I don’t tend to pay much attention to the idea of people reading my blog.
Well. That’s not entirely true, because it gives the impression that I never look to see how many visitors I’ve had, or which posts are the most popular. Because I do. And sometimes I post solely because I see my stats have been flatlining, so I dredge up some ideas and force myself to write something.
But I don’t often think about who those people might be. It comes up occasionally. If I’m writing a post about a specific person, I think about the possibility of them reading it, and what they would take away from it; I also think about the mutual friends or enemies that we have, and whether they might stumble on it, and to what extent they’d be able to figure out what I’m saying despite the fudged details and changed names.
When I applied to university I spent a few days after my application trying to write really good, profound posts — just in case any of them googled me, and somehow ended up here. Because I’d want to make a good impression, wouldn’t I?
And then, of course, there’s the slight sensation of panic when I look at the usernames or email addresses of new followers and realise who they are, from former conversations or mutual blog-reading. I’d better not say anything wildly inaccurate about Irish literature, I think to myself. They’ll know in an instant, and I’ll be shamed. Shamed and rejected! insert melodramatic wailing and tearing of hair
(This last one is a true — and recent — story. If that particular subscriber is reading this, I daresay they know who they are.)
But for the most part, I narrate my life with little thought to the specifics of who might be listening, although I’m distantly aware that somebody is. Occasionally, this has come back to bite me, for example when I’ve said something controversial that has implicated people I know. But mostly it reduces the stress of writing, because if I actually thought about who my readers are, I’d probably hesitated to press ‘publish’ just out of fear.
I’m quite a public person. I’ve got a pretty massive internet presence compared to the vast majority of my friends. I write blog posts about my mental health or lost friendships, make YouTube videos in my pyjamas, and take a fairly ridiculous number of selfies (because I think they’re important). I have close internet friends who know full well what I look like from pictures and videos while I have only the vaguest impression of their face in return.
And I’ve accepted that. For me it’s part and parcel of the whole writing thing — I want people to associate my words with my name, so I have to start putting my name to things, and putting stuff out there.
It does surprise people, though, how public I am about a lot of things. “Why would you talk about your health problems to people you’ve never met?” they ask me. “Does everybody need to know about your shoulders randomly dislocating / your anxiety attack in a public place / the fact you didn’t get out of bed on Friday?”
The fact is, yeah, I think people do need to know. I think people need to see the day-to-day effects of health problems both physical and mental. I think people need to know that their friends and the writers whose work they read have their own very human problems, and struggle with those. I think the more we normalise talking about mental illness and invisible disabilities, the less stigma there will be.
When I started seeing a counsellor at the end of year twelve, it seemed like a big deal. I was worried about people seeing me go into her office. Only troubled kids saw a school counsellor, right? And I wasn’t really troubled, just a little bit … well, not thinking so clearly. They’d get the wrong idea if they saw me. It was something shameful.
Turned out to be a great decision on my part and I’ve seen various counsellors on and off since then. Yet every time I come to relate a story or something they encouraged me to think about, I hesitate. Should I say, “My counsellor said…” or “My therapist said…”? Or should I just say, “I was talking to someone about this and…”? Part of me wants to hide the fact that I go and talk about my problems to somebody every week. Part of me still sees that as something I should keep hidden.
And I shouldn’t. There are probably a lot of people out there who resist going to see anyone, because like me they think they’re not bad enough and only people in a much worse position take those steps. There are also probably a lot of people out there who suffer through invisible disabilities like hypermobility without saying anything, afraid that people won’t understand.
My condition is a particularly tricky one, because it’s changeable — people see me dance one day, and they don’t understand why the next it’s painful even to get up. They can’t see any visible difference, and only I know that my left shoulder repeatedly subluxed the night before, straining the muscles all around it, or that my ankle is ever so slightly out of place so that I can’t put weight on it.
The more people I tell about it, though, the more people are going to understand when someone else comes to them with the same problems. It creates a frame of reference, something people can look back to when they can’t find the words.
So yes, I do need to talk about these things. I need to break down the unspoken barriers that you don’t talk your health in public. I’ve made a decision to be public about my life to a certain extent, and that means talking about the bad parts, not just the good ones. This blog isn’t here to present a fictional, sanitised version of a life that is messy and chaotic and real.
It’s here for me to tell you what’s on my mind. And sometimes that’s pain, or anxiety, or loneliness.
I don’t think too much about who is reading this, except to think: I hope this reaches the people it needs to reach. I hope that the people who need to read this have the opportunity to read this. I hope that the people who are too afraid to talk about their health are given the courage to do so. And I hope that post by post, person by person, we can break down the taboos of these issues so that they can be discussed in society and that life can get better for people.
Although mostly right now I’m thinking about breakfast. Because I’m doing that early-morning blog thing, and I’m hungry. That’s my life, too, but I’m pretty sure there’s no stigma attached to toast. As far as I know.