Not Another Mental Health Blog!

I’ll be the first to admit we probably don’t need another mental health blog or a podcast. It’s a subject that’s become part of the cultural zeitgeist over the past few years, so there’s already a shitload of established material readily available out there.

Nor is this a business endeavor. As career choices go, from what I gather, blogging and podcasting are a fucking terrible idea. Unless you’re good at marketing, apparently. Which I’m not. Nor can I be arsed learning. I did look into it. It bored me.

So, with this in mind, I guess the obvious question to be answered, is why bother?

Let’s start with with blog.

I’ll go a lot deeper into my own personal circumstances some other time, but in short, at this point, I’m at the tail end of a five year battle with various mental health issues. Hypochondria, anxiety, and agoraphobia mainly.

Reduced to a pithy list of diagnostic labels, such a confession lacks gravitas. But it’s no exaggeration to say that the psychological hell that lies buried beneath each of these labels have at times pushed me to the precipice of my own personal threshold for pain.

I’ve felt shame and embarrassment. They’ve reduced me to tears. I’ve had moments where I genuinely believed I was losing my mind. The behaviors they compelled me indulge in have nearly torn my family apart. I’ve felt desperation to the point I’ve found myself praying to a God I’m not even sure I believe in. For a brief moment there I even flirted with the prospect of suicide.

Nowadays, I like to think I’ve left the worst of it behind. That I have somewhat of a firmer handle on my own destiny. However, I am by no means “cured”. The truth is, I’m still very much on the road to recovery. I like to describe myself as 90% recovered, and forever chipping away at that final 10%.

This blog will serve as an exposition of each side of this arbitrary statistic. As both a retrospective analysis of the slow steady hill climb that lies behind me, and as a constantly evolving speculation about the potentially even steeper road that lies ahead.

I’d feel remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the arrogance in voluntarily stepping into a limelight of one’s own construction, and declaring yourself worthy of being heard. But let’s get one thing perfectly straight. I have no desire to turn myself into your fucking anxiety guru.

I don’t have any secret techniques up my sleeve (nobody does). I’m sure many of the ideas I posit won’t amount to much more than vacuous philosophizing. Some of my practical suggestions will sound little better than the amateurish broscience of your typical self-help guru.

Nevertheless, I truly believe that my experience has furnished me with certain nuggets of wisdom that can only be found among the searing embers of introspection that pave the flaming trail of mental suffering. And I can’t help but dare to hope that in sharing the lessons I’ve learned along the way, I may have the potential to help you grease the wheels of progress in your own journey.

But herein lies an important distinction. My journey isnt, wasn’t, and couldn’t ever be the same as your journey.

I won’t spend a single sentence of my time here telling you what you should do. Rather, I’ll only endeavor to expound on the thoughts, techniques, and philosophies that have worked for me. Whether or not they have the potential to work for you, and more to the point, whether or not you choose to apply them to your own situation… Well, that’s on you, bitch.

As for the podcast?

If there’s one upshot to mental illness, it’s that the search for information about your particular malady can quickly lead you down the utterly fascinating rabbit hole of the complexity of the human mind. And before you know it, what began with a simple Google search for “what is anxiety?” has resulted in a bookshelf littered with the works of Freud, Jung, Skinner, and Beck.

At the time of writing, I’ve just spent the past few months taking in part in a clinical trial for Meta-Cognitive Therapy (MCT) for hypochondriasis at the University of Lancaster with a guy called Robin Bailey.

With my new found interest in psychology, I was never going to allow Robin to administer his MCT protocol uncontested. I challenged his assertions. I questioned the psychological presuppositions of MCT. I waged philosophical debates about the nature of cognition. We discussed the results and methodology of clinical trials, and argued the pros and cons of myriad different psychological therapies.

Robin is a PhD student. I’m a highschool dropout. I rarely came out on top (though I reckon I had him on the ropes a couple of times). But I always left his office more enlightened than I had been prior to entering, and more importantly, always that one step closer to recovery.

This podcast is my attempt to recreate those sessions. To sit down and have long, in-depth conversations with world class intellects about all things psychological, and to hopefully extract some helpful, healing advice along the way.

Before I finish, a word about the title I’ve chosen for this little project. “My Own Worst Enemy”. For those of you whose mental illness was something that befell them due to external circumstance, this name might seem ill conceived. Inconsiderate even.

But while there is indeed a hint of self-deprecation in there, in that I firmly believe beyond a shadow of doubt that my own psychological deterioration was entirely self inflicted, that’s not really what I was going for.

