All in the mind

Now, is there some way I can get somebody to play a fanfare or something?   I mean, after featuring on national radio last night, I feel I should make a bit of an entrance.  Nothing too fancy.  Something quiet and low-key like the state opening of parliament should cover it.  I shouldn’t need more than about – ooh – 30 trumpeters, anyway…

Ideas above my station?  Me?

Ahem.  So anyway, this blog was mentioned very briefly on the radio last night.  In total, about 7 seconds was dedicated to discussing my blog.  Yes, folks, you did read that right, a whole 7 seconds.  I don’t care, I’m still pathetically excited…

If you want to listen to the whole programme (and I heartily recommend that you do), you can use the BBC’s listen again feature, or alternatively the discussion of blogging that made up the first part of the programme has been posted at Mentally Interesting: The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive.

I am, of course, thrilled to have been mentioned, and I want to say an especial thanks to Mandy for giving my blog an extra little plug, and for being kind enough to say she liked my blog name.  I also want to say about both contributors, in the style of Bruce Forsyth, “Didn’t they do well?”  It seems to me that both of them were incredibly open and honest, and gave a really eloquent account of why they blog, and why mental health blogging is such a worthwhile thing to do.  I think – and I really do mean this – that they did all of us MH bloggers proud.

Other things being equal, I might have gone on to give a bit more of a detailed review, and maybe add in a few of my own thoughts, but I don’t feel I should do that on this occasion.  You see, I have a bit of a revelation to make.

(A revelation?  Ooh, the suspense!  You’re just going to have to click on that read more thing now, aren’t you…?)

I had a certain amount of email contact with the producer of the programme, with a view to my possibly being involved in the discussion.  My name had been put forward by Mandy (for which, again, I’m very grateful), but in the end I decided that I didn’t want to be directly involved (though, of course, there’s no guarantee that the producer would have thought I was worthy of taking part, even if I’d wanted to).  There were two reasons why I decided not to.

The first was really just practical – I get incredibly anxious about pretty much everything at the moment, but one of the things I’m most anxious about is social contact.  Obviously, there wouldn’t have been a vast amount of social contact involved – it’s not as though I was being asked to speak in front of a real-life audience – but it still seemed very likely to me that I wouldn’t have actually been able to make it into the studio.  Even if I had made it into the studio, I doubt I would have been able to contribute anything more than saying “Er….” a lot.  I know I can come across as quite articulate on this blog, but it’s easy to appear articulate when you’re sitting in your own front room, and you have the chance to obsessively re-write every word as many times as you want to.  One of the reasons I was so impressed with Seaneen and Mandy is that they managed to be so articulate in what must have been a really nerve-wracking situation.

The second reason I decided I didn’t want to take part is because I wanted to stay anonymous.  Both Seaneen and Mandy are a whole lot braver than I am, and are prepared to attach their real identities to their blogs.  I don’t want to do that, partly because if people knew who I was I’d feel the need to be much more circumspect when it came to mentioning other people in my blog.  Also, revealing myself in that way would make me feel very vulnerable, and feeling vulnerable is usually a trigger for my paranoia.  I’ve been having quite a few problems with paranoia of late, so I decided it wouldn’t be sensible to do anything that might make it worse.

The producer was very understanding when I explained why I had changed my mind, and asked me to email her with the reasons I thought MH blogging has become so popular.  I think my answers formed part of the background research for the programme, and certainly I felt that the ghosts of one or two things I’d said in my email might have formed part of a couple of the questions put by the presenter.  I thought it might be interesting for you to read what I had to say, so this is the relevant part of the email I sent:

I think there are probably as many reasons for mental health blogging as there are mental health bloggers, and it would probably be a mistake to assume that everyone who blogs gets the same things out of it.  That said, there are really three things that I find helpful about blogging.

Firstly, it helps to counteract social isolation.  I am pretty isolated from friends and family, and blogging has given me a way of interacting with people that I can handle far more easily than face-to-face meetings.  There is, for me, a real sense of community among mental health bloggers, and because we’ve all had similar experiences we can empathise more easily with each other’s problems, and also celebrate each other’s successes.  The whole of the mental health blog community is really a very friendly and supportive place.

Secondly, the mental health blog community is self-originated and self-sustaining.  There are one or two MH professionals who join in, but by and large it’s made up of people who have personal experience of mental health problems.  That’s important because organisations and activities that are run by others on behalf of people who are mentally ill, although they’re tremendously well-intentioned, can end up feeling very worthy and rather po-faced.  Most mental health bloggers take an irreverent and self-deprecating approach to their own problems, at least some of the time – given that I mainly read blogs by people who are mentally ill, it’s amazing how often I come across things that are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.  That’s helpful in itself – chances to laugh about things don’t come along all that often when you’re mentally ill – but trying to write about some of my own experiences in a (hopefully) amusing way is also very useful, because it encourages me to think about things in a different way, and that helps me to avoid my usual well-worn patterns of thinking.

