As children, we are always told to be seen and not heard, and I was always a quiet child. I was never more content than when I was in my room alone, drawing colourful pictures or playing dress up with my Barbie dolls.
But at the ripe old age of 31, I’ve become a bit of an online exhibitionist. I’m still a proud introvert and I crave alone time on the daily, but I’m also more vocal now than I’ve ever been. But only about one particular subject – my mental health.
I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety six years ago, and my instant reaction to it was shame. I was embarrassed that I was a fully-grown adult who couldn’t pull herself together and go to work like every other ‘normal’ person did. I wanted nothing more than to crawl into a dark hole and never see anyone again. I quit my job and fell into a deep pit of self-loathing, and I felt so useless and unworthy that I refused to talk about my mental health to anyone because I didn’t think I deserved the attention.
Thankfully, things have changed since then and, with the help of medication and therapy, I’ve recovered well to the point that I can work again. I’m also able to thrive in a new career where I talk openly about my mental health and encourage others to do the same. In finding this community, I‘ve realised that I’m not alone.
Here’s why sharing my sadness online with them makes me happier in the long run:
It’s easier than saying it out loud
When I’m depressed, it’s normally accompanied by feelings of anxiety. When I get anxious, I freeze up and can’t talk to anyone; as much as I’d love to, I just can’t find the words to say what I mean. Writing online is easier because I can type my words out into an email or message, and then edit it a few times to get my point across in a somewhat eloquent manner.
It helps me get to the root of the problem
Sometimes I don’t know why I’m sad, and often my depressive episodes appear at a time when I feel I should be very happy because I have lots of great things happening. Writing out a simple Instagram caption or a rambling blog post is sometimes the time and space I need to get to the root of the problem. It’s definitely true for me that I sometimes can’t see the wood for the trees. When I’m bang in the middle of a very stressful time in my life, it’s obvious to everyone else that I’ve taken on too much, but I need to work that out for myself.
It’s a way of asking for help
I’ve been formally diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I take medication for it, and I always get advice from my doctor when I’m going through a bad spell. But after years of relying on friends and family to help me through the darkest of times, I now find it quite difficult to admit that I’m not coping. Feeling sad during recovery is hard because I fear I’m going to relapse badly every time, even though that isn’t always the case. Using Facebook or Instagram to express my mood is a way for me to vocalise my sadness, and it communicates my feelings to those closest to me, making it easier to ask for help.
It makes me feel less alone
Depression can be very isolating and, being an introvert, I automatically crave alone time to recharge my batteries. However, the internet is great at helping me feel connected to the world without actually have to meet up in real life. Sharing a status update or a blog post about what’s going on in my head always gets a response from people online, sometimes from complete strangers. I can go from feeling totally helpless to totally uplifted in a matter of minutes when I receive a message from someone saying they know how it feels to be depressed. It’s no magic cure, but knowing that others suffer like me is strangely comforting.
I can find new ways to cope
Talking openly about mental health online has been an invaluable learning tool for me, as I’ve met lots of people who are further ahead in their recovery journey than I am. As a result, I’ve found new ways to cope with my depression and continue to find new tools as time goes on. I’ve been inspired to take up yoga and now go to classes. I’ve been using positive affirmations every day to help regulate my moods, and I’ve learned the importance of getting fresh air and ignoring my emails for a while. I’ve also started my own private Facebook group to support others with depression, and learned new coping mechanisms like making time for pampering myself once in a while.
Sharing sadness online might seem like a pointless task, but the truth is that we all need to get more comfortable admitting that we get sad sometimes. If social media can be the modern tool that gives us the confidence to do that, then why not run with it? We’re all using our phones 24/7, so finding a meaningful connection at our fingertips seems like a no-brainer to me, and it could make us all happier in the long run.
– Fiona Thomas
Want to see more from Fiona? Her book, Depression in a Digital Age, is out this autumn – preorder it now! Here’s a sneak peek…
Fiona was your average 80’s baby. She grew up without an iPhone, used actual landlines to make calls, and didn’t have the luxury (or perhaps the curse) of Facebook during her adolescent years. But though her childhood took place in an analogue world, she found herself suffering from the same problems many young people face today; the race for perfectionism, high levels of anxiety, a fear of success.
After an unfulfilling university experience, a stressful beginning in a management career, and a severe case of impostor syndrome, Fiona suffered a nervous breakdown in her mid-twenties. Amongst therapy and medication, it was the online community which gave Fiona the comfort she needed to recover.
Fiona traces her life dealing with anxiety and the subsequent depression, and how a digital life helped her find her community, find her voice, find herself.