Which Came First: the Anxiety Disorder or the Blog?


mental illness

Bloggers are weird. Well, weird bloggers are good bloggers I suspect. Sometimes I like to tell myself that people read this site  because I’m just like everyone else. Only I know I’m not just like everyone else because three hours ago I was sitting on a Southwest Airlines flight saving two seats and a guy with those bubbly gross Invisalign teeth whispered, “Fuck You” to me because I wouldn’t give up the good seats so I just smiled and tapped my teeth. I can sniff out vanity and attack it with the speed of a rattlesnake striking an exposed ankle.

I’d like to think I’m just like everyone else but I’m not sure the world could handle 7 billion Invisialign mocking seat savers. My flaws make me readable but not necessarily likable. I’m not trying to fix them (my flaws). Another flaw I have is an inability to make changes until I’m good and ready.

The weirdness of bloggers is clearly what makes them irresistible, readable, interesting and engaging. Readers think they want to know about someone who is living a life like their own, but they don’t. They want to read about what life could be, they want something to aspire to and if pinterest is proof of anything it’s proof that we all want to indulge fantasies of our most beautiful lives while we browse the net. We enjoy looking inside upper middle class homes on the days that the help has been there. If readers aren’t in the mood to reach for the stars it’s always fun to watch someone take the journey of a lifetime. Perhaps a single mother or an adoptive one. Perhaps the mother of a child with a disability or someone fighting the system.

We enjoy watching strong women wage war. Blogs are fun when readers know there will be a victor and so often women (especially mothers) just know that things will work out even if she has to beat a dying horse for years on end. Readers enjoy watching bloggers conquer illnesses both physical and mental. Blogs get popular when there’s a villain. Cancer, depression and autoimmune diseases make great villains. They’re indisputably bad and readers are able to celebrate victories with some regularity.

I’ve made my living online for the past 14 years. I’ve spent fourteen years with my office consisting of a corner of the house, a computer, a mass of cell phones and for five of those years an awful lot of inventory (including some irresistible couture). In those fourteen years I learned how to not let my work take over my life, I learned how to do business with friends and stay friendly, I learned how to walk away from business in the interest of maintaining friendships and I learned how to walk away from my work at the end of a work day (which should not be confused for the end of the day). I have learned to be outside more. I learned that what I do is not who I am even when the work is deeply personal, even when for all intents and purposes my job has been to share a journal with the world.

I’ve learned none of these lessons with grace or humility. That would be too easy. Every lesson I’ve learned has come with some level of failure, pain and personal expense. I learned how to walk away from my office when my house felt like a prison. I learned that the right number of work hours for my family was less than what I’d been working. I learned to delegate. I learned to hire people and I learned to tell my own stories and no one else’s if I wanted to have friends.

I learned that I absolutely needed to stop talking about myself because I’m not that interesting. I learned to ask questions of others and I learned that I’m not particularly special unless I’m giving. I learned that spending all of our days and nights thinking of how to write about ourselves and our experiences make us mentally unstable.

These lessons came like vaccines. I got a little shot of poison and it stung. Sometimes the sting was enough to make me to make me cry and more often that not it was in public so a small dose of shame came with it. I’m not a quick study and, like most vaccines, there were frequent small shots that came at me rapid fire until I had learned the necessary lesson.

A few years ago I started feeling lonely and a bit depressed. When I’d socialize I was anxious and having trouble connecting with the people around me. I felt like I had nothing to discuss and that everything worth talking about lived on my website. I was blogging every day (as I should be now) and actively participating in social media. I was doing my job and I’d like to think I was pretty good at it. I was very good at talking about myself. I was good at attacking complicated subjects and writing sentences that began with I or me (and yes, I do see the irony in this sentence and even in this post).

My job didn’t make me very good at my life so I had to make an effort to get out and and participate in my life a little bit more. I’m not sure that this is unique to bloggers or if perhaps it’s something that happens to more traditional writers and artists as well. I theorize that too much introspection, too much navel gazing is unhealthy and unproductive. The web may reward bloggers who become shut ins with either real or imagined anxiety disorders, depression, agorophobia, weight gain or other problems. Communities build and there are discussions about treatments and bravery and overcoming fear/anxiety/feelings. The world at large does not reward these neuroses. The world gets small and a small world is a very sad world. The world also notes that these disorders are often the luxury of pampered women who don’t have to leave the house to dig ditches to support their families. The world notices that hotel maids, dishwashers at roadside diners and seamstresses are all but free of these social fears.