The name isn’t meant in reference to the origins of mental illness, which do indeed differ from person to person, but rather, it’s meant to refer to the subjective experience of mental suffering itself, many aspects of which, I suspect, are universal.

It’s about the internal battle we wage against ourselves in our own minds. It’s about falling into the trap of making our illness our identity. It’s about treating ourselves with a level of cruelty and neglect we would never dream of inflicting on others. It’s about knowing precisely the things we need to do to aid our recovery, and then procrastinating or making excuses. It’s about fooling ourselves into believing that we’re especially broken, a special case, that can’t possibly be fixed.

Taken together, it’s a recognition that the only person standing in the way of our recovery is ourselves. In other words, it’s about taking responsibility. For your past, your present, and your future.

Taking responsibility isn’t about self-blame. It’s about self-empowerment. Nor does taking responsibility mean we must walk the road to recovery alone. On the contrary. Taking responsibility enables us to spend our time seeking out the people who can help us, instead of looking for someone to blame.

It’s this perspective that forms the fundamental philosophical underpinning of this entire endeavor.

If you, like me, are your own worst enemy, but you want to figure out how to be your own best friend, then we have enough in common that maybe there’s something in this little project for the two of us after all.

Welcome to My Own Worst Enemy.

Danny x

 

Image courtesy Rosmarie Voegtli

How to Write the Perfect First Blog Post?

How many of you can relate to this experience?

You’ve decided, for whatever reason, to start a blog. You agonize for days over a name for your project where the .com, .net, or .org hasn’t already been snapped up by some arsehole domain squatter. Fifty attempts later, you finally settle on something you’re happy with and fork out a couple of quid on GoDaddy.

You buy a little web space, install WordPress, and upload a swanky, stylish, modern template that makes you look all premium and professional and stuff. And just like that, you’re ready to go. The world is your oyster.

You click “New Post”. A big blank page opens up before you. Oh, the potential. The little cursor seems to flicker with impatience, ready to skitter across your screen spilling syllables by the boatload. You crack your knuckles in preparation for the wordy symphony you’re about to hammer out on your keyboard. Just call you Williwig van Shakeshoven.

But hang on a minute. Hold your horses, sunshine. Let’s not be too hasty now.

Online, as in real life, first impressions matter. There’s fifty gazillion other blogs floating around out there in the ether. A bajillion of which already cover your chosen topic. Umpty-seven of which are authored by writing geniuses with God-tier marketing skills and eleventy-squillian subscribers.

You can’t just wing it and toss out any old codswallop. Not if you hope to compete with these behemoths of the blogosphere. No siree, Bob. You need to hit these mofos with a haymaker of an opening gambit. Come in like a wrecking ball, like that little Miley Cyrus fella says.

Your first ever blog post needs to be fun. It needs to be witty. It needs to be informative. It needs to be profound, amusing, intelligent, relatable. It needs immaculate spelling and punctuation. It needs flawless grammar and syntax. It needs structure and flow and character and style. It needs to be, well… Perfect.

Oh, the pressure. Your heart sinks. You sit and stare at your laptop screen. All that white space glaring back at you that mere moments ago felt like a blank canvas of infinite potential suddenly morphs into a bottomless abyss of nothingness. The words don’t come. The cursor flickers, slow and laboured. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off.

Five days later, you still haven’t written a thing.

Ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to writer’s block.

Shit.

Oh, don’t worry. I know I’m being a drama queen. But that’s anxiety for you. And this, along with depression and other mental health issues is what this blog is all about.

Anxiety, however, is my specialty. I’m the Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Lionel Messi, Roger Federer of worry. Place me in any innocuous situation and I can catastrophize the bejesus out of it.

My heart skips a beat, I’m going to have a heart attack. Every minor stomach ache is stage four bowel cancer. If a loved one doesn’t answer their phone after three attempts, they’ve died in a car crash. And the content of my first blog post is as important to humanity as Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”.

What this latter delusional anxiety boils down to, is self-consciousness. I. Care. What. You. Think. I wish I didn’t. I’d like to pretend I don’t. But I can’t. Because I do. And that’s that.

Like all world-class professionals though, I have my off days. And today is one of those days where I’m off my anxiety game enough to be able to step back and take a sober look at this self constructed predicament.

Those of you with experience in CBT might be familiar with cognitive restructuring exercises. These are (usually) written exercises where you identify your negative thought patterns or limiting beliefs and then subject them to a little rational scrutiny. The goal being to contradict them and thus undermine the emotional power they exert over you.

