Tag Archives: blogging

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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Writing for Relief

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I feel that going a week (or two, or three) between therapy sessions is far too long.

I don’t think it is because I have an extraordinary amount of drama in my life, but there are some subjects and issues I only really discuss with my therapist. I’ve found that there are things I’ve brought up with friends or family that really weren’t constructive because nobody could relate, so short of therapy (or group therapy) I have a vat in my brain where all those thoughts just kind of slosh around in holding until I have the opportunity to wash the tank out each week.

A full and sloshing vat of pent up confusion or sadness or anger or whatever is hardly ideal. It can get so full that things start to spill over into my daily life, and that’s not cool. Sometimes it can get so full the structural integrity of the vat can’t hold it all and it blows up in my face. Squishy thought fragments get all over the floor, everything gets warped… it’s a nightmare to clean up.

Lately I would say I’ve been exploring some rather complex issues and thoughts and they aren’t things that I can easily talk about with the people around me. Sometimes I feel like things are just too abstract to be able to talk about in a way that will make sense to people, and therapy really helps me take pieces of an idea and mold them into something coherent.

Words.

But, as I’ve pointed out, that isn’t always an option. Sometimes I need my brain to form words sooner rather than later, because once these bits are formed into pieces that I can understand they become solid. I can take them from the vat and file them wherever they need to be filed in my head.

I learned pretty early in my life that writing is one way I can form those bits into full words and ideas on my own without waiting for the vat to overflow.

In my youth having a journal was (pardon my nerdiness here) kind of like having my own personal horcrux. It was someplace I could turn those thought fragments into words and store them to save space in my mind. At the same time negative thoughts and imagery could live in the journal safely without having to constantly nag at me. Looking back at these journals has showed me that they were really a stream-of-consciousness word barf sort of situation, and that’s fine (now where did I put that basilisk fang?). They weren’t meant to be on the top of the New York Times bestsellers list. Writing that way helped me cope with the sheer volume of everything inside my head and allowed me to have a little more space to concentrate.

As I got older writing and journaling began to allow me to ask questions of myself and the world and brainstorm what they might mean or what the answers might be. It became a tool for me to organize my thoughts more than just dump them.

Things progressed even further when I began writing this blog and used the writing process here to take questions or ideas I had about mental health, put them into words, and then try to arrange those words in ways that made sense to other people. I’d say this not only satisfied my desire to understand things better, it has also meant working toward being able to communicate better in general around the topic of mental health.

Writing is incredible that way, it is a form of expression I really think I took for granted but didn’t realize for a long time how many ways it has helped me. Writing in journals, writing poetry, writing blogs, there are a lot of options to try depending on what you might hope to get out of it. Some of the biggest takeaways I’ve encountered are:

  • Organizing thoughts
  • Purging negative thoughts or ideas for relief
  • Expressing hidden emotions I may not express otherwise
  • Better understanding (of myself, my illnesses, my issues, my situation, etc.)
  • Seeing things from another perspective (great with writing prompts)
  • Taking the terror out of something I’m afraid of (by exploring what is so scary about it)
  • A place to practice “positive self talk” (letting myself know that I am awesome, I’m doing a good job at life, and I’ve got this handled)
  • An outlet for conveying difficult ideas to other people (blogging, for example)
  • A way to become familiar with words that go with my emotions, being familiar with this vocabulary has made it easier for me to express them in situations outside of writing.
  • Perspective on a past version of myself, seeing how far I’ve come (only if I’m willing to go back and read it)
  • A sense of relief and release should I feel inclined to write about something I’m holding onto and destroying the writing later (shredding, burning, etc.)
  • You never know, something you wrote could be comedic gold in 20 years (check out Mortified for some super amazing adults reading their teenage journals aloud, I love it)

I’m sure that is just the tip of the iceberg there.

I wanted to share this topic this week because I’ve been dealing with some difficult topics in my life that are hazy. They remind me a lot of when I first started trying to write about mental illness and I found I didn’t have the words to describe what it felt like, or how it worked in me. Back then I didn’t even know what my emotions were, I was so used to pushing them down that I couldn’t readily identify one from another.

Likewise I’ve found myself opening all kinds of old boxes in my brain only to find that there are things that are still very relevant. They may not pertain to mental health, but they are things that, like my emotions, I’ve been cramming in boxes and throwing in deep storage for the past 30 years. As I’ve delved into all of this I’ve also started feeling some depression, I’ve felt confused and overwhelmed and quite a lot like I don’t believe I can handle it.

That’s the thing though, isn’t it? Mental illness isn’t going to wait for me to clean out the freezer and the garage before it rushes in to greet me, at least, not with the kind I have. Having treatment resistant Bipolar Disorder means having to multitask sometimes, even when what is in front of me doesn’t seem to have any baring on my illness specifically. Of course, I am more than willing to admit that the prospect of repressing any important memory or issue is probably depressing to anyone, but with my diagnosis I can pretty much anticipate that reaction in a very certain way.

One of the ways I’ve been coping with this has been to write. I’ve been writing non-stop for the past three weeks and then had to ease up the past few days because my hands were swollen from typing (which has meant not being able to play xbox either, rough!). Writing has become a place where I feel comfortable with my thoughts and feelings, and it is great because I don’t always feel that in social situations.

I would attribute writing (though I am self-soothing, getting outside, eating regularly, all that jazz) to the relatively level amount of depression I’ve been having. Yeah, it isn’t ideal… but being able to write enough to keep this vat from overflowing (ugh, and I just stained the new hardwoods too!) has helped keep me more rational and able to deal with the depression as it comes and has seemed to keep the depression from becoming totally consuming.

Whether I am writing something private or public it is comforting to know that I have complete control over what goes on the page, but the best feeling is to allow myself to step over the line of control, to allow myself to write anything and everything I feel. It can be an act of rebellion, it can be profound, it can be silly, it can be unidentifiable. In the end it doesn’t matter to me because it is the act that defines it, not the finished product.

Update! A New Page is Now Available!

Hey folks! I just wanted to let you know that there have been a few changes to the website, chiefly a new page called About This Blog which I hope will act as something of a manifesto outlining the ideas that back up the bi[polar] curious blog!

When I started this blog a couple years ago I didn’t know exactly where I was going with it (or what I was getting myself into). Now that I’ve been doing it for a while I’ve been able to nail down the values I intend to keep powering the things you get to read!

I also wanted to add this page to inform people of where the posts on my blog are coming from and why I don’t endorse certain products or websites, often brought to my attention by third parties. That doesn’t mean I’m not willing to consider your writing, images, fundraiser, or product for the blog, just that I hope people will be able to get a more straightforward idea of what my criteria is for these kinds of posts.

So, do you have questions about this blog? Are you curious as to where this information is coming from? Check out the new About This Blog page, now available from the tabs at the top of the home page.

Thanks! And as usual, if you have any questions you can reach me at host@thebipolarcuriousblog.com