I would never be so cruel as to suggest that a blogger could find a perfect balance. I don’t believe that a perfect balance exists for anyone, in any career. I do see an alarming trend in parenting and lifestyle bloggers. I see shut ins feeling sad and anxious and I know this sounds pollyanna of me but in most cases we’ve brought it on ourselves and it’s nothing a little sunshine won’t fix.

 Photo Credit Jennifer Mathis via creative commons. 

Telling Our Own Stories


In blogging it’s sometimes difficult to know which stories are ours to tell. Victoria has been pushed into the unimaginable situation of burying a nephew, a child and you can see here on AC that she’s beautiful and eloquent and protective of the surviving siblings and of her own child. There’s a #LoveForNoah hashtag on twitter that folks might want to follow.

It’s unimaginable that as I write this a family is burying a child so small. We don’t have words for this. We have widows and widowers, we have orphans but we have no words to describe parents who have lost children. Perhaps because there is no single word that could describe the pain. It’s terrifying that a community would have twenty pairs of parents with holes in their hearts and as a nation we feel some of what they feel. It’s a grief so palpable it radiaties coast to coast and beyond.

But it’s not our grief. Our kids are okay and many of them won’t know about this for a dozen years or more because they are too small to comprehend what has happened so recently. Let’s not burden anyone unnecessarily, let’s fight the urge to co-opt the grief of others for pageviews or attention.

We have problems folks. We have big problems with our media. They’re doing a pretty good job of keeping the story to the victims but we’ve been warned by mental health experts that our obscene coverage of this tragedy will bring about more shootings. When I say that the coverage is obscene I’ve chosen my words carefully. If our 24 hour news stations were movies they would be rated R, and sometimes NC 17. I will once again suggest that parents everywhere turn the news off when their children are home. If your kids know the story already there’s no reason to beat them over the head with it. They are children and if this isn’t your hometown or your family it’s fair to let it go.

We have problems with our gun laws. A Bushmaster AR-15 is a weapon that our military uses in Afghanistan. It’s unnecessary for hunting or even home defense. The AR-15 is a weapon meant to spray down the enemy. I like that there are weapons in this house I’m not anti-gun, I’m anti-semi-automatic weaponry. Everyone should be, that’s just reasonable.

We as a nation don’t care for our infirm. We don’t care for folks who have cancer, we don’t care for children who have pneumonia and we don’t care for the mentally ill. We fail in healthcare in every direction and unfortunately the only reason mental health will be addressed in the coming weeks is because it hurt someone besides the mentally ill. You see, had he just killed himself (as people so often do) there would be murmurings and hand wringing but because this particular bout of mental illness collided with evil actions and killed so many people we are forced to deal with the suffering of hundreds, perhaps thousands who will be pained by the loss of their loves. We only pay attention to mental illness when it leaks out into our pristine spaces. This is an unspeakably selfish flaw in our society.

A mother wrote a compelling piece that millions have seen. She wrote about what it’s like to live with a violet and mentally ill teenage boy. It’s well written and had she done anything to disguise her child I’d share it with you now. She compared her son to a host of mass murderers. It’s unimaginable to me that mothers will exploit their own. Some say it’s her Hail Mary and that she’s sharing out of desperation. I know it’s a good discussion but I like it better when we discuss ourselves and not our children’s weaknesses.

I know that there are stigmas to mental illness. Perhaps the duty of breaking those barriers belongs to the mentally ill and not to those they trust.

We deal with the parts of illness we can see. We deal with cancer because we can see bald and frail and we can see death but we don’t deal with depression because that’s a quiet one that slips by us. On my corner is a man who stares into space all day. He’s homeless and there’s no good reason for it. He’s clearly mentally ill but he doesn’t hurt anyone so he doesn’t get help. He reeks of urine and feces and his legs are swollen and red with cuts that don’t heal. We don’t care for him and it’s a crime.

We as a nation have failed to care for our children, our elderly and our infirm. A great society would do these things before all else.

A victims relief fund has been set up for Sandy Hook and a fund to pay for Noah’s funeral and related expenses has also been set up.