When I started this blog, I had no real idea what I was going to do with it. I thought I might use it as a space to discuss my views on current affairs (to spare my Twitter followers my bad habit of expressing an idea over four or five tweets!) or to review books. Then at the start of April, I found I was so unwell that I had to take some time off work. Tentatively, encouraged by my friends and some of the many excellent mental health blogs out there, I began to write about my depression. Not long after, I experienced an entirely unexpected manic episode. Now I had to come to terms with a new diagnosis of bipolar, and begin a completely new medication regimen. More and more, blogging became a way for me to explore, and try to make sense of, what I was going through. I still didn’t have any particular thoughts of who might read it; I would post a link for my Twitter friends whenever I wrote a new post, but I was essentially writing for myself, and didn’t have any thoughts of seeking a wider audience.
This week, something happened that made this blog much more than just a therapeutic tool. My post Ten things not to say to a depressed person struck a chord with a number of my Twitter followers. I still can’t fully account for what happened next, but some people liked it enough to share it via various other sites. The mental health charity Mind very kindly re-tweeted a link to my blog and shared it on their Facebook page, which led to the post being featured in the Guardian’s Society daily. Before I could really understand what was happening, visitor numbers to my blog rocketed. Last week, tens of people – if that! – were reading my words. This week it has been tens of thousands.
I wrote 10 things not to say to a depressed person because it helped me to work through some personal hurts and frustrations, but I have been incredibly honoured to find that astounding numbers of people felt that I was speaking to, or for, them. Many took the time to visit the site and leave comments for me, because they wanted to let me know that what I had posted had helped them to feel less alone. Somehow, I had written what they felt, but sometimes struggled to put into words. Readers told me that they wanted to give copies of the post – and its companion piece, Ten supportive things I’m glad someone said to me – to their partner, their family, their students, their therapist. Some people shared their heart-breaking experiences of loneliness, suicide attempts, bereavement and grief. Because I had spoken to them, they felt that they could speak to me, and it was a privilege to be allowed a glimpse into others’ struggles and bravery. I want so much to thank everyone who commented on the pieces, shared a link to my site on Twitter, or participated in the discussions on Facebook, MetaFilter, Reddit, etc. Things got so busy that it became impossible to keep up with all the threads, but I did get some really good ideas for follow-up posts.
I’ve never been much of a one for the view that “everything happens for a reason”, or that adversity is best viewed as a learning opportunity. I don’t like to be told, “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” A month ago I viewed this most recent episode as entirely negative; painful for my family, damaging to my career, and a step backwards after almost ten years of stability. But by writing about my difficulties honestly and truthfully, with no plan beyond therapeutic benefit for myself, I have in a very minor way impacted on some people’s lives for the better. That’s significant. Without ever intending to, I feel like life gave me bipolar, and I ended up making “bipolarade”.