Depression can be isolating.
As much as friends and family rallied around me when I was first diagnosed with the condition in 2012, I still felt alone most of the time. Sitting at home whilst my husband was at work, I was alone. Staying in at the weekends, too anxious to visit the local pub. I was alone. Even when I did venture out with friends, I often found myself hiding in the toilets to get some privacy to cry. It seemed like being alone was just part and parcel of being depressed, and quite honestly the easiest way to get by.
Not talking to people meant not really having to acknowledge my situation. I didn’t want to have to tell people that I was unemployed. That I had given up a well-paid job because my brain had stopped working and I was unable to carry out basic tasks. I didn’t want to have to justify my time off, or that I was claiming benefits to help pay for food, and that I had no idea when I would be able to function normally again. I didn’t want to admit that some days I slept for 16 hours, then had to convince myself to shower at 9pm. This wasn’t a time in my life for talking. I thought this was a time to get my head down, avoid everyone and just get better.
But in my fortress of solitude, I quickly became bored.
I didn’t realise how much my previous job had meant to be in terms of feeling like a helpful human being. I really hated my job, but at least I felt needed. I contributed to something bigger. As a manager, my team relied on me. The business needed someone to run it and I was that person. And so sitting at home in my own filth quickly lost its appeal. I needed a reason to get up in the morning (or more likely, the afternoon) and blogging seemed to tick that box.
I started a blog about fitness, something which I had started to get into just before I was diagnosed with depression. Back then, fitness blogs were all the rage so I felt like it was a space where I could slot in without being noticed. But eventually, I realised that I really wasn’t going to fit into the internet’s idea of what a fitness blogger should be. I became obsessed with exercising, dieting and losing weight. I was intent on building muscle and getting abs at any cost. It all came crashing down a few years later when I found myself caught in a relentless cycle of restricting and binge eating. I vowed that I would never try to look like a body I saw on Instagram. My body was just fine.
That’s when it all changed for me. My fitness blog became a mental health blog, without me even realising it. I shared my thoughts on body image, alcohol, the physical symptoms of depression and the crippling reality of living with anxiety. Whilst others wrote in journals hidden away from prying eyes, I decided to write my innermost thoughts digitally, and published them online for anyone to read. At first, no one really read them at all, and that was fine by me. I was slowly opening up about my mental illness, and admitting to myself that I was not OK. After a few months of uploading a few blog posts every week, I began to get comments, messages and emails from complete strangers who said they identified with what I was writing about. I found myself in conversation with people every day on Twitter, Instagram or in the comments section of my blog, and every single person I spoke to was just like me. Depressed. Anxious. Struggling to function. Feeling alone. But all of a sudden, I went from sitting at home on my tod tapping quietly on my laptop, to being digitally surrounded by people who really got me. People who knew I didn’t need solutions or motivational talk. People who knew that it’s OK to feel shit. This too shall pass.
When I moved from Glasgow to Birmingham in 2016, I felt a new kind of isolation. I didn’t know anyone nearby and had to think on my feet when it came to making friends. Internet to the rescue! I connected with people on Twitter and found a Facebook group dedicated to local bloggers. I forced myself to go to events and meet-ups, even though my anxiety screamed at me to stay home and pretend I was OK without anyone. Thank goodness I did, because now I have a small network of amazing friends who I couldn’t live without.
The internet isn’t perfect. I’ve read all the headlines about how social media is ruining the youth of today and leading to depression and social anxiety. But I had those conditions before I ever really became immersed in the online world. Mental illness is always going to be an issue with or without exposure to the internet. The trick is using social media as a tool and figuring out how it can actually help your existence instead of hindering it.
That’s why I wrote my memoir Depression in a Digital Age. I want to change the narrative around mental health and social media because not everyone feels worse when they log on. I’ve had my issues with comparison online, and you’ll read in the book that I it took over my life. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Now when I’m scrolling I feel less isolated, scared and weird for not having my shit together. My tribe of lovable weirdos are the ones who get me through the day, give me a pat on the pack when I need it the most and tell me everything is going to be OK. My advice? Go find your weirdos.
-Bloom From The Darkness
Fiona Thomas is a mental health writer and has been published in the Metro, Happiful Magazine and Grazia. Her memoir Depression in a Digital Age is an extension of her work and is a testament to all that is possible online. She is also the co-host of the Positive People Podcast.