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Making the private public: how "honest blogging" made me braver in real life


time to talk mental health

The lovely Emma Gannon recently posted a piece with her blogging predictions for 2015. One of these was the rise of "honest blogging", with a prediction of a rise in thoughtful bloggers sitting outside categories of beauty, fashion, food, etc.

While excited by the potential of this (I love a good read), the phrase itself, "honest blogging", really stuck with me.

I've thought about this a lot - in terms of how honest I am online: how much I share through this blog and how this affects what I share in real life.

While my day-to-day life I tend to keep to myself, there are some big issues I've shared on here.

I was saying over drinks not long ago how weird it is that if I were to meet someone, it wouldn't take them much online stalking to find out some pretty deep stuff about my life: I have a chronic illness called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, I've suffered from acute bouts of depression and anxiety, and my dad is a recovering alcoholic; to name a few.

In terms of sharing these were very much conscious choices. Each one I considered, reading and re-reading, and imagining from other people's potential perspectives, and sometimes sharing with family members, before eventually clicking publish.

I'm still allowed to find it a little strange though. Especially when you scroll through and see them one by one, a little catalogue of my darkest moments all there for anyone to peruse.

But I don't regret any of it.

So much good has come of me sharing these personal things. If one article would have helped one person that would have been wonderful and worthwhile. It turned out, thousands read and hundreds tweeted or commented.

That freaked me out at first. The depression post went a little crazy, and as the numbers rose I wondered if I'd made a big mistake.

Then, I'd read the comments - that someone was able to share the post with their partner so they could understand what they were going through, or that they would finally go to the doctor to get help. And I was a little bowled over, but also stopped freaking out about the numbers.

I never realised I could be helping people from behind my laptop in my bedroom. It was weird and it was also kind of exhilarating and inspiring.

But asides from it feeling amazing to help other people, it's also helped me a lot too.

By that I mean that blogging honestly about these issues has maybe made me more honest in my everyday life. It's not that I'd be dropping these things into conversation with any old acquaintance, but say the subject of mental health arises - I no longer shy away from it.

I think through putting it out there online, it's made it less of a big deal. These things have happened to me, it's there for anyone to see, it's not some big bad secret I carry with me.

And through that healthier attitude which blogging has nurtured, I'm more able to engage in conversations. As well as tackling stigma from the safety of a laptop or phone, I can also now do that in actual real life casual conversations.

It's still hard, but it gets easier.

I think I'm often most scared about posting a new article, say the alcoholism one, because of reactions from people I know in real life. It's not that I would expect them to be judgemental, just that maybe they'll be different somehow.

Then, I post it, and people I know are nice, they're normal, they do mention it or they don't. The world moves on.

Society breeds stigma, but by keeping these stories behind closed doors, sometimes so do we. Even if we have the best intentions. We perpetuate it by thinking these normal, more-common-place-than-we-realise, stories of illness such as addiction, have to be secrets. Maybe they don't.

It's all very well to say "fight the stigma", but maybe the way to do that is by sharing and listening openly. If you feel able.

That doesn't mean you have to share your story. None of this does. I'm not saying if you share your secrets you're saved, you'll be happier and more confident, nor that it's the "right" thing to do. Because it's not the same for everyone but it's also not as revolutionary or life changing as that, not in an obvious way anyhow.

I'm also aware that discrimination is still out there, and how lucky I am to have had a hugely positive response. If you know your boss or friends hold certain beliefs, to share these things would be a hell of a lot more difficult. I get that.

While it's most likely fine, the uncertainty can be real scary too. My Dad even commented when talking about the alcoholism post about a level of safety he felt in it being published post-retirement with his part-time job secure. And he works in mental health.

There's also another benefit to this blogging malarkey. Writing honestly can help anyone (and I'd recommend it, it really doesn't have to be shared) but something about sharing some of this stuff has also given me a bit of accountability: to try to understand more when my Dad's struggling, or if I were to get ill again to ask for help and to be honest.

If I preach it then I should live it, even if that's hard.

To some though, what I do would be called oversharing. Like I say, not everyone could do it, nor should they have to and that's fine: it's not for everyone.

Though I wonder at what point it becomes oversharing. Is it when it's mental illness rather than physical? It's still a little taboo?

Maybe it's when it becomes emotional. Because that's scary. Because sometimes it's easier not to hear these things about someone else. Maybe because it makes you think about yourself.

I don't know. But I do know that, for me, it's healthy and it helps - not just me but others. Whether online when someone can relate or in real life.

I'm braver and bolder with what I share since positive reactions to my honesty, both online and otherwise, but that's not to say I share it all.

Even in the situations and stories I share, not all the details are there. The aim is to be helpful not just to share my hurt, and so they're edited. Because some things you keep for yourself.

So, how much do you share? And how much should we share?

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