You may have noticed that I haven’t written as much this year as I was writing last year. There are some obvious reasons for this. While I was in the hospital, there were a lot of really strong emotions to process, changes to my mental health were happening frequently, and I had less communication with friends and family simply because I was not at home. So I used writing as a way to understand my own experience, and to share what was happening with the people who expressed concern.
But there are also some more subtle reasons why I have written less. At the depths of my illness, my living was very moment to moment focused. I had little concern for how the actions of that moment affected the future, and this had both positive and negative consequences. In order to publish a piece on One Deep Breath now, I spend a lot more time thinking about what I want to say, how I should or shouldn’t say it, whether it will be received well and what implications it might have for the future. Some of this is natural and appropriate, but sometimes it becomes fuelled by anxiety and I fear leaving some kind of trail of my illness that might negatively affect me in the future (say for a job, as an example).
I also spend more time worrying that what I am saying may be meaningless, that I’m just sending out words into a void that have little to no effect. Or that at some point in the future I may not agree with what I have previously written. My writings are my thoughts now, in this moment, but I (as all of us) am in process and my thoughts grow, evolve and change overtime. This is particularly true when I write about issues of spirituality.
And here’s a truth I am hesitant to admit. Although I know the reason the number of views on One Deep Breath has dropped this year is because I am writing so much less, I sometimes worry it’s because I am not writing as well as I was. I think people are no longer interested in my voice, it has become redundant and tired. When I’ve posted new content recently, I’ve felt compelled to watch the views climb (which is about as fun as watching paint dry). I’ve felt disappointed that One Deep Breath isn’t reaching ever greater levels of popularity. And for awhile, it’s discouraged me from writing.
So I am left trying to answer this question: why do I write on One Deep Breath? I have said before and still believe that I write as a way of processing my thoughts and emotions, that writing is therapeutic, and that qualities like love, peace and hope must be cultivated like a garden and writing is one form of that work.
However, these are benefits that are solely for my own sake. Could these goals not be achieved by writing in a private diary rather than publishing my writing online? There is of course one difference between writing online and writing privately – and that is my readership. I have approximately 100 subscribers, and each post I publish tends to get about 50 views or so. I believe an overwhelming majority of these subscribers are individuals who know me personally – friends or family members who have a personal interest in my journey with mental illness, issues surrounding being gay, and my work with adults with developmental disabilities. But I also know that some of you have found me through the Mental Health Writer’s Guild, are fellow WordPress bloggers, or individuals who also experience and/or write about mental health issues.
The biggest motivating factor for sharing my writing on mental illness publicly is to tell other sufferers of mental illness that we are not alone. Stigma around mental illness is still profound. I share my story because I believe empathy and compassion is built through dialogue. Awareness is key, and by saying “I have this illness and this is how it affects my life,” I open the door for others who experience similar illnesses to do the same. Additionally, my writing gives those who have never struggled with such dark emotions, or experienced the inside of a mental illness, a window to increased understanding.
So I find myself asking – do I care if anyone reads this? Do I care how many views, likes, comments, or shares each post receives? Sometimes my ego does care. Sometimes I get caught up wishing my blog was more popular, or that it got noticed by the wider internet world. There is a little rush of affirmation when someone says they appreciate my writing, or they comment on, like or share a post. But these ego-boosts are not the reason I write, or at least they should not be. Don’t get me wrong, I still want people to comment, like or share posts if they feel they connect to the content. If a goal of One Deep Breath is to reduce the stigma of mental illness then the wider the audience is, the better. But – and here’s the point of this whole post – the number of views I receive for each post is not indicative of my self-worth. This may seem obvious, but I think we’re all vulnerable to this kind of thinking. The world of social media fuels a desire for ever increasing amounts of acknowledgement from our peers that we are smart, funny, talented, gorgeous, etc.
So I’ll just put this here for when I need the reminder: I am not my Facebook likes. Maybe I should even say it out loud: I am not my Facebook likes. I am not the number of views One Deep Breath receives. My value, as a writer and as a human, is affirmed by nothing and no one but me. I write for me.
I am so much more. We are so much more.