Twitter and Triggers

L is back home. I sat her down and told her backing off didn’t mean giving up on her, that it meant I was handing the reins over to her for a while. I told her I would still be here, would ask her about anything but food and if she wanted to talk about food, just to say. I will cook her anything she likes, but won’t push to cook things for her. We are ok. I recite my mantra again, that getting better is not pretty or pleasant, but grim and relentless and I worry that the seemingly huge world of young women, all talking about recovery in one liners, or posting moving pictures on Tumblr paint a misleading picture of recovery. That the cure seems worse than the illness, on this I think my cancer and chemotherapy analogy is better.

I have been thinking about this for a while. I am a Twitter user – both in my real life persona as well as OMM. I love Twitter, the wit, the collective outrage, the way a million thoughts of strangers can collide and create a force for change, while those involved don’t even have to leave their sofas. But, of course, there is a dark side too. Racists find an outlet for their hate-filled bile, women are abused – and people suffering serious mental health issues share their innermost thoughts with the world. Which is a good thing, right? Yes, of course. As someone who suffers from depression, Twitter has brought me in touch with the kindest, most generous people – who I have never met, but we discuss things I don’t discuss with people I know well. To be able to put out a tweet about how dark things seem – and have sunshine sent back to you is a really wonderful phenomenon.

But what about tweets about cutting yourself, right here, right now? How does that impact on someone in recovery from self harming? The other night I read a matter of fact tweet from someone who was about to kill themselves, because they had accepted suicide was the only option. I was horrified, but scroll on a few tweets later and they ‘felt better’. But what would be the impact on these other strangers if they did commit suicide? Or countless ‘recovery’ accounts that tweet fat-talk, obsess about weight, or even worse, have ‘recovery’ in their Twitter name, but have Must Not Eat in the background, photos of their skeletal frame and set out what their CW, GW and UGW are. (can someone tell me what these mean by the way). How can young people, trying to recover, sort out the helpful supportive accounts from the triggering ones? My OMM account is fairly niche, I suppose, but scrolling through my timeline, there is often such a theme of darkness and hopelessness, it makes me turn away, because what I really want is hope. Recurrent cries for help or stories of despair and the reality of being ‘trapped’ by and ED – wouldn’t a sufferer think, that is how the world is? Pain is normal, misery is just commonplace. Because it isn’t – I go out into the real world every day and actually it’s ok. There is joy out there – joy which has nothing to do with recovery or anorexia. It’s just common or garden joy, from finding a really nice pen, a joke shared with friends, being warm after a cold day, doing something new and getting it right – lots of opportunities to be really happy, just waiting for us to experience them.

And, I’m going to tread really carefully here, is there a culture of almost fetishising mental health issues amongst young women, possibly young men too? L came home years ago and asked if she was OCD, ADHD, ASD, or bipolar. To say my jaw hit the floor was an understatement. It turned out that she and friends had been discussing which one they all had. After the lecture I gave her about what on earth they were doing, to treat serious illnesses as if they were forms of fashion trends or gangs, I wondered why anyone would glamorise illnesses in that way? L cannot tell her best friend about Fluoxetine because it is her friend who ‘has the problems’ and she doesn’t want to upset her. What?! I get that L can keep it confidential of course, but that seems really strange to me.

I am glad that Twitter exists – it saved me, along with the blog, because I met amazing people, going through recovery, having nailed recovery and starting out on the same journey. But I worry about whether it is always a safe place for those trying to stay recovered, whether it would be a betrayal to say Actually, I’m ok now. I don’t have anorexia any more. I eat normally. But I am still a really fascinating person – there are a thousand other things about be that define me far more than the mental illness I once had. I don’t know. As I say in the About Page, I am no expert. I just write what I think and feel, and hope that with the help of others I’ll work it out somehow.

7 responses to “Twitter and Triggers

  1. I think you’re right about this. I’ve met some great people through twitter, and feel bad that I’ve disengaged with them lately, but I decided that I needed to cut right back on my twitter use because it was becoming counter-productive to my own recovery. I was getting too caught up in it. In the twitter outrage, and in worrying about other people when I wasn’t really well enough to be worrying about anything outside of fixing myself. I’m having to use it more as a news feed lately.