Finally, writing a blog gives me an opportunity to write and think about things that aren’t necessarily connected to my health.  There’s a danger that people who work in mental health can sometimes think of those of us who are mentally ill as a walking collection of symptoms rather than as a person.  Even conversations with friends and family usually start with ‘How have you been feeling?’, and don’t always move on from that.  I find writing a blog is a very useful way of reminding myself, and maybe even a few other people as well, that although I have a mental illness, being mentally ill doesn’t entirely define me, and that I’m still a person with thoughts and feelings that are unconnected to my health.

So, there you go, that’s the sort of things I’d have been planning to say if I’d decided to take part in the programme.  As I say, what I’d have been planning to say.  What I would have actually said, of course, would have been a whole lot less well worked out, and I’d have been saying it in a small, frightened, shaking voice.  And it’s not as though I was missed from the discussion – Mandy and Seaneen said everything that needed saying, I think, and they certainly covered all the topics I’d thought of.

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13 Responses to All in the mind

  1. Alex says:

    *seethes with jealousy* ;)
    Seriously, congratulations on the rise to fame. You’re going to have to start throwing mobile phones at people and having tantrums in public if you’re going to be a bona-fide celebrity, though.
    Definitely hearing you on both reasons not to be interviewed. I don’t think I’d have felt able to go on national radio either (obviously, much kudos to Mandy and Seaneen for doing exactly that). I’m not sure bravery comes into blogging by a real identity, though; I just did a post about that, and I kind of feel it just comes down to what the individual blogger is comfortable with.
    Also, most certainly with you on the blogging-as-anti-social-isolation thing. The MH blogging community provides a real sense of… well, erm, community. Who knows, maybe the media exposure will inspire some more people to join in.

  2. cb says:

    I enjoyed listening to the programme and was really pleased to hear the mention. You have a unique place in the blogosphere and add a great deal to it as a whole. On a mildly related but not entirely, story, I was approached about the Baby P thing (to get a view from a ‘real’ social worker!) and refused firstly because I would freeze up and blubber – especially if challenged and second because of the whole anonymity thing, so I know what you mean about it.
    I’m not really in and among the mental health blogging community but see myself as vaguely peripheral. It has been massively useful to me especially when people are critical of services. I hope more people who are in a position to change things do read and understand some more about the day to day issues that aren’t necessarily discussed in the ‘one hour’ meetings that we sometimes have.

  3. Mandy says:

    Hi A

    I fully appreciate why you wanted to keep your anonymity and when your blog name was mentioned, I came over all exicted. I think it was the only time in the interview I got a bit hyper. Was great to hear your blog mentioned and I think what you contributed (your own reasons for blogging) were honest and poignant.

    I think if I had written something, it would have been more contraversial and possibly more interesting. Being on the spot and responding, although there was interaction and possibly relevant banter from me really didn’t get to the heart of things. Really though, there wasn’t enough time.

    Mind you it wasn’t that kind of interview. Not dissing it because what there was was important and related to blogland but I want to see many people with mental illness being sought out by the media. I don’t want some new clique of the acceptable face of lunacy. And that is not putting Senean and myself down. I think Senean has a talent, in the way she expresses herself, and that is good for her and people coming into contact with her but as ever I am the democrat and I want more experiences heard of and shared (whatever they may be)

    Glad the interview raised your profile. Hope more people come along and read your blog. :>)

  4. Hmpf, Mandy, I’m not some sort of ambassador nor trying to be. Please don’t paint me as a limelight seeker.

  5. (Sorry, that was possibly knee jerk but I’m a bit offended by that implication. Or maybe I’m being paranoid! Wouldn’t be the first time! Sorry if I am.)

  6. Mandy says:

    Hi Senean

    Sorry if you took the comment personally. It was not personal.

    Is a view I have held for a long time that the media will zoom in on people rather than spread it’s wings.

    In fact if anyone is guilty of getting media attention it is me. I have already done an interview for The Big Issue. One in which I said I felt more people should be contacted to be interviewed. Subsequently nobody else was interviewed for the article (well apart from someone represting MIND but they aren’t dealing with indiviudal perspectives and experiences) and it made me wonder why.

