I am depressed. Technology is my lifeline
This is a personal account of my experience of depression and how I feel technology has both helped me, and held me back. I've been depressed for just about as long as I can remember, but it's only in the last six months or so that I decided I needed help and thought it was time to do something. 30-odd years is a long time to feel like Atlas bearing the weight of the world.
Having made this decision, technology was something of a lifeline... specifically, and perhaps oddly, Facebook. The social network made it possible for me to communicate with friends when the mere idea of actually speaking to someone seemed like an insurmountable obstacle. It broke down barriers of time and distance, eased my embarrassment, stopped me from feeling awkward for crying (although even writing that brought the tears welling up, and I feel like an idiot, albeit in private).
I've always been quiet, prone to dips into the depths of gloominess but having been that way for as long as I can remember, it became easy to accept it as the norm -- but things started to get too much for me. In the bleak spiral of blackness, the idea of picking up the phone, going to see someone, is just too much. An absolute impossibility. Bashing out a few words on Facebook, however, was far more manageable.
Being able to reach out to people who knew me, whilst simultaneously being able to keep them at arms' length (or draw them closer, as required) was much easier online than in the real world. Those in direct contact with me, of course, cared, but familiarity breeds contempt and it can be hard to try to explain feelings that have been hidden away for three decades. The distance the likes of Facebook and Twitter offered was perfect.
It seems selfish -- sometimes you have to be selfish in the name of self-preservation -- but speaking to people in person or on the phone all too often results in the conversation being on the other person's terms. Social networks are frequently home to people who like to hide behind the anonymity such services afford them. While I was not seeking anonymity, Facebook gave me a chance to step back from myself, write about the way I was feeling at my own pace rather than in a real-time conversation where day-long pauses would be, well, weird.
Facebook, for instance, gave me the chance to 'come out' as depressed in a way that I was in control of. If I got a shitty response from people, I could just delete that status and move on. If people said stuff that hurt me, I could ignore it in a way that would not be possible in a face-to-face situation. I could message people on my terms. And I did. I poured out my heart to people. I splurged. People I would never consider being so open with in person, I told everything.
I told people about suicidal thoughts. About self-harm. About living inside my head and hating it.
There was no need for me to respond to people immediately. I could sit on what had been said to me, mull and consider my reply, and then type out something that actually made sense. Try doing that in the real world.
It hasn’t just been Facebook, of course. I've been able to email support workers and other people when the idea of facing the world was essentially an alien concept. This isn't to say that tech is the answer to everything. Obviously I need to see real people in the flesh... and I do. But for those times when doing anything beyond breathing seems too hard, tech is a lifeline.
I'm a conundrum. I'm endlessly sensitive and take everything to heart -- in the real world, at least. Exposing oneself online means having to develop a thick skin, because people hate you. The internet brings out extremes of response. It's not enough to just disagree with an opinion, disagreement has to be expressed in the strongest possible terms, belittling and berating the holder of those views. Someone who holds an opinion that differs from yours is not simply of a different opinion, they're an idiot. That is just how it is for journalists. Whatever you write about, you lay yourself open for attack, and this would seem to run counter to the idea of trying to protect oneself.
But it works. Technology has been a hobby of mine for as long as I can remember, and I feel incredibly privileged to be able to combine a hobby with work. I love technology. I love writing. I get paid for bringing these two loves together. Win!
What was the point in writing this? Well, to a large extent it was cathartic. But I also recognize that there are plenty of people like me out there. I was astonished to learn that so many of my friends -- including those I spent years with at school -- were, or had been, suffering in the same way as me.
Calling that helpline might seem like too much.
Speaking to even your partner or closest friends might feel impossible.
But there are other approaches. For me, it was Facebook. I was touched beyond words at the support I found out there. It's not that I previously thought that people wouldn't care, but I ended up being overwhelmed by just how amazing friends -- and even people I don't know all that well -- are.
Technology can be seen as just another form of communication, but it's one that can be made to work the way you want it to. Use it.