  2. I agree – it’s really difficult – and I’m grateful to you for writing about it here. I find constantly that different identities I have contradict each other in the places I find to mirror them/ express them online. I often find hope in ed recovery sites or relief in reading those same sites – realising I am not the only one struggling. Yet, understandably perhaps, I often find the discourses strangely apolitical and the rhetoric reconstituting mental illness as an identity in and of itself. There seems no other way to be. The feminist and political activist inside me screams. And I can’t reconcile the two worlds. Criticising the former seems cruel when it has offered so much support yet to not acknowledge the other aspects of myself, which have a lot to say to ed recovery sites etc, seems to be to turn my back on all that is not my mental illnesses. Apologies for the ramble but youreflected something I have been grappling with for a long time X

  3. I admire everything you’re doing. I know I haven’t commented recently but I’m here, reading everything. I have seen the communities you talk about, I have participated in them. I fear falling into the world of outputting destructive thoughts. It is a constant challenge for me to tread the line between being recovery-positive and really honest about what I’m going through. I always try to strive towards recovery and I’m conscious of my writing, by never posting weights, and trying not to accidentally give ‘hints and tips’ on how I hide my illness. One thing that I am most proud of is this:

    As to your recent struggles with L: I thrived having all my food chosen, prepared, and placed in front of me by someone else. Someone who did not give me choices or any negotiation. For me it was helpful because it took the agonizing decisions out of my hands. I yelled, screamed, said I hated my mother, but ultimately, it was so much easier than any other form of recovery. Having said that, there is a time when you have to give back control. For me that came too early, which led me to becoming ‘sneaky’ and recovering ‘enough’. You know L, you know what’s best, and this may well be the right time. If it’s not, then I know that you will persevere. But if it is, it could work wonders.

  4. I agree with you that twitter can seem quite daunting, especially those accounts you talk of. As a sufferer/recoverer from anorexia, I too have seen those accounts and understand how some people can look at them and be worried they trigger – which for some, I’m sure they do most of the time.
    When I look at them, yeah, sometimes I do get triggered, but most of the time – 90-95% – I look at them and think, how sad… These girls are obviously struggling and so deep into the downward spiral of becoming iller, often have not come to the point of realising that really, there is no choice but to admit to a problem and try and recover. I think sometimes of anorexia as the parallel staircase downwards, one staircase where you’ve realised you have a problem and the other, the staircase before you’re diagnosed or realise you have a problem – I think of these girls on the other staircase.
    I think you’re right to be worried though, but I wouldn’t suggest bringing it up with your daughter – potentially it could do more harm than good in that she may not have really found these accounts, and so may look further into them or once reminded about how she saw them, might close off to you and think you don’t trust her or it could make her just feel worse: they aren’t the most uplifting things in the world.
    Again, I think you’re doing such an amazing job… You’re so strong (we all have bad days) and your daughter is lucky to have such a supportive mother.
    Incidentally, I think the backing off thing is one of the best things I’ve seen you write about – recovery has to come from her, and doing this means she has space and time to explore and push her own boundaries (or the boundaries of anorexia) xx

  5. I too am careful what I post online. I use twitter as a means of interaction but I avoid reading things that I feel are negative or triggering for me by not following or posting things that could be for others. Of course you can’t avoid all triggers since we are individual. There’s a select few MH blogs I follow, I used to read many more but found that other’s mood or topic was affecting me. It was hard to stop reading & felt like i was jumping ship, but I’m glad I did. The trouble is when you are having an especially bad time you can’t always see what is supportive or not. As I’ve been working towards getting better I find myself reading and intracting with blogs that MH based or not, offer me inspiration or blogs with writing I admire. They remind me of the good things that could be a part of the future.

  6. I must say that I agree entirely with your sentiments and concerns. I’ve been disappointed by some people on twitter who do seem to (ab)use their mental illness; whether for attention or to create a sense of identity I’m uncertain. It unsettles me though. I’ve found so much support on twitter from those experiencing similar things to me but those I value (and respect) the most are the ones who are genuinely trying to overcome their struggles rather than, dare I say, indulge in them and brandish them as an excuse.

    I feel a responsibility for the words I tweet, knowing that they can be read by anyone. I’ve always been careful not to be too personal, I had my blog for that but even there I would always try to write about the dark parts but find the light too, because I wanted to help others believe that there is a way out as much as encouraging myself to believe it.

    I took a break and backed away from several accounts in the end because I found that I was caring so much in trying to offer words of support that it was having a negative effect on me. I’ve felt guilty and questioned my healthy actions as I’ve made more and more progress when I’ve read the thoughts of others who really don’t seem to want to recover.

    Lately, as I feel I’m coming out the other side, I’ve removed the link to my blog because I feel its time is now spent. As you say, I’m me, I’m not an anorexic. Yes, anorexia has played a part in my life but a big part of recovery is leaving it behind. I’m not 100% there and perhaps I’ll always have some issues but I want to put out there the all round person that I am, not just the 2D aspect of a mental illness.

    I will continue to read your writing because of its true honesty. You acknowledge the difficulties and challenges but what always comes through (with varying degrees of force, understandably) is a stubborn determination not to be defeated. It is this quality that you have, and I think which you have bestowed on L, that will enable you all to weather this and find calmer waters again.

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