when it occurs in a conversation with someone I love, let alone a random stranger who can’t hear my tone in my comment and may not have understood me in the first place. Ultimately, creating some distance to keep from taking comments personally has been a really, really important process for me in terms of blogging.

Da emails.

Having contact information available on the blog was important to me because I envisioned helping people who needed it. I’ve had crisis intervention training in regard to speaking with people who are very suicidal, but I am by no means a doctor or therapist or any other number of licensed professionals who deal with that sort of thing on a regular basis. I hoped people would contact me if they had questions because I am a peer, and because emailing me might be a less-intimidating intermediary step between not seeking help and seeking it.

I set up an email account dedicatedly specifically for this blog because it was also important to me that people not have my immediate personal contact information. This was really important in helping keep a boundary between readers and solicitors and me, but sometimes it has been really hard to cope with emails from people in crisis, a constant barrage of emails from people wanting to post “guest posts” for my blog (with my blog name obviously copy and pasted into their email), and those asking me to promote their products or services on my blog. These last two categories were completely unexpected, and having to “act professional” when I’m actively in the middle of a depressive or manic episode has been outrageously challenging –especially when some companies have been pushy or rude about promoting their products.

One of the ways I have gotten around this has been to formulate my own “general response” email template. It hurt my soul a little bit at first to do it, but the more I noticed the emails I received being written in general terms and sent to hundreds of bloggers the more ok I felt with doing the same thing to reply to them. Obviously I haven’t relied on a template to reply to those in crisis or those with genuine questions, but I’ve always been the sort of person who has a hard time saying “no” and having a template to fall back on that does that for me in a polite but firm way has been extremely helpful.

Overall, the number of emails I receive on a daily basis can be overwhelming, given I have a condition that leaves me having a hard time just getting through the basics of taking care of myself at times. Knowing that would be an issue ahead of time would have really helped me out, and I think I wouldn’t have worried so much about saying no to people, especially those who offer to write “guest posts” for the blog. Honestly if you are interested in writing a guest post for a blog, I’d expect to see an email without typos. An email that talks about why you want to write, and potentially a link to something that you’ve already written. A blog is only as good as its content… and while there is nothing wrong with finding guest authors (in fact it is great if you’re out of town or need more content) I think it is worth finding ones who can write.

Keeping it regular.

When I started the bi[polar] curious blog I told myself I would write regularly. At first that meant five days a week. Then eventually three. Then eventually one. Did I get on my case about not being able to keep up with the pace I set for myself (when I was hypomanic, I might add)? You bet! But as I’ve continued on I’ve found that writing one good post has sometimes meant writing three or four that weren’t as good, and then a few drafts of the one I’m posting before I put it out there. I guess along the way I found that I favor quality over quantity (though the level of quality is surely negotiable) and I had to realize that my blogging habits really mimicked the patterns I saw in myself in the workplace. When I am depressed I don’t want to write. When I am manic I want to write constantly.

One of the things we pride ourselves on in the bipolar community is that ability to produce in elevated periods, and I found that instead of posting everything I wrote in those periods all at once I could use a little tool in wordpress called the scheduler to pick a date and time in the future to unveil a post I’d already finished. I’ve had many people comment on the relative regularity of my blog and the answer is not rigorous training or pushing through my periods of depression, it pretty much has everything to do with the scheduler. I write as many posts as I can when I feel inspired, then set dates for them to be posted.

Best shortcut ever.

Everyone can see it.

There is something very freeing about being anonymous and writing about a topic like mental health and there are certainly some good reasons to go that route. My goal with this blog has been to be more open, to take some of that “scary” away from mental health, and to help both people I know and don’t know understand what living with mental illness is like.

Ok, so creating a blog and telling everyone I know about it was absolutely terrifying. When it happened I felt quite ill honestly, and though I didn’t vomit profusely it took a while for me to get used to the idea of people I know reading the things I was writing. Even after five years I’ll hear someone say something about this blog to me or a friend and feel wildly embarrassed as I realize that they have been reading it, but that’s ok. Ultimately the people I know have responded quite well, given some of the things I’ve written about.

The flip side of that coin is that if your email address is linked to your blog or if you real name is associated with it people you know (and potentially ones you don’t want to read your blog) can still find it. Social Security (if you’re applying for SSDI) can certainly find it (they found mine in a heartbeat) and they really tried hard to use it against me in my hearing.

In many ways, even if you blog anonymously, it is important to remember that the things we write, like the things we say, have weight. Writing something privately is much different than writing something others can read, our words effect other people and they effect ourselves, so taking responsibility for those words (whether you are writing anonymously or not) is something that will ultimately benefit you in the long run. Choosing to post things while in a crisis situation may be helpful if you feel unable to reach out to your support network (your doctors, therapist, psychiatrist, friends, family, support group) however be prepared to expect that in the mental health community these sorts of crisis posts are taken very seriously. Many of us have lost friends to suicide and find ourselves quite despairing when someone leaves a trail of suicidal breadcrumbs without any way for us to help. Trust me, talking to someone in person is much more highly recommended, and when in doubt reaching out to an organization like the crisis clinic (like this one: 1-800-273-TALK) is much more likely to provide support in the moment when you need it.

I guess I’m just saying, please do not rely on the mental health blogging community for all of your mental health support needs. Connecting to other bloggers and feeling a sense of community is great, but it is no substitute for having a real-life support system in daily and crisis situations. Having someone you can reach out to in times of crisis who can respond immediately is very, very important.

Initial uncertainty.

There was a lot of uncertainty when I started. A lot of obsessing over how many followers I had and over how many comments I had. I didn’t know how to come up with ideas for posts so I started brainstorming odd lists everywhere. I didn’t know what I wanted my blog to be, I just knew I wanted to write something. That’s normal.

Maybe you have a plan or no plan at all, and maybe you’ll find that you love blogging or maybe you’ll hate it. Maybe you’ll find that you don’t care as much as you thought you did, or maybe you’ll find that a blog is a stepping stone to something else. Ultimately there are many ways it could go but you’ll never know unless you give it a shot.

There are certainly a lot of positive things that have come out of this blog for me but most of that reflection will come in next week’s post (and some was already discussed in last week’s post as well). In the meantime, I would say that if you’ve considered writing or look to connect with others through writing, or even just want to get to know yourself better blogging can be a really helpful way to do those things!

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One response to “Starting a Mental Health Blog: Insights

  1. Great stuff. It is funny what you learn along the way.

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