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Writing for Advocacy: Getting Started

Over the last few years, I have noticed more and more people and organisations speaking out about mental health and mental illness, with a huge part of this movement being online. Before starting my blog, I loved reading various blogs and articles confronting these issues, but never imagined myself actually writing one. I had previously written an open letter to my Facebook friends, letting them know I was going through a tough time with depression, but the idea of a regular blog was terrifying; sharing some of the darkest and most private sides of your life with all the people you know, and complete strangers online. So when I first wrote about any deeper aspects to my mental health, it wasn’t with the idea of sharing it online in mind, it was for a therapeutic purpose.

I had just finished my first group therapy session, and thought I would treat myself to a long lunch and coffee at Costa. While browsing away on my laptop, I was mulling over some of the ideas we had worked through in therapy, and thought I might find it helpful to write a little journal about them. I started writing, and found that those first few hundred words flowed incredibly easily. It was extremely therapeutic to assess the things I had spoken about that morning, and put into words how scared I had been and how pleasantly surprised I was by the experience. After I finished writing, I had a quick read through what I had written, and I realised that this insight into my experience could be really helpful to other people that were considering that path. I made a snap decision that I was going to post in online. I posted the piece, put a link up on my Facebook page and swiftly closed my laptop. I didn’t want to see if anyone was reading it, or what anyone might have to say.

Thinking of what people might think about it was terrifying. I had faced stigma about my mental health since I first started seeking help when I was around 14, in one way or another. Posting this deeply private moment in my recovery for everyone to read and judge felt like a nightmare. But I fought the urge to rush back onto my laptop and delete the post. I distracted myself with more hot chocolate and finally left to go home.

When I finally checked on the post later that day, I was overwhelmed by the reaction. I had messages from people I hadn’t spoken to in years, thanking me for the post and telling me how much they appreciated it; people opening up to tell be that they had been through similar problems with their mental health, and that they had always been scared of trying group therapy; and people sharing my post with their own friends. It really was a reassuring reaction. Though I’m sure there were, and still are, people out there that might roll their eyes at the sight of a post about mental health, I was assured that there were plenty of people out there that wanted to read about it, especially from someone they know.

So I decided to make a habit of it. I continued to post, and continued to receive encouraging feedback, gaining a bit of a following on my blog. Since then, I’ve had to ask myself some important questions about the style and process of my writing. How often should I post? Should it be formal or informal? How do I tackle sensitive and possibly triggering subjects? Do I engage with the comments people make? So I made some decisions. I would stick to my own style, informal enough to connect with people on a real level, so that it didn’t read like an NHS website’s description of depression. I wouldn’t dodge the ugly stuff, as scary as it might be, I would simply provide adequate trigger warnings on my posts. I would aim to post as regularly as possible, which has actually turned out to be my biggest downfall, but I still try my hardest. And I would plan in advance, making sure I could capture all angles of what struggling with mental health can feel like.

Although I still find myself worrying that people may think differently towards me since opening up about my mental health, or that I might now be labelled with some stigma in people’s minds, I find that separating myself from the audience helps with this massively. It somehow doesn’t feel like so many people will be reading my blog as I am writing it, I still write for myself. To process the things I go through and keep track of my progress. The reaction I still receive every time I post something new just makes it feel even more worth it, and reminds me that writing for advocacy is something incredibly important.

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