FINDING A COMMUNITY ONLINE FOR MY MENTAL HEALTH
Depression is a lonely diagnosis. You have no physical symptoms that tell the world what’s going on inside of you, nothing to outwardly identify and unite yourself with others who might be struggling. It’s a diagnosis we tend to keep private, making it even more difficult to seek guidance and understanding. When I was diagnosed with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), I felt a lot of things, but mainly, alone.
PMDD is a condition that has severe symptoms including depression, irritability, and tension before menstruation. These symptoms are more extreme than those seen with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and because of the highs and lows it causes, it’s often misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder. It was impossible to comprehend how my cycle could have such a large impact on my life. Week by week, my emotions would drastically change, so much so that it became a daily struggle to work around.
Depression is a lonely diagnosis.
It was summer, one month after my PMDD diagnosis, and my friends and I were gathered for a weekend away. We had popped open some bottles of wine, cracked open a few beers, and were settling in for a nice long weekend of boating. The sun was trying to shine through the thick cloud cover, and we were bundled up in blankets on the top deck pretending it was the typical warm weather July usually promised. I was chatting with a friend about how I was doing since the diagnosis, keeping things pretty surface level. We talked about my first few therapy sessions and the adjustment to my new medication when another friend interrupted us.
“I wish I had your problems. I wouldn’t be complaining if I did,” my friend said. I sat very still in response, shock and pain quickly registered on my face. Silently, I nodded in reply and retreated to the bedroom, shutting myself in for hours.
There were friends and family that supported me, offering kind words and wishes and ears open for empathy. But no one really “got it” unless they too struggled with mental health issues. I’d hear things like, “Why can’t you just get over it? Turn that negativity into positivity!” But what they didn’t understand is that these all-consuming feelings, my emotions, have the ability to take over everything. Things might be going pretty great, but then suddenly, it can feel like the world is out to get you. I’d hear my mind say, Every person you interact with hates you. You don’t want to face another day. You don’t deserve another day.
I felt alone, so much so that I chose to remain alone. I didn’t think there were other options.
I felt alone, so much so that I chose to remain alone. I didn’t think there were other options. I didn’t talk much about my diagnosis, because it felt like no one understood me. It was like I could almost hear people sigh from exasperation when I would turn to them to tell my story. I frequently cancelled plans, often bailing last minute because I was mid-breakdown and I knew I wouldn’t be able to pull myself together. I removed myself from society as much as I could. I hid, and I let my mind dictate my schedule.
Like many millennials, I spent my days looking for distractions on social media. I scrolled, I liked, I followed. And then I paused. A lengthy post by a social media queen Taylor Loren shared that recently she’d struggled being social and getting out of bed. But that day, she felt good, and was celebrating experiencing a moment of happiness. I read and reread her caption, feeling for the first time like there was someone out there who understood me. Naturally I cried, and it felt as if something opened up inside of me, as if something had been released.
And then I found more.
More posts from Taylor. More inspirational people sharing their emotional ups and downs. Kate Arends from Wit & Delight shares vulnerably about her struggles with ADHD and postpartum depression. She breaks down the barriers between her and her brand, letting her followers know she doesn’t have it together all the time, just like me. I feel like she’s always reading my mind, because every one of her posts seems to resonate with how I’m feeling at the time. Whether my depression is making me feel lost in my career, my relationship, or just my everyday life in general, Kate is there, experiencing it right along with me.
Interacting with people behind your phone, or computer, makes it a little easier to be vulnerable.
My tattoo artist Nico is a powerful woman who too has moments of weakness. She doesn’t pretend to be perfect all the time, but chooses to share detailed descriptions of when she’s struggling, can’t focus on tasks, or needs some time for herself. She’s bold in accepting when she needs to hit pause, and by reading her posts or dm’ing her, she assures me it’s okay to have down time.
Reading people’s deep and personal struggles, their progress, their triumphs, helped me realize I wasn’t quite as alone as I had thought.
We know that social media can have negative effects on people’s mental health. It can be a platform for bullying, and can inspire unnatural comparison and feelings of personal inadequacy. But it can also be a place of storytelling, bonding, and vulnerability. And that’s what it’s proven to be for me.
I went from reading and absorbing posts, to commenting and creating a dialogue. Learning that someone has gone through something similar made me feel like my emotions were finally validated. As I started to connect and share, others chimed in with support. It was like having a virtual cheering squad. One said “YES GIRL, that’s a thing!” in response to my admitting, “Today was hard.”
Suddenly, a community revealed itself to me. One that understood me.
For me, social media is an avenue for creating strong personal relationships with intense vulnerability. Maybe it’s because you can bond with a large mass of people quickly, and because you’re often in a safe space (rather than face to face). Interacting with people behind your phone, or computer, makes it a little easier to be vulnerable.
But it can happen in real life too. One fall day, a normal kind of Tuesday at work, I got a message on my computer from a coworker. They were having an anxiety attack and didn’t know what to do. I grabbed water, tissues, my trusty essential oils, and met them for quiet conversation, offering a hand to hold. It was just three months prior that this same coworker shared with me that they had read my social media post about my diagnosis, and thanked me for being so open.
No matter the platform, sharing creates the opportunity to connect. And it can be incredibly impactful. Being open and vulnerable can allow others to feel less alone. Where I once felt like I didn’t deserve another day on this earth, I now feel love from so many people around me — many of whom I’ve never even met face-to-face. Social media has given me the freedom to no longer be afraid of my diagnosis, but rather wear it with pride. For anyone feeling alone, with any sort of mental illness, you have a community awaiting you. I’m here to be any source of comfort I can be.
If you ever need an ear, feel free to reach out to me on Instagram @lauradawnrobbins.
If you are seeking help with your mental health and live in the U.S, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
If you live in Canada, visit the government website for crisis links.