Tuesday, 19 June 2012

"You've Got a Friend"

Winter, spring, summer, or fall
All you have to do is call
And I'll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah
You've got a friend.

"You've Got a Friend" James Taylor

Friendship. What a powerful and all important word. To me it means more than words can possibly express, although I am going to give it a shot.

Friends have gotten me through my most difficult difficult times, times with my depression when I felt hopeless. What kept me alive in my darkest moments was the knowledge that I was, in fact, loved by my family and friends. That's pretty important because when you are suffering from deep depression you start to feel unworthy of love and friendship. Luckily, I was reminded by my friends that they were there for me. You know how they did that? Through technology and social media.

For a few days I have been thinking about this post. I knew that I wanted to write about the positive impact that social media has had on me but I wasn't quite sure how to link it to my illness and subsequent recovery. As I lay in bed this morning I knew that today was the day I would write it but I still hadn't come up with that connection, the element that would help me communicate my thoughts and feelings. So I sat down at my computer and opened up facebook. There were a few comments on my photos from my recent vacation - from my Aunt in Port Hardy, a lifelong friend in Alberta, cousins in Medicine Hat, and a new friend in Maple Ridge. But I also had a message. As I opened the message and began to read, I started to cry. It was from a long-time friend in another city who was reaching out to me. She was recently diagnosed with anxiety and depression and was struggling with illness that I know all too well. Quite simply, it broke my heart. But I was also happy that she had chosen not to suffer alone.

If it hadn't been for social media, facebook in this case, we very likely wouldn't be connected. We wouldn't be able to share similar experiences and, as a result, create another level of friendship. That's a gift, in my mind.

Mental illness very often isolates people. By nature of the disease, a person suffering withdraws from social interaction. Sadly, this is usually one of the worst things that we can do. In the book Your Depression Map by Randy J. Paterson, Ph.D., Paterson writes, "When people become emotionally overwhelmed, their social lives are usually among the first areas to be affected. In depression, for example, social isolation is one of the primary symptoms. Unfortunately, it only makes the depression worse."

This was certainly the situation in my case. As I have written before, I lost some friends over the years as a result of this. But others were amazing and recognized that I needed time and space to heal and were there when I needed them. And when I needed them I often turned to facebook or email. Because one on one interaction, never mind group interaction, was simply overwhelming to me most of the time, social media allowed me the distance, yet connection, that I needed. I could open up facebook and find a message of love or a silly joke that never failed to help me make it to the next hour. Facebook, quite literally, was a lifeline to me.

As I slowly became well, I thought about how I could share my experiences with depression, to make others feel less alone and, hopefully, break down the walls of stigma and misunderstanding. From that, Adventures of a Survivor was born and I have never looked back.

Many people find social media overwhelming or scary or a combination of both. But you can make it what you need it to be. I am very conscious of what I allow into my brain these days so my rule is "no negative content"! If I am following someone on Twitter or a friend on facebook sends out hateful words or uses lots of profanity, that's a deal breaker for me. As a result, I am pretty happy with the connections that I have cultivated through social media - they feed my soul, provide inspiration, and nurture my mental health. And yes, I have made new like-minded friends - for that I am really grateful!

I have attached a link below to an article in the June 19th Vancouver Sun written by Daphne Bramham. In it, Bramham writes about the power of social media to create community. No longer do we turn to our neighbours for help, we turn to social media and the communities that we create there.

In the message that my friend sent me, she said that when she was in her dark moments she would open facebook and look at the pages of a few friends who offered inspiration and hope - she found comfort in this because she knew that she wasn't alone.  If that doesn't speak to the power of social media as a connector, then I don't know what does.

To my dear, beautiful friend, this is dedicated to you. Thank you for reaching out and thank you for your friendship all these years.

KB xo


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