Saturday, 12 April 2014

Kindness, Please!!

I have been musing on kindness this week. It's not been about a nebulous benevolence to all 'mankind', but rather in regard to the way that people debate with one another online. I am new to tweeting and blogging. I keep telling my friends who are sceptical about all the good that can be achieved when communities of likeminded individuals come together to support and encourage one another. Never is this more important than when publicly highlighting issues around Mental Illness.

Since I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) over four years ago, I have faced stigma and ignorance from employers, erstwhile friends, family members and through the media. Over and over again I have had to find the strength to 'explain' my symptoms and why people can't identify me as struggling with psychological and emotional distress from some kind of 'red letter' brand on my forehead. It has been a relief therefore, to have found online a community of people who have or are going through similar experiences as me and to know, ultimately that I am not some kind of alien stranded on a planet far from my home, that there is a community I can belong to and know that when I have had a difficult distressful day, I can come online and find understanding and support. Who knows maybe the online MH community is a colony of aliens on earth! Which is why it is so important that we are good to one another.

I know others with a more articulate plea have tackled this issue, but I felt I needed to add my own voice to the requests for us not to bring one another down. As a community, we have so much to overcome, either we need one another's support or we are not a community. I have not been on the receiving end of much abuse online, most debates I have had with people have been considered and helpful in the main. I have observed a number of negative interactions with people who have achieved so much good for the MH debate and community and mourn over the distraction, as well as the distress which is added to people who have been brave enough to become a public face of Mental Health issues.

I have experienced the lashing out of fellow sufferers in real situations which have caused me real distress. I know that I have done the same when feeling out of sorts and distressed. In real situations, however, my regrets mean that I am able to seek out the injured party and repair the relationship. Online victims of abusive interactions only have one remedy and that is to block the person being abusive to them. There is no chance to repair relationships. Added to this is the fact that online arguments and debates are word limited by the applications themselves, therefore, are open to significant misinterpretation.

A long time ago, before Facebook or Twitter, I was on a weekend residential with a group of Sixth Form girls. At 2.00 a.m. on Sunday I was forced to confiscate a mobile phone from the quivering hands of a sobbing, drunken (yeah we didn't search their bags on entering the hostel!) 17 year old girl who was in the middle of a text row with her (equally) drunken boyfriend. Immature and laughable, huh? Let's look at the key factors, emotional instability, substance related fogginess and word limited communication. The next morning, I returned the phone - after the epic hangover wore off she and her boyf actually spoke to one another on the same phones - with no word limit. They broke up completely a couple of weeks later...

But you get my point. Sometimes when someone from the MH online community expresses their distress or an opinion about their treatment etc, consider one or two factors before you press 'Tweet':

1) Have you earned the right to comment on someone else's experiences? If you have not followed someone for long enough to know the context in which their comments are made, maybe you will not have the full picture - remember 140 characters when you are emotionally distressed is not a lot of space in which to adequately provide a medical or psychological history.

2) When you read your comments back, do they offer something to the original tweeter that is positive? Sometimes if I am emotionally distressed I can easily misread someone else's tweet and respond to my own pain rather than the content of their comment.

3) Are you emotionally stable? If not, should you take a break from twitter or facebook? Often, when I am feeling vulnerable and raw I tend to avoid going online, because I know I have misread emails from friends in the past and ended up feeling hurt with no reason. Take care of yourself and don't get involved in unnecessary arguments with someone online.

4) Is what you are saying helpful or kind? Think about what you would feel like if you had posted about feeling highly distressed and then received your tweet? Would it cause you emotional damage? If the answer to any of these questions is 'yes', you have no right sending that to someone else especially if you do not know them outside of the 'twittersphere'.

5) Given the character limit, is your comment open to misinterpretation? If yes, then, think twice before hitting 'tweet'.

6) Above all, ask yourself, the purpose of the original tweet - was it just an expression of someone's experience or were they really asking for you to solve things for them? Very often when people tweet their distress, all they need is understanding and the knowledge they are not alone. You don't have to solve their distress, just show you care.

7) Ask yourself, are you this person's CPN or therapist? If not, then maybe offering solutions or advice on medication is not appropriate. Again, if you don't know someone's medical history then you may be offering dangerous or misleading advice.

8) My experience of BPD is different from everyone else's experience of it. There may be similarities particularly in regard to symptoms, but I need to respect your right to tell me that things that might have worked for me, may not be right for you. If someone tells you that a treatment or medication is not right for them, please respect their right to know themselves and what works for them.

Don't forget behind those 140 characters is a three dimensional, hurting, person. If you would be kind and considerate towards that sort of person in real life, then please apply the same principles to your interactions online. After all, we have so many other battles to fight against MH stigma and ignorance. Let's direct our energy into the right battles.

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