The path to recovery and good health is a sensitive one. It’s not always in one direction. Forward at times, backward, and even sideways.
I look back at my days of depression. It took years to regain my health.
I didn’t leave the house very often. I didn’t have the self-confidence. In time, I didn’t have the desire. The people of my hometown treated me poorly, the discrimination I encountered was troubling and made me settle in at my place.
I went looking for a new world. I found one online.
The first site that provided some comfort was the Canadian Mental Health Association. There had posted a list of symptoms for depression. I read through it, checked off most of them—insomnia, isolation, no joy in life. I was starting to feel like I might fit somewhere, in a group of people who had mental illness. I felt good.
I realized I was not alone, though I sat at my desk alone.
I continued to look for both information and opportunities with this deep interest to learn about mental illness. Why had my life come undone? That question was most prominent.
In terms of opportunities, I thought I may find something to do with my life.
One day as I searched online, I read a post Glenn Close had written for the Huffington Post. She wrote about how she had co-founded BringChange2Mind, a mental health advocacy group. Her sister Jessie has bi-polar disorder, and Jessie’s son, Calen, has schizoaffective disorder. Glenn wanted to change how people look at mental health challenges. I checked out the website, then the facebook page. Glenn’s message—say the words out loud, say depression; say bi-polar disorder hit me hard. I was of the same view. Through my presentations at conferences, I had been saying the words out loud.
I had two friends on facebook at the time, my niece and nephew. I wasn’t even sure how facebook worked then…still not too sure! Over a couple of weeks, I posted some comments, and one day, received a private message from Nancy of BC2M. She asked to speak with me. I had lots of time to talk! We chatted the following day for about an hour, after which I was invited to become a volunteer. Neither of us knew what that would involve as it was all new. That was in December, 2009.
I went on to become the admin of the BC2M facebook page for two years. I also responded to legal inquiries. As BC2M evolved, I grew, too. The volunteers met in New York City for a weekend. It was an occasion to meet my fellow volunteers and we found it wonderful to share our stories.
Emotions flowed deeply.
The most interactive activity came from a random post. I was new to facebook and one quiet Saturday afternoon, I thought to post a music clip, Joe Cocker’s, “With a Little Help From My Friends.” It became hugely popular. People liked it, commented and shared. The song was a good fit for those of us with mental illness. The following Saturday night, I launched BC2M Music Night, where I got into the habit of posting 25-30 music clips over three hours. People came together and a real community was formed. Friendships were shaped that continue today. We used to get 4,000–5,000 people each music night. It ran for two years, with just four nights missed.
I mention all this because it filled my days and nights. My work with BC2M became a source for friendships. A mostly online resource served me so well, and yet I also learned volunteering can be rewarding and enjoyable. I was enjoying my life.
I was happy!
My role with BC2M gave me the most substantial help in my recovery of any online group. People trusted me; they sought my opinion.
The reason, I believe was becasue online connections led to personal connections. I made online friends who I later met in person. I had occasion to meet my BC2M friends. I met Glenn, Jessie and Calen several times. Jessie and I are in regular contact by email. Meeting allows the subsequent emailer to better connect. The personal intimacy creates a sense of empathy and understanding that no email or website can match.
Given our world, we are online creatures. GMP has a website and facebook page. Other groups are similar. I have my own mental health initiative, Worth Living, with a website and a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Social media is here to stay!
But I suggest we need to raise the interaction standard and instill that personal connection. Then I know real change will follow.
“What would you do if I sang out of tune
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song
And I’ll try not to sing out of key
Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends
Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends”
Photo credit: Getty Images