Although I sometimes wax nostalgic about bygone days when screens did not dominate my life and my attention was not as divided as often as it seems to be lately, the fact is I think a healthy social media community can be a great asset to persons suffering from mental illness. However, there are possible triggering pitfalls that can exacerbate paranoia, produce feelings of defensiveness, cause an over-internalizing of criticisms and lead to other damaging emotional and mental states.
My bipolar manifests in distinctive ways. For the past decade I’ve been basically able to time my depressions. I didn’t recognize my manias until two years ago, but depression has been with me since I was a kid, so I can tell when one is coming on. Now that I understand my manias as well, I can even more accurately time depression. On meds and with therapy, I still feel it. Most days I can live with a medicated depression as long as I can communicate with others what is going on. I’m in one now; I’m having tactile issues, which hurts intimacy, and I’m dealing with some pretty heavy financial issues, something that happens with many in our community. This is a scheduled depression, but my surroundings definitely play a role. Agoraphobia attenuates these symptoms as well, so even if I want to reach out, I’m not really able to leave the house. And the phone? Ha. That’s funny. I only pick up calls if I’m certain there is no other way to communicate.
That brings me to the second kind of depression with which I live: the unscheduled, situational kinds. Those are wild and unpredictable, and have proved to be some of the most debilitating. More than once, social media has been responsible. I have felt attacked and lashed out defensively; it was especially bad back when I still drank alcohol. Drunkbooking is real, yo, and it is not a good look on anyone.
And that’s the first of my Five Rules for Facebooking When You Have Bipolar (with suggestions that help for other platforms as well):
1. Be careful drinking and doing social media. This is a tough one because I’ll say, more often than not, drinking and doing Facebook was a blast, especially when I was in situations in which I could not leave the house, attend parties or even go to work. Obviously, in an ideal world, we are not sitting home alone drinking while depressed, but I’m going to keep it real. A lot of us have done it, maybe still do it; are in danger of doing it again. Alcohol abuse is something that we should all try to avoid, but sometimes we have to prioritize our fights. I don’t drink any more, but that’s still new. So if you are drinking and doing Facebook, just know that your chances of being triggered increase exponentially, and serious damage to relationships can result.
2. Know and use your security settings. Facebook is my go to, so that’s what I’ll use as an example. I have a professional page and a personal page. Sometimes there is crossover with posts, but that’s only because I am an obsessive writer; it is a major part of my therapy. But on my personal page, I share details of my daily life, work in the church, what I’m reading. Even there, though, not everyone gets to see everything. I have different settings for different posts. I am very open about living with bipolar disorder, but there are only certain people I will let read posts I make when I am in the thick of it. That relationship has been earned, both by the people who I trust and by myself. Each of them know that they see things others don’t, and we talk about what that entails for all involved.
3. Be intentional about forming community. I treat social media as I treat other contexts in which I interact with people. For example, I communicate things appropriate for work colleagues in ways that I would in the “real world.” With acquaintances, I post playful and interesting things for those who like to stay in touch, but aren’t necessarily interested in following everything that I post. Then with friends, I break them into specialty groups. There are those who will see most of the theological things I post, or my personal reflections on the challenges of being a pastor in such a small village. And some get to see the really raw stuff, as I mentioned in #2.
4. Your page, your rules. I have basic rules for everyone — no racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, etc. — but I treat the inner circle, as I call them, like we’re in a sexual relationship. You are invited to my page and we can be vulnerable, but no means no. If I communicate that something is out of line, if I ask that posts stop immediately, if I indicate that triggering is going on and, while I admit that I might not be fully rational but that we’ll put a pin in it and return to the subject later, that’s it. Either you respect me and trust me, knowing that I would never use that as an excuse to avoid owning my own thoughts, or you are out of the inner circle. We might remain outstanding personal friends, but it may just mean that we can’t have that sort of relationship over social media.
5. If we can be social media friends with people we don’t know, we can also have real world friends with whom we don’t share social media. It can be awkward when people ask why I haven’t accepted their friend request (most often I say, “Please like my professional page and send me a message. I’d love to know what you think of what I’m doing) or why I unfriended them (same response), but I have been honest with a few people about how interactions between us (and it is so important to own your own culpability if it is there) caused me stress and strife that never happens when we see each other in person. We so often think we owe someone a friend request. We don’t. Just don’t be a jerk about it, and try to emphasize other ways in which the relationship can thrive.
What about you? What’s your policy on social media? Sound off below!