It’s a word that has become synonymous with “life”. How many hours a day can we say that we are “online”? For some, like smartphone users, we are never truly offline. The internet has become a deeply embedded part of our lives. With all of the information available, social networks active and potential people to meet oceans and countries away, the entire world is at our fingertips. How could this ever be considered a bad thing?
When a person such as me suffers from mental health disorder, something as huge and life consuming as the internet, we begin to understand the huge implications on the course of life and disorder in general. I’d like to pose several questions. Have you ever had a social media outlet snag a trigger? Have you ever been tempted to, or actually did delete a blog, profile, or any other internet identity? Worse, did you ever find yourself harmed by the information that you discovered?
I am certainly not lost on the wonderful people and important information that blogging has brought to me. These lovely people know who they are. And in the same note, these extraordinary people, many of whom carry a diagnosis themselves, guided me and encouraged me through year two of my treatment. They continue to do so into year three, and for me, there is no foreseeable end. In essence, we are war buddies now. Not as if I’m looking to go get some names tattooed on my ass. However, I suppose I would if two of us were just manic enough!
Together, we created a desperately needed mental health community called, “A Canvas of the Minds” through the means of communication only provided by the internet. It brought an amazing group of writers together, who all lend their knowledge, wisdom, and experience to this project. Even better, it provided readers with real life information that simply cannot be found on a pill bottle, pamphlet, or insert, in real time.
With all of the wonderful people, support, and information that blogs bring into our lives, there still remains a darker side. “Trolls” will always exist on the internet, hell bent on dragging a person down to their level, because quite simply, misery loves company. (And that’s why we mental health bloggers exist, LOL, just kidding!). Worse are the crusaders that insist that mental health disorders are attention seeking, a result of poor willpower, senseless whining, etc. “Oh, everyone has problems.” Sure, we do. Some of us are more willing than others to own up to our problems.
Lastly, there are trigger blogs. I can specifically only name ProAna blogs at this time, but it is still devastating to anyone who suffers the symptoms of that disorder. Blogs that advocate serious symptoms of disorder as a preferable way of life are incredibly detrimental to the mental health community. ProAna sites encourage others to indulge their eating disorders by publishing articles on effective methods of binging and purging, and essentially depriving oneself of food entirely. They promote unhealthy body image and unrealistic expectations. Simply put, it’s just awful. And a great many people have likely unnecessarily suffered from the existence of these sites.
For a card carrying Dxer, there is a wealth of information on the internet. It is through the internet that we can come to understand our own Dxs, and learn our own personal symptoms and triggers. As mentioned above, we can find support and crisis intervention. We can use the internet to display our creative and intellectual outlets, and are provided with feedback. Also, we have the opportunity to bounce ideas off of one another and build on our thoughts and ideas.
The amount of information regarding disorder itself in a medical context is nearly endless. We are offered sites like WebMD and Medscape to explore our conditions and treatments. Medscape is a resource of immeasurable value with the multidrug interaction checker. I have personally had Medscape make catches that both doctors and pharmacists had almost fatally missed. WebMD has helped me discern mental illness from physical illness on many an occasion. Sometimes, it is extremely difficult to discern malaise from depression or mania from hyperactivity.
There are additional sites that offer self-screenings and mental health articles, to include both professional blogs and news on recent research. Psychcentral.com has the biggest collection of self-screenings and even what they call “The Sanity Score”. I have used The Sanity Score on multiple occasions to monitor several symptoms and assess whether I should seek medical care for them. It gave me a greater understanding of my mental health and underlying symptoms and conditions I may not have been aware of.
Although there are all of these positive resources, written by credentialed and well-esteemed professionals, there are also sketchy resources as well that can have a huge detriment to mental health. Many sites exist that discourage pharmacological treatment entirely. In fact, they are not even likely to promote alternative treatments. Instead, they insist that mental health is a matter of willpower and self-control. Personally, I feel if a person finds they are able to control their mental illness through sheer force of will, then it becomes entirely likely that it was not a mental illness to begin with. Disorder is derived from significant dysfunction. We require sites that encourage treatment, not discourage us through shame and fear.
Then, there are the sites that promote exclusive naturopathic treatment. Do not be misinformed; I am a huge fan of nutraceuticals. I am so impressed with the positive effects on my physical and mental health that I take prescription grade vitamins. However, I am not inclined to seek a naturopathic doctor to rid myself of pharmaceuticals completely.
