The negative side to social-media use is well documented, but there’s also another, much more positive side that is often overlooked. Every day many thousands of people who suffer from mental health issues find acceptance, advice and support among people they can closely relate to in social media groups and other communities. Support that can sometimes be lifesaving.
(Before I start though I want to kindly point out that support online should NOT substitute psychotherapy or any other kind of support available out in the “real world”.)
It’s not a secret that mental health issues commonly put us in situations where it’s easy to become isolated from the rest of the world. People with depression tend to push others away, while those who suffer from anxiety, paranoia or autism oftentimes find themselves simply unable to interact with others. Many also find themselves excluded due to odd social behaviours. Having a network of support right at your fingertips, ready to lend an ear or to give advice is valuable beyond measure. It’s a safe haven for many, a meeting place, refuge away from peering eyes and oftentimes even a lifeline.
Earlier this year when I first was told of Avoidant Personality Disorder I felt very confused. I couldn’t make out what it meant for me, or for my life.
Was I now officially crazy?
Without being rational I felt like my life could just as well be over now that I had been “labeled”. The prospect of ever finding work seemed tiny, and I didn’t really have many friends or family other than my son and a handful of people overseas. People I thought may still look for the door once they find out what’s going on.
Deep down I knew nothing had changed. I was still me, facing the same old obstacles I’ve always faced long before this even came up. The only difference now was that my issues had a name to go by. Yet I didn’t want to be diagnosed. It wasn’t something I was keen to acknowledge. Especially not with a personality disorder because to me that ultimately meant my personality is flawed. Think about it. What made me, me, is flawed. It was a pretty lonely time seeing as I didn’t know anyone else with the same problems. To me, I was the only one.
At some point, one evening, I had the idea to search for Facebook support groups for people with mental health issues, and especially for other avoidants. I found a relatively big group of people who all identify with the avoidant disorder and I joined. It was one of the best things I could have done for my mental health. Immediately I had a community, I place where I belonged. It felt as if I had found “my” people, my tribe. We occasionally do avoid each other, but it’s ok because we understand it, we recognize the behaviour in ourselves. There’s no having to explain yourself. People just get it.
Connecting with people who are similar to me has helped me tremendously to accept myself. I no longer feel like the odd one out. We are all odd ones out and together we’re the norm. Our community has given me an outlet where I can feel normal, and from my own experience that’s all you want when you struggle with mental health issues. To be normal. As I already mentioned above, this is in no way a substitute for a proper treatment plan, but it’s a factor that makes a huge difference to my overall well-being.
I really think that’s it. Finding a place in the world where you fit in, a place to belong.
What are your experiences with finding support online? Are you active in specific groups or on message boards? I’d love to hear what YOU people have to say.