Finding my Voice Offline

I’ve become fairly comfortable with expressing my opinions online.  There are some of my relationships that have suffered because of that. I’m working through the messy process of helping others to understand my motivations and also taking their perspective about how and why what I post can be so uncomfortable for them. I try to be sensitive to the privacy concerns of friends and family, but at some point I have to allow people to own their own feelings about what I write. The letting go of the need for universal acceptance and validation is an important part of my growth. When I’m by myself, that is easier to do.  

Out in public, in face to face interactions, I am less secure. Yesterday, we recorded our Christmas songs from last semester in the belly of the great Meyerson Concert Hall.  It was a grueling twelve hour day of standing, singing, waiting, and occasional socializing. I felt distance from some people and I knew that those people were probably uncomfortable with some of my posts.  That is unsurprising as I post pretty controversial stuff. It’s hard for me to feel the gaze of judgemental acquaintances and strangers and not feel shame.

Not everyone has responded negatively to my posting.  In fact, I have developed some deep and meaningful relationships with several sisters in the choir from many different choral sections.  That is a little unusual with a choir so large. I ate dinner with two of those women last night. We discussed the problematic polarization, the difficulty with political expression on social media, and the need for Americans to shed their party labels and focus on finding real solutions to the problems we face that we are all suffering from.  The rising costs of prescription drugs, the problems in our schools, and the homeless who have insufficient protection from the cold weather are all issues that affect both democrats and republicans and that we can work together on if we stop demonizing one another. It was a good conversation. One woman whom I had just met sat at our table. She was pretty uncomfortable discussing politics at first, but even she warmed up and had some good observations to share.  One of the things I noticed was her fear. Although she was intelligent and well informed with good ideas, she said she avoided political discussions because of their volatility. I wish such people did not feel obligated to be silent. We need more non-polarized, peacemaking voices if we are to recover as a nation.  

As I listened to a podcast by Hidden Brain from NPR in the shower this morning.  The podcast called, “Passion Isn’t Enough,” was all about how, for many Americans, politics has become a spectator sport that relies on entertainment, flashy national figures, and an over-reliance on national verses local politics.  They analyzed the psychological reasons why it is easier, feels safer, and feels better to engage with politics in this way. It is also much more polarizing and much less effective than face to face local political involvement.  

I asked myself some tough questions.  Why do I follow politics? Do I really want change?  If so, what is keeping me from being involved at the local level?  Why don’t I attend the school board meetings? Why don’t I know my mayor’s name?  What am I doing to show my local representatives that character matters to me, not just on the national level, but at the local level? Not just in government, but in all leadership? These are complicated questions and I’ll need to ponder on them further.  My endless ruminating can make me feel so alone and isolated. My choice to stay at home and care for my young children has made it difficult to adequately meet my intellectual needs and find like minds. My willingness to engage online with uncomfortable issues has allowed me to have more meaningful face to face interactions and better meet my own intellectual needs.

My blog has been such a useful way for me to share thoughts and feelings and find needed support. I hope it has been useful to others as well. For those who question my motives, please understand that mental health blogs are a thing. There are actually a lot of mental health blogs online. People with mental and emotional illness or who support those who have it have found that sharing strategies and experiences with one another reduces the isolation and hopelessness that come with the stigma and the burden of caring for those who suffer. This sharing is healthy and young people especially are more comfortable with talking about these issues and being open about them. My older readers might not understand why I am posting or see my posts as evidence that I am in a very bad place. It may be hard for older readers to see the value of sharing things that used to be kept secret. I understand your concerns.

I am under the care of competent licensed mental health professionals who are confident that I am not a danger to myself or others. My depression is a difficult condition to manage, but I hope my readers will not worry needlessly about me when I have a bad day or post something negative. Please don’t feel obligated to check on me through relatives. I will be fine. If you are concerned about me or anything that I write, please message me and I will get back with you. My counselor and my psychiatrist have both encouraged me in my blogging seeing it as a healthy part of my recovery.

Mental health problems are rampant. I feel it is vital for us to share what knowledge we have about mental health. There are many who cannot, for whatever reason, get the help they need. If you haven’t been in their shoes, you might have had to support someone who is. Perhaps you have a brother with bipolar who refuses to take his medication and shows up at your door needing a place to stay but you don’t have room to keep him long term. Maybe a friend is so depressed she can’t care for her baby. She’s afraid to go on medication because she is breastfeeding. These are common scenarios that anyone can find themselves in. If our social networks are full of false and harmful ideas about mental health, how can we support these people? How can we direct them to the resources they need to heal? We need to talk about these things. And not just online.

I know in my heart that to really make a difference, I need to resist the urge to think that expressing online is sufficient.  I need to do the hard work and have some face to face interactions. That is going to be very uncomfortable for me. I hope that I can rise to this challenge.  I hope that as I build relationships with other people of good will who are working to solve our problems that this will be the beginning of a powerful phase of my life.  

In sacrament meeting this week I was sustained as the Relief Society Secretary.  Yikes. This is going to require a new level of courage for me. It is also going to require a new level of emotional maturity.  My weaknesses loom large in my mind as I think of what is being asked of me. Still, I know that with the Savior’s help, I can do everything that is required.  I am so grateful for supportive friends, a wonderful husband, beautiful children, and the many opportunities that the Savior has put in my path to serve my brothers and sisters.  I don’t need their universal approval to serve, I only need His call and His power which I will strive to be worthy of every day.  

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