My On-line Drop-In

I have wanted to post an entry to my blog for a few months now but have held back on the account of the current episode of clinical depression I am fighting. I did not want to write yet another bleak expose on my condition, no matter how cathartic this may be for me and informative it might be for others. Anyway, yesterday I was wandering along the coastal path with my mind wandering ahead of me as usual and it occurred to me that I do in fact have something I want to share. So here goes.

I am struggling with my depression and to be honest, there are times at the moment when I don't believe I will ever recover from this. Whenever I seem to make any steps towards the light of recovery so to speak, there is an insidious force within me which drags me back towards the self destructive belief that I am not worth anything - that there is no point in my making plans for a happy future. This is the gist of the destructive thinking with numerous negative amendments along similar lines. The outcomes of this range from a strong desire for suicide to my self-imposed alienation because of increased social anxiety. I keep myself to myself aboard our boat in the harbour and rarely venture into Tobermory town because of the possibility of meeting people I know. 

But here's a thing. If you follow me on Twitter (@LifeAfloat), then reading the above may come as a complete surprise. This is because out there on that social media platform I am highly visible and interactive with my regular tweets, sharing my photos and generally interacting with my followers. Anyone would assume that the manner I portray myself on Twitter, is the way in which I live my life, almost as an extrovert.

The reason why I am writing about this is because recently I decided to decline an invitation to partake in the AGM of a fund-raising committee I have belonged to since arriving in Tobermory a year ago. I know that some members of this committee follow me on Twitter and I feel guilty about declining the attendance of this very important meeting on the grounds of my depression and yet in the realm of Twitter I am apparently outgoing and carefree (or so it must seem). I have made the assumption that if I were my committee colleagues, I would be questioning my lack of attendance and overall commitment to the group when it is clear on Twitter nothing seems wrong with me.

I was pondering this as I walked along the shore path, the sounds of the nearby sea muted in my consciousness because I was concentrating on my dilemma. This is one of the attributes of my depression, it causes me to overthink and to wade deeper into the morass of my distorted view of my world and what my twisted perceptions of it are. Then, in a moment of clarity, I realised I could write about this and in my own way, explain why it is I can be outwardly connected on Twitter but struggle to connect with the people in 'real life' situations. 

In my early episodes of my clinical depression in the late 1990s, I was living in Windermere in the Lake District, England. I was alone and lived in a small one bedroom flat. I was unemployed and deeply depressed. During that eighteen month period I had three admissions to the psychiatric ward at the general hospital in Kendal. During the lucid times between these admissions I would attend, twice every week, a 'drop-in' facility in the village of Ambleside for local folks who were suffering severe and enduring mental health issues. This 'drop-in' was staffed by NHS psychiatric nurses and a couple of care assistants. For a few hours we would gather for coffees and teas, sandwiches and low key activities such as arts and crafts, presentations and maybe short walks if the weather was good. In any event, it was simply an opportunity for folks like myself who were finding life challenging because of their poor mental health, to come together and share each others company. It was good to get out of my flat and socialise.

I do not have access to a similar social facility here in Tobermory. However, I am fortunate to enjoy a sizeable following on the social media platform of Twitter, and even more fortunate to enjoy chatty and friendly relationships with a good many of my followers. Many of these folks have become good on-line friends.  I have been open about my mental health travails and I'm comfortable about being open when I am struggling with a severe bout of depression. I attempt not to labour my illness but I'm sure this may shine through with a few bleak postings. This means that there may be moments when I will withdraw from Twitter while I work through a particularly difficult patch or simply feel the need for some quiet. People understand and offer me their warm thoughts and good wishes. 

In many respects Twitter is my on-line 'drop-in' where I am able to interact in an open manner where I am accepted for who I am. It is an environment where I'm able to socialise without fear of judgement or a sense of having to put on a 'cheerful' outlook for the sake of doing so. Paradoxically, for such a huge visible arena (my followership is global), I feel quite at ease. I think this is because I can choose when to engage with Twitter and when to step back and keep myself to myself. I am able to be safe in my boat cabin while chatting with people who know me and respect my place in the world. If there are people who become new contacts, I do not worry because there is a perception of anonymity which adds to my sense of safety. 

This is why at the moment I am outgoing on Twitter and live a secluded life here in Tobermory. As I continue to recover I hold the hope that it will not be long before I begin to re-engage with the aspects of Tobermory community life which I hold dear to and I value.

Finally, thank you to my many Twitter friends and followers who continue to unwittingly provide the support I seek in my recovery.