    I do think Fiona Hill tried to get others involved in the Radio 4 Programme and it is a shame that that didn’t come to pass. I don’t write this to try and guilt trip Aethelread as I fully understand why people would wish to keep certain aspects of their lives private. I do think that privacy could be respected and quality interviews still take place …but maybe we are in the early days of getting fair media attention and any step in the right direction is better than none.

    We all need to do what we feel is better for us and having sub-sequently hammered myself about what I should and shouldn’t have said during the interview and how crap listening to myself made me feel, I can appreciate how sensitive these things can make people and I don’t want you to feel anything more than a real sense of achievement for doing it.

    You came across really well. Take care

  7. mo says:

    I thought both of you did extremely well. You both spoke confidently and articulately which is far from easy in the dry environment of a studio, especially so for folks that haven’t done media training. Well done!

    Hi Aethelread, thanks to your 7 seconds of fame on the prog I’m paying my first visit here.

    It was interesting to read your reasons for blogging and yes, you’re right, we all do it for slightly different reasons.

    Best Wishes

  8. cellar_door says:

    “because organisations and activities that are run by others on behalf of people who are mentally ill, although they’re tremendously well-intentioned, can end up feeling very worthy and rather po-faced”

    Oh yes, definitely. Whenever I find myself involved with those organisations, I always have the desire to say something completely un-pc or make a joke about mental illness. I know they mean well, but they take it all so seriously! Not that it isn’t serious, but y’know…

    Anyway, congrats on your new-found almost-fame! ;0) x

  9. Thanks, Mandy. Apologies. Bad day happening over here.

    On Aethelread’s post:

    Most mental health bloggers take an irreverent and self-deprecating approach to their own problems, at least some of the time – given that I mainly read blogs by people who are mentally ill, it’s amazing how often I come across things that are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. That’s helpful in itself – chances to laugh about things don’t come along all that often when you’re mentally ill – but trying to write about some of my own experiences in a (hopefully) amusing way is also very useful, because it encourages me to think about things in a different way, and that helps me to avoid my usual well-worn patterns of thinking.

    This is my favourite and most surprising thing about mental health blogs. I read a ton of blogs, but the mental health bloggers I read are by far the funniest, most grounded, most damn nail on the head of the lot. I think people worry about wading into a sea of misery. Yeah, sometimes it is, it’s the nature of the beast, but I love the way people express themselves on mental health blogs. Even the weirdest things like psychiatrist’s eyebrows are bought to life. The privacy and secrecy around the whole mechanics of treatment in the NHS is debunked in glorious fashion.

    If we’re namedropping great blogs, yours obviously being great too, Lola Snow‘s is fantastic. She’s so funny, and so honest. I think she’s great.

  10. I listened to the broadcast. Thanks for sharing the link. Congratulations! :)

  11. Lola Snow says:

    Wow, I’m gone toasty pink :)
    There is a wealth of talent in the mental health Blogosphere, I lurk in most of your blogs, and am considering cloning myself in order to cover more ground!

    Lola x

  12. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for all the comments. There’s probably a few too many for me to go through answering them all one-by-one, but they are all appreciated. :o)

    Just a couple of things i wanted to say. I think it bears being said again – for my money, both Mandy and Seaneen did a BRILLIANT job in their interviews. I think both of you have maybe been feeling a bit ambivalent about taking part since, because you’re worried that you’re going to have been seen as media representatives for all mentally ill people everywhere. I actually don’t think there’s too much danger of that – they were very chatty and informal interviews, which i think makes it obvious you were both just thinking and speaking for yourselves. Certainly that’s the impression i came away with, and by speaking in such a personal, specific way you were both really good ambassadors for the MH blogosphere, beacuse personal expression is what it’s all about. :o)

    I also agree with Alex – it’d be great if the programme inspires a few (or even a lot) more people with MH problems to start blogging.

  13. Zoe says:

    I was thrilled with Seaneen and Mandy’s appearance, and also very interested, A, to hear that you had been approached, and to read what you wrote them, so wonderfully well expressed. As you say though, writing stuff down is a whole other thing to having to have a little chat into a microphone with a few million people listening. The very thought of it makes my heart flutter so a big thank you and bloody well done to both the ladies! I bask in your reflected fame and glory!

    Like Mandy, I would like to see a load of other mental health bloggers getting out there and strutting their stuff. But who knows, maybe Mohammed will come to the mountain yet… Word will get out about this funky li’l community and we’ll all get our fifteen minutes at last. As Saint Morrissey used to intone sententiously ‘You should not go to them, let them come to you/Just like I do, just like I do.’

    Excuse the slight foray into hypomania exhibited in the last paragraph. It’s all the excitement you see.

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