These sites that encourage monotherapy with nutraceuticals take much information from pharmaceuticals out of context to misinform patients. Most naturopathic doctors are not MD’s. They are not credentialed to pass treatment advice on that kind of level. That is why they rely on misinformation about medications, only highlighting the potential, but slim risks of pharmaceuticals. It’s cost versus benefits. While some people may have taken fish oil and found that they have recovered, it serves to highlight that their condition may not have been as serious as others. Everyone experiences mental health disorder in their own unique way.
There is a wealth of social media that exists to connect us all. This is especially important in the blogosphere, where we then become able to share quick tidbits with the push of a button. It gives us connections outside of the context of our blogs and provides a platform to build closer relationships. It’s easy to stand behind the wall of anonymity and cherry pick which information you choose to share on a blog. It becomes more a more intimate experience through social media. Social media also streamlines the process of promoting posts through automatic feeds. It removes the narcissism from the process.
Twitter gives us a quick relay of information from one to another. It’s easy to search on a topic and make friends through mutual interests. Promotion of blog posts and sharing quick bits of information becomes easy and relatively painless, rather than having to write a long winded post (cough, cough) detailing each little thing. It also gives the potential for greater networking. The only pitfall is that a person has to compartmentalize a thought into a small amount of characters.
Facebook is an entirely different story. Facebook has been heralded as the ultimate social networking experience. Truly, if Twitter and WordPress had a baby, this would be it. Facebook is like none other. And that is why special considerations need to be paid to it.
Facebook provides the opportunity to connect with people a world away in ways that were never before possible. It allows people who have never met face to face to actually become friends. We can share our lives entirely and build stronger friendships through this social networking tool. It provides face time along with the words. We can experience each other’s lives. It is just like blogging, but with the potential for far more interaction. It becomes a hands on experience, unlike blogging which is rather passive.
There is an inherent problem with Facebook. With the click of a button, you forge a friendship. And with the click of another, possibly during a mania fueled temper tantrum, that friendship is broken. No confrontation necessary. Everyone and everything becomes disposable. It also has the potential to dissolve real life friendships by removing the necessity for real life face time / phone time. Why bother calling someone to catch up when you can browse their Facebook?
The issue becomes insincerity. It becomes too easy to be superficial by only sharing the best bits and pieces, or other irrelevant information. It encourages other people to be superficial and encourages shallow relationships. This is reinforced by privacy issues and the power of anonymity on the internet.
These social media outlets beg the questions; do we even have real friends anymore? Does anyone really know another person? Can we be intimate through social media, when it’s regarded as such a public forum?
Studies on social media have found that there is a greater detriment than those listed above. One recent study discovered that people who are highly active on Facebook have shown greater traits of narcissism. As we move into a global community, we do find that it is necessary to put our best foot forward. But, where does one draw the line between sharing and bragging? It’s easy to see where the egocentricity begins, because a person is naturally posting about themselves and their lives. However, are we really that drawn to creating an internet persona based on that alone?
Studies have been done on social media and self-esteem. In September 2011, Cosmopolitan Magazine released an article entitled, “Is Facebook Bumming You Out?”. It was based on the findings of a Stanford University study of how people underestimate the misery of their peers due to Facebook statuses. How often do we see people share bad news on Facebook? It’s rare, at best. So, it can be easy to get down on ourselves when we see pictures of people partying.
Personally, I had a friend who always had pictures to post Saturday and Sunday morning of her and a few dozen Iat the club. Being a particularly young mother who spent Fridays watching Spongebob and changing diapers, I found I was discontent. I examined it. I didn’t even want that life, but it seemed like everyone was having so much more fun than me.
I felt that way until the day she had her breakdown on Facebook through a flame war with a friend. A friend had called her out as a pathetic, single, fat alcoholic. The woman tried to defend, and just ended up breaking down a few hours later. She had been single for awhile, overweight her entire life, and she “partied” nearly every night. For me, that was an eye opener. Everyone on Facebook, especially my superficial, acquaintance Facebook friends, were putting on this big farce. That’s the conclusion. People are not as happy as they appear.
The internet, like every life changing technology, can be used for good and for evil. We depend on it now for practically everything. I personally use my smartphone as my GPS, calendar, phone book, reminders, and my connection to the outside world. I know I couldn’t live my life without it.
Or could I? I did. We’re so wrapped in wires all of the time, that I like to term it, “plugged in”. Being plugged in could be overwhelming for a person with a disorder. My suggestion? Unplug. Just for a few days. You’ll have a better perspective, a greater appreciation of these conveniences, and the ability to moderate your internet time so that you have more time to live, well, your life!
© Tallulah “Lulu” Stark and A Canvas Of The Minds 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tallulah “Lulu” Stark and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.