Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘online’

Friendship – offline vs online

“Friend” is a word with so many nuances. A friend can be someone you meet for coffee occasionally or someone you’ve known for years; someone you chat to about anything except the important things or someone who knows your deepest darkest secrets. I used to have many friends but these days I have only a few, despite having many acquaintances. My mental health problems seem to get in the way. I struggle with meeting new people, I struggle to meet the people I already know. Even worse my illness surreptitiously destroys friendships like a tree that rots from the inside out; I only see the decay as it collapses and dies.

Over the last decade in addition to my amazing husband I have had 4 wonderfully supportive, close friends with whom I could be utterly honest and lean on when I was struggling. Now I have 2. The others abandoned me, telling me that my mental illness was too much for them to cope with. One told me that she was fed up with giving me advice that I didn’t follow and that she felt I wasn’t trying to fight the depression. She had her own problems and in a way she was right – at that time I was fighting as hard as I could but I was still drowning, still wishing for death every day.

That kind of thing must be hard to deal with. I don’t blame them for leaving me but it does make me sad that I am so difficult to be friends with. And it makes me reluctant to be honest about how I really feel. How can I trust anyone? Why be truthful if it just drives people away?

Ironically some of my best support these days comes from virtual strangers online. These people have never met me, they don’t know my real name and in most cases I don’t know theirs. But they are kind, supportive and non-judgmental, and they have held my hand through some dark times. When I was suicidal with PND and the first friend abandoned me it was posters on Mumsnet who supported me, talked with me and helped me see that there were other choices. It’s no exaggeration to say that they saved my life.

These days most of my social interaction is on Twitter, where there is another amazing community of people who are kind and supportive. There are many that I would call friends despite having never met them. I turn to them when I am struggling and don’t want to burden my husband or family; they have never let me down. And I am so grateful for them.

Here’s to you, online friends. You know who you are and you are amazing. You, DH and my 2 trusted friends are the reason that I’m still here and still fighting.

Thank you.

Lost: me, myself and I

Last night I told DH that if I could have 3 wishes the first would be to get rid of my mental health problems (or “lose the crazy” as I actually put it). DH shook his head and said “But then you wouldn’t be you!” and this has got me thinking. In a way he’s right, my mental health issues are a part of who I am. I’m gradually stumbling along the path to accepting that this is nothing to be ashamed of, that I am not weak but just not as healthy mentally as the majority. I have already accepted that it’s likely I will need some kind of medication for the rest of my life and that’s ok.

But my mental health is far worse now than when DH and I met 11 years ago. Back then I was already anxious and had suffered from bouts of depression for almost a decade, but I was confident. I was good at socialising, I had a wide circle of friends and a bright future ahead of me. I even went to live in a city where I didn’t know a single person in order to study for my Masters degree.

But now? I only have a small circle of friends and have withdrawn from most people from my old life because we have nothing in common these days. They’re successful, confident people while I’m an impoverished failure. I rarely socialise and if I do it’s via the children, taking them to friends’ houses to play. I am not confident in how I look, I care far more deeply about what people think of me than I ever used to and to be honest I barely recognise myself.

I don’t know who I am any more but I’m certainly not the same person that DH fell in love with 11 years ago. I feel like a shadow of that woman, a pale imitation. I’m good at putting on my mask and seeming confident, I’m good at forcing myself to chat to people I don’t know well – but inside I’m curled in a ball, trembling, counting down the moments until I can escape and get home to safety.

11 years ago I knew who I was; today I’m not so sure. I am a mother and a wife, a daughter and a sister, but I have lost my central identity. I exist on the periphery, orbiting my family’s lives like a lonely hydrogen electron. There is nothing in my current life that is interesting or sets me apart from the masses; there is nothing that I can point to and say “Look, this is who I am, what I do, this is what is important about me”.

In fact the only place where I feel even remotely like my former self is online. There I can hide behind a pseudonym, safe in the knowledge that no-one can actually see me and confident because I don’t have to speak to anyone face-to-face. I can chat to anyone about anything and I can be utterly honest in a way that I shrink from in everyday life. Talking to strangers online I begin to hear echoes of my former self. It’s like gazing into a fairground mirror – the reflection may be distorted but it’s still just about recognisable.

There are people in my computer

When I was a young child I was utterly convinced that there were tiny people in the radio. I envisioned them sitting at tiny desks to read the news, playing and singing in tiny bands. Fast forward 30-odd years and we find me married, a mother of 2, struggling with problems with both my physical health and mental health.

And now it’s not my radio but my computer that seems to have people in. Some of these people I know in real life; most of them I don’t. Sometimes we have silly conversations about daft news stories and what our children have been up to or whatever comes to mind. Sometimes I’m able to help someone with a breastfeeding problem or a baking problem, and they offer advice on my health problems and child-rearing.

And sometimes I talk to the people in my computer when I can’t talk to anyone else. When the pit of my depression is so deep and the clouds of my anxiety so oppressive that I can barely speak, I type messages to the people in my computer. And there is always someone there to reply and offer a sympathetic shoulder or a kick up the bum. The people in my computer have helped me through 2 stressful pregnancies, breastfeeding, babyhood, toddlerdom, antenatal depression, postnatal depression, anxiety, panic attacks, bankruptcy, having to move 200 miles away from my home, a worsening spinal condition, restricted mobility – you name it, they’ve helped me with it. They’ve been there, day or night.

The people in my computer probably don’t realise how amazing they are. They help me, they support me, they lift my mood. They make me laugh and sometimes they make me cry. They remind me how fortunate I am to have a loving and supportive husband and 2 healthy children. They send me recipes for cake and soup. They encourage me to pursue the NHS about both my back and my mental health.

But most of all they guarantee that I am never alone. No matter how low I’m feeling, how much pain I’m in, whether I can speak to real-life people or not, the people in my computer are always there. They’re like stars in the sky – far too many to count, always there whether you can see them or not, making pinpoints of light in the darkness.

Thank you, people in my computer. You truly are stars.

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