Oof. This is a big topic. Honestly, I could probably make a thousand posts about the internet and mental health in general, but this post is specifically about how internet can both help and hurt the recovery process, something which I have very personal experience with.
For me, the internet was absolutely vital for kickstarting my recovery. Without it, I definitely would have felt impossibly alone and I have no idea how I would have coped without it at first. Tumblr, especially, played a huge role in validating my experience and connecting me with others who were going through similar things. For the first time, I found a community of people who were actually talking about the pain they were in instead of hiding it for the sake of social niceties. This was so refreshing, and I jumped in headfirst.
Even though it eventually became a problem, I am adamant that this initial immersion into the world of mental illness online was an unimaginably powerful coping mechanism, and I wouldn’t do anything differently if I had to do it again. I needed to read and talk and, yes, obsess over these things for a while. For so long, I had been trying to deny my own reality, trying to just not be mentally ill, and now it was time to let go of that completely. The internet made that possible, and I’m eternally grateful.
Still, after a while, I was incredibly miserable, and I started to suspect that my internet experience had something to do with it. Instead of finding relief online, I was triggering myself over and over by reading such upsetting things. My brain was trying to heal itself, but it couldn’t because I kept feeding it a steady stream of pain and misery. Plus, I had gotten absolutely addicted to the validation the internet provided me. Part of me didn’t really want to get better, because that would mean giving up the pure ecstasy of finally feeling seen.
It took a lot of hard mental work (and several years of backslides) but eventually I molded my internet experience into something more positive. I started following more websites and accounts that focused on recovery instead of validation through the exhibition of pain, and I even followed some accounts that weren’t about mental health at all. I cultivated my other interests and started becoming a full human again instead of just a walking, talking mental illness.
All of this is kind of hard for me to admit, because it feels like I should have known better, shouldn’t have gotten sucked into a world of such negativity, should have resisted the temptation to place validation above actual healing. But I think this is a struggle a LOT of mentally ill folks run into, and if I’m thinking of other people instead of myself, it’s understandable. It’s a fine line to walk, reaping the benefits of the internet without accidentally getting caught in its traps. So I thought I would share my experience, in the hopes that others will feel less guilty or less dumb or just less alone.
For more on this topic, check out my latest HealthyPlace post, The Internet and Mental Health: It Helped & Hurt My Recovery.