Disorder and the Internet : The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Lulu newInternet.

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?

Blogs

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.

Internet Resources

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.

Social Media

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.

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16 thoughts on “Disorder and the Internet : The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

  1. And technology is continuing to plug us in even more (e.g., “internet glasses”). We all need to be aware of our triggers and to recognize how involvement with the internet is affecting us, our illnesses as well as everything else. It’s important (although often difficult!) for us to be responsible internet users. Have you ever found that you have more insight into matters such as this one than others without mental dx’s?

    • I think everyone could take a lesson from it. The point I was making is that the internet is probably a greater, more important resource that has the potential of doing greater harm along with the all of wonderful things it has to offer.

      The biggest lesson that applies to all Dxs and non-Dxs is the important of unplugging. For Dxs, this is a little more important. I have written an article called “Sensory Integration Dysfunction and Psychiatric Disorders” , which explores sensory sensitivities that Dxs may have as a result of their Dx. I know that having bipolar disorder has given me sensory triggers. I also have psychotic episodes, so sensory stimuli is a factor in my disorder.

      We’re all so plugged in and overwhelmed. I don’t think any of us realizes it until something happens that unplugs us. Upon moving out here, my urban terrain of busy streets and people swapped for endless woods, I realized how overwhelmed I was. And when I moved in, there was no cable or internet. It was books, journals, and the outdoors for me. Do you know what? It was liberating.

      I came to the realization that the internet was also giving me identity issues. As if I didn’t have enough already, right? My persona was starting to split into those that I portrayed myself as on the internet, hidden in anonymity behind this flatscreen. After I was unplugged, I made the decision to integrate Lulu into my real life. She was closer to the real me than the real me was anymore. So here I am. Lulu and Tiff. That’s me. But, I had to find it by myself.

      I think the internet has the possibility of giving others identity issues as well.

      • I agree, and I have had identity issues exacerbated by the internet too. Having a fragmented identity already (I have DID), I can be stymied in my recovery very easily by the need to maintain various “personas” online.

        • You reminded me. I have a post that’s coming up on Canvas tomorrow about personas and an extra consciousness that I’ve started theorizing about. I don’t have DID, but I have some odd phenomenon like it. The doctors don’t know what to make of it yet. It’s not full blown personalities, they are personas. Like costumes to slip on, except I have no control over their development and how and when they take over. And even when they have the reigns, I’m still mostly aware of what is going on. There is a little bit of dissociation, but not entirely. I just feel like I’m there, but I’m watching from inside myself. Like I’m not in control.

  2. Excellent article. You fairly explored both sides of the Internet debate. I also get angry at the sites that spread misinformation. Though not everyone may need medication, discouraging everyone because some person, possibly a very influential someone, thinks they don’t need it is so very dangerous. Many people have gotten off meds or never taken them because they are scared, and they don’t want stigma. They also avoid psychotherapy, another helpful treatment. I am so glad for this site. I hope with Le Clown’s contest, this site gets the attention it deserves.

    • Thanks Alice!

      I didn’t get into the arguments about how it’s disintegrating our society, screwing up our communication, etc. Though it has implications for those with disorder, I didn’t find it entirely relevant. Yes, we all need solid networks. I mentioned in my post when I shut down Pendulum that my support network on WordPress was starting to interfere with the potential support networks in real life, and I hadn’t fully explored those. It was mainly Pendulum that I was leaning as a crutch. An internet life is as real as a real life, but the real life requires more attention. It’s something I had to redirect my focus back to.

      I detest the sites that spread the misinformation. Yes, we all get it. Rx drugs are dangerous. We’ve all been burned by side effects, some worse than others. That doesn’t mean we can all ditch the drugs and live harmoniously off of Vitamin D and Fish Oil alone. And if someone can possibly do that and have a Dx, then I personally believe that it was a matter of bad nutrition and not necessarily a mental health Dx thing anyway.

      Stigma is something real, and that’s why we’re here promoting mental health awareness. I know it’s a touchy subject for everyone alive, probably more so than politics and religion (two topics I rarely touch upon at all). But, it’s something that we have to live with. That’s why, instead of hiding from it, we should just all embrace it. Make an example. If we give in to stigma and the pressures of society, then we are justifying societal attitudes toward mental illness.

      • Well said. We should try to have networks both online and off. But there are times when all you can find is online. I know I would have killed for something like this when I was a SAHM with babies. I was so isolated and depressed, and I didn’t have any friends close by. For those people, this is a lifesaver.

        And hopefully learning to speak up online will help you do so offline. It has for me.

        • We absolutely need networks in all of the places we can manage. That was the issue that I was having. I was putting too much on my online network, and taking away from my real life networks. I now have a better team of doctors and friends that are aware of my condition so they can help.

          A friend of mine has a hip replacement and her movement is sometimes kind of limited. She was feeling kind of down, because she couldn’t do the things we were doing. I said, “I’ll deal with your hip replacement if you’ll take crazy phone calls from me at 3am.” She said, “Deal.” LOL.

          I’ve learned to speak up. Here, I’ve found the courage to come out with it in my real life. I have never been able to do that before. I think it’s important that people know this about me. If people care enough, they’ll help me and stick around. If not, I don’t need them.

          • That is great. And yeah, having doctors on your side is a good idea. Also being more open – reading here and other places I see it’s not just me that feels awful on the inside and tells no one. I mean, look at all the suicides where people say – huh, she never looked sad. Because we’re programmed that way. Maybe sometimes we should say “I feel like crap today.” Maybe not all the time, but yeah, sometimes – and sometimes it might be at 3 AM. That is wonderful to have a friend like that.

            • That’s why I’m here. It was too awful on the inside. I was so isolated, and I felt like I was the only one going through this. I have gone through the agonizing growing pains, and learned to shelf the masks. No one is always happy.

              I think that people without Dxs probably go through life either content or discontent from time to time. I have to face the fact that my emotions might not match my situation. And that I have a broader spectrum of emotions. It is the nature of this. It’s my nature, whether it’s related to a disorder or not. Before my disorder had a name, I was just like that. Now that people know I have a disorder, well, some are more forgiving. It at least gives me a chance now to explain and genuinely apologize.

  3. I just told Sailor how I probably needed time off of TRIGGERville aka Facecrack to monitor my mental health. Great post Lulu!

  4. By the way, there have also been studies that Facebook increases/exacerbates depression in youth–particularly teenagers.

    Ooooh, and I looove Medscape! hehe
    xoxoxo

  5. I could go on and on and on about this (it’s sorta related to my research background, loosely) but I won’t. It’s after 2 AM and much too tempting to go off on a diatribe at this hour!

    Also, I freaking hate Facebook, which should probably be fodder for a post of my own. Suffice it to say that Facebook doesn’t mix well with impulsivity and paranoia.

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