Let’s say you berate yourself for being a “loser”. You might look for evidence why this isn’t true, such as listing off some past victories. Or maybe you could reframe past mistakes by finding the important lessons they contained, and thus turn them into a win.

The limiting beliefs fueling my writer’s block in this particular instance are twofold:

1) It matters what you, the reader, think of me. Therefore…
2) My first blog post needs to be perfect.

There are plenty of surface level criticisms to be leveled at these limiting beliefs, and plenty of vacuous platitudes I could employ to counter them. Why do you care what people think? You can’t please everyone. Who says it needs to be perfect? There’s no such thing as perfect. Ruh, ruh, ruh.

However, for your entertainment, I reckon I’ve discovered a couple of deeper misconceptions in these limiting beliefs which are slightly more profound, and infinitely more amusing.

First of all, I said a moment ago, that I care what you think. You! But who is this “you” exactly?

As this is the first draft of my first ever blog post, by definition, there’s no blog to be read yet and hence no readership. So this “you” that I’m speaking to isn’t a separate other you at all, because an actual other you doesn’t technically exist yet.

Even if I claimed to be writing for a future you, having imagined what you might be like, you’re still no more real than the nudist Kerry Washington I share an apartment with whenever I start daydreaming at a stop light.

This you that I’m so desperate to impress is really just a Frankenstein’s monster of my own paranoid projections. In other words, you aren’t you at all. You are actually just me in disguise and relabeled with the pronoun “you”.

This whole situation is like  sitting in front of the mirror and being worried about having something of interest to say in case the reflection staring back at you disapproves in some way.

In short, I’m worried what to say myself because if I don’t say the right thing and impress myself, I’ll disapprove of what I have to say, and then feel bad about myself as a result.

Jesus!

But this is just a transient issue. The fact is, there will at some point in the future be other people who aren’t me who read this blog post. Which brings me to the matter of whether or not this first blog post even matters.

It doesn’t. And neither does yours. Not that it doesn’t matter, period. It just doesn’t matter yet. And by the time it does matter, what it actually says won’t matter much anyway. In fact, the worse it is now, the better it will eventually be.

Confused? Let me explain.

I’m sure there are some examples of bloggers out there who went from total anonymity on a Monday, to a viral sensation by Wednesday off the back of their first blog post. And good for them. But for the rest of us, no matter how revolutionary it is, our first blog posts will go completely unnoticed.

Launching a blog is like setting up a market stall in the middle of the desert. The only people who know you’re there are you parents and three of your friends. Sure they’ll pay you a token visit. Maybe they’ll tell their friends, and if you’re lucky, some of them will pop by for a minute or two.

But after this, the bulk of your early readership will consist of little more than the occasional straggler who stumbles across your blog by sheer fluke of a misspelled Google search.

If you want to get past this and build an audience, you have to expand your inventory. Write and write and write some more. Rack up those blog posts until people begin to arrive on purpose. By which point your first blog post is buried so deep in the archives, even you might struggle to unearth it.

Regardless of what your anxiety might try to tell you, your first blog post will not shape the first, nor the lasting impression that 99.99% of your readers will form of you. That’s the responsibility of future blog posts you haven’t even thunk about thinking about yet. So, save your writer’s block for those.

The sole purpose of your first blog post is to get yourself off the starting blocks and into the race. Nothing more. For everyone else, the only use your first blog post will serve is to satisfy the curiosity of those readers who want to see how much of an amateur you were when you first started out.

So, do these future readers a favour and let your first blog post be shit. The shitter the better. With any luck, by the time anyone actually reads it, you yourself will have turned into the kind of blogging royalty that will intimidate the next generation of newbie bloggers into a bout of writer’s block about their own first blog post.

Genuine spontaneous side note. As I sit writing this, finally coming to the end of my own first blog post, I’ve begun to suspect that writing your first blog post about the anxiety of writing your first blog post is probably one of the biggest clichés in blogging. But bollocks to it. I’m not going to check. I don’t even want to know.

Anyway, I’m sorry if you stumbled across this blog post while searching for some practical advice on how to construct an amazing, original, SEO-friendly masterpiece that will make you an overnight viral sensation. I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m sure it can. I’ll bet it has. But I don’t know how to do it.

I don’t know what makes a great first blog post. I don’t even know what makes a good first blog post. But, in my humble opinion, the perfect first blog post is the one that gets published.

Here’s to perfectoin!

 

Image courtesy: Drew Coffman