Bad days, social media and posting from the pit

I realise I only seem to post three things on this blog these days:

1) Nothing
2) Book reviews
3) Long-winded updates on the state of my own mental health

I will genuinely try to change that in the near future. There’s some quite exciting stuff going on with The War of Undoing and SPFBO 2017 which I haven’t even talked about here yet because I’m rubbish. I should also have another batch of book reviews up soon, when I finally finish up Robin Hobb’s delightful Farseer Trilogy. But for now all you’re getting is a classic example of the third thing on that list. Sorry!

So… I just had a bad day. It’s not in my top ten worst days ever – probably not even in my top hundred – but it’s one of the worst days I’ve had since starting my medication just over a year ago. (As mentioned in my posts from back then, I’m taking fluoxetine, which for me has generally been a godsend.)

Yesterday was the sort of day that would be edited out of the film of my life because it doesn’t fit with the overall narrative arc, and because my motivations don’t entirely make sense, and because everything has to make sense, right? God, films are such filthy liars.

I had a feeling as soon as I woke up that it wasn’t going to be a great day. I haven’t been sleeping well in general, and this time my racing mind had kept me up till 4am, meaning I’d only grabbed a few hours’ sleep. But I’d already said I’d help with a friend’s film project, so I got up and went out anyway. I didn’t leave myself time for breakfast, which in retrospect was Pretty Damn Stupid. I should have learned by now that keeping oneself more or less physically okay (i.e. not on the verge of falling apart from hunger, thirst, tiredness, cold, discomfort etc.) is absolutely essential for staving off unexpected anxiety ambushes.

So a day which should have been a pleasant day helping some of my best friends to make a short film turned into something unnecessarily stressful. The number of people present was probably two or three more than I can reliably interact with without eventually feeling overwhelmed. And so I gradually shut down and stopped contributing to conversations. After a bit, I stepped outside the room to clear my head and get out of everyone’s way for a while. Another mistake – I should have known that when I withdraw from a social situation in this way, I find it very awkward to walk back into it even if I want to.

My anxiety spiralled as I thought about how many times this has happened before and how stupid it is that it’s still happening, how many times I’ve thought I’d put all this nonsense behind me and was on the path to being a normal person who doesn’t disappear from social gatherings for no reason. And of course, once you start down the path of thinking you’re fundamentally broken and can’t be around people (a well-trodden path in my mind) your behaviour gets weirder to match, and makes you feel even more like an alien. It’s a vicious circle, and one I still haven’t learned to break, except by going home and feeling bad about myself for a while, maybe sending a few apologetic messages and vowing to try harder not to let this sort of thing happen again.

So I ended up walking off and heading home early, without telling anyone in advance that I was going to do it. I did send a message to my friend who was in charge of the shoot to let him know I was going. That’s a small step forward I suppose, because several times in the past I’ve been guilty of disappearing from social gatherings without a word of explanation, too afraid to even check my messages afterwards. It’s caused my friends to worry in a way that still makes me ashamed to think of. That’s one thing I’ve made a serious vow never to do again, and I hope to keep it.

So yeah, that was yesterday. Well, that followed by a lot of sitting around staring into space, typing “help me” into Google, thinking I probably shouldn’t exist, and other such massively therapeutic activities.

Believe it or not, I don’t particularly like filling my blog with these accounts of how anxiety and depression feel. They’re not pretty or much fun to read. They rarely cast me in a good light. I doubt they’re even especially interesting except to a very niche market. But sometimes… I just feel like I HAVE to create a record of it all outside my own head. Firstly to crystallise my thoughts and stop them writhing around my brain like a basket of tentacles. But also to prove (to myself? to people I know? to the universe at large? I have no idea) that it’s a real thing. I’m no expert, but if I can generalise from some of my own messed up thought processes, I supsect this may be one of the impulses that leads people to self-harm: the need for some exterior reflection of the hurt they’re suffering inside. At least by leaving ugly scars on my social media presence, I’m not leaving them on my body. Granted, it’s probably still not a great idea. Unlikely as it seems, people might read this blog looking for information on that book of mine, and instead they find this depressing garbage. Oh well. Just one of the many reasons I’m not good at self-promotion.

A more conscious reason I tend to post more on social media when I’m sad than when I’m happy is that I don’t like the way social media skews so far towards the happy and jokey – or at least more socially acceptable negativity of “rrr I’m so angry at this thing” or “ugh, I missed the bus this morning”. It often gives me the impression, when I’m in one of my I’m-not-a-proper-human-what’s-wrong-with-me-I’ll-never-find-anyone-who-truly-loves-me moods, that all my friends (and assorted internet randoms) live in a sitcom world where they may have the odd bad day now and then, get into a few daft scrapes, but in the end it’s okay because they know who they are and where they fit in and are constantly surrounded by beautiful people who are there to pick them up whenever they stumble.

Even the stories you hear of adversity tend to be told in the past tense, with a hopeful twist at the end such as “but I got better, and you can too!” or “and now I can fit my whole body inside ONE leg of my old trousers!”. As a rule, people don’t write from the bottom of the pit. When they do, it feels almost like a breach of social media etiquette. People posting cries for help often seem to be ignored or labelled as attention seekers by their friends (which always gives me a mini-existential crisis as I question what the hell the word “friend” even means to people who aren’t me these days).

Maybe some see social media as a “safe space” where people shouldn’t talk about depressing things, for fear of upsetting others. Well. While I’m definitely not one of those people who think safe spaces, trigger warnings and such are for losers, I do think the concept of them is somewhat flawed, in that VERY different things are going to trigger different people. I know personally that when I’m depressed, one of the things MOST likely to send me spiralling even deeper is to immerse myself in a bright, illusory online world where everyone else seems to be happy and fulfilled in a way I can’t even comprehend, while I press my face to the outside of the glass like a creep.

If social media were a more balanced representation of reality, perhaps those of us with mental health issues wouldn’t be made to feel so inferior to the population at large. And perhaps the taboo around mental health – which people keep talking about shattering but which still has the power to bring conversations to a screeching halt rather more often than is ideal – might actually fade away for good, and help people help each other.

In conclusion: by posting long self-indulgent rambles about my feelings, I’m actually carrying out a vital public service, bringing balance to the world of social media. In a way, by not ending this post on a hopeful note, I’m doing a good thing… which is kinda hopeful I guess? Is it? In which case, I’m not doing a good thing, and it isn’t actually hopeful??? Oh dear. Looks like I’m ending on a paradox. There’s a whole ‘nother basket of tentacles for you…