Editor’s Note: The Internet is a double-edged sword. Our reader and person-in-recovery, Claire, talks about how important it is to be selective of the types of online communities we become part of in our search for answers, and how this impacts mental health recovery.
I believe this also applies to any information we find online. In a day and age where information (and mis-information) is rife, this story is a good reminder for us to practice wisdom and discernment when finding help online.
Across the globe, culture and practices differ vastly. However, it seems like the stigma on mental illness is universal. We are called “crazy” by people, just because we have been diagnosed with a mental condition. Regardless of the condition – mood disorders, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, psychosis, what have you – we are labelled thus, and then cast aside. What have we done about this? We formed our very own international community online.
I was 14 when I first discovered this community. I had created an anonymous Twitter account, and through tags, I found this community. It is extremely exclusive. I was immediately drawn in because it felt like people finally understood me, and I finally belonged. Most of us are adolescents or young adults and we have our own lingo and acronyms, and even have a set of unspoken rules and protocols. Rules included not allowing people you know in real life to follow you on Twitter, unless it is with an anonymous account, and placing trigger warnings where necessary.
While this community gave me the company I yearned for and, a lot of the time, has talked me out of suicide, it was also extremely toxic in other ways.
Amongst us, there are as many “pro” people – people who supported unhealthy activities such as self-harm and eating disorders – as there are people trying to recover. These two groups of people are constantly at war, berating each other and repeatedly reporting each other to the Twitter admins for “inappropriate content”. I myself did likewise when I saw a friend of mine being bullied for giving people tips on hiding self-inflicted cuts. I did not feel like it justified the bullying, but the others felt that it was necessary. These kinds of conflict are always present in the community.
There were people within the community who really wanted to help. However, we were all young, struggling and could barely keep ourselves afloat. Many times, we did not do a very good job pulling each other up and in fact pulled each other down unconsciously. We did not want to let go of such relationships because we feared being alone. This dependency lead to extremely unhealthy relationships between members of the community.
In time I came to see that we were essentially hypocritical suicidal kids taking turns to talk each other out of suicide. Eventually I realised that it has, unfortunately, done more harm than good. I found myself actively seeking out pro-self-harm accounts so that I could convince myself that there was nothing wrong with it, and alleviate the sense of guilt momentarily. I tried to help so many people at the same time that I neglected myself. I was unhappy that my account had so few followers, while others garnered hundreds, at times even thousands – what made their suffering more important than mine? Why was their suffering recognised, but not mine? News articles of teenagers who have committed suicide were perpetually scattered around my timeline, as well as stories of people who never recovered. All of this dragged me down, and I lost all intrinsic motivation to stay alive.
Today, a little over five years later, I am still a part of this community, but I have learned to be discerning and built myself up against content that might hinder my recovery.
Unfortunately, this took me over four years to learn, and its damage has already been done. I cannot deny that this online community somehow or the other played a part in my hospitalisations and suicide attempts in the interim.
Perhaps, if we could provide adolescents facing mental health issues with real and healthy support, they would not have to resort to seeking support in such toxic online communities. One way is to work on eradicating the stigma so that they are not afraid to speak up, and do not have to resort to hiding behind a fake name on the internet. There are many more ways to provide support. Any suggestions?
Claire is currently pursuing a degree in Psychology and is working towards becoming a counsellor or therapist. She was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in 2011. She writes in the hope of making a difference and eradicating mental illness stigma at http://dinoclaire.wordpress.com
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