Yeah, yeah, I know, this isn’t actually my first post of the New Year but I came across what I thought was a helpful writing exercise for bloggers and it fits into how I maintain this blog. The advice was to introduce yourself to your readers. While I suspect many, if not most, of my regular readers are people I already know who follow updates on Facebook and Twitter, I also know that since I started the blog in June of 2014 I’ve had over 100 new followers- other people who write on mental health topics, religion, mindfulness, etc. I have a little bio on the site and a sort of brief explanation of what the blog is all about, and from time to time I may tweak them a bit, but a New Year is a good time to revisit them, offer some clarifications, do a little editing and talk about what I see for myself and the blog in the New Year.
Who am I and why am I here?
I’m Paul- I’m in my early thirties, work in my family’s business in Upstate New York, and in March of 2014 tried to kill myself. Whether you attribute it to fortune, folly or a change of heart, I’m still here and have been working on managing depression, anxiety and alcoholism through therapy, medication, meditation and abstaining from alcohol. I use this space to talk about that, but to also occasionally use the platform to express my views on other topics that may or may not be directly related to the recovery/maintenance process. I find that taking the time to write about my thoughts, emotions and activities is a (mostly) productive way to reflect and learn about myself, to explore ideas and compare techniques for managing my life.
My first post in June was a modified version of a message I had originally sent to family and close friends to give them an update on how I was doing in the weeks following the suicide attempt. Most of my posts probably fit into that framework, of an update on how I’m doing. It’s in that spirit that I named the blog “Paul’s Letters,” because in a way it’s a correspondence. Whether it’s here in the comments, conversations on Facebook, emails responding to a post or face to face conversations, I’ve heard from a lot of people across the spectrum of relationships who have let me know that they’re reading these conversations and want to engage with me on the topics. Sometimes it’s with advice, sometimes it’s with a disagreement (usually always friendly) and sometimes it’s just to let me know that they’re thinking of me. In any case, the blog really has become a correspondence between me and the people in my life.
But you might fairly ask, “Why a blog?” Why not letters, emails or the occasional Facebook post? The answer is that I do those things in addition to the blog, but the blog gives me the convenience of “one stop shopping,” as it were. I have the freedom to compose my messages how I want, to distribute it across multiple channels and to curate it all in one place. The other reason is that I want what I write to be public and not limited to personal correspondence with people I know. I hope that by sharing my own experience with depression, anxiety and alcoholism I can help people know that while their own experiences are unique, they are not alone if they struggle with these things, to help provide some context for those who may have someone in their life struggling with these issues and finally, to try and erase some of the misconceptions and stigmas out there regarding mental health issues. The blog is an easy and cheap way to spread this message and engage with a broader community than I might otherwise reach.
Who should be reading this?
The egomaniac in me would say “Everyone! Who’s not already reading it? How dare they!” The anxious self-conscious side of me would say “Nobody. What if I say something stupid, what if I can’t write, what if I confess to something embarrassing? Stay away!”
The real answer, of course, and I suspect this perhaps a plurality of my readers, is that if you’re reading this you might be someone who knows me but doesn’t see me all the time- a friend from college, a cousin, a former colleague, and you like reading it to see how I’m doing. That’s great- that’s how the blog started and I don’t want to lose that.
You might be someone who doesn’t know me from Adam, who came across this blog through a web search or clicking on one of the tags I’ve used to identify a post as relevant to something you’re interested in. In that case, welcome! I’m glad you’ve found the blog and I’m even happier if you’ve found it interesting or useful enough to keep reading. As I wrote above- the primary focus of the blog (to set proper expectations) is to discuss my own experiences and thoughts on living with depression, anxiety and alcoholism and some of the different management techniques for that. Sometimes I write about science, medicine, religion, politics, pop culture, books, etc., typically in a way that ties back to mental health issues, but not always.
Whether or not you know me, if you like something and would like to hear more about a topic, please leave a comment. If you’ve had a different experience with something than I have, or see a subject I write about differently, please leave a comment.
What do I want the blog to become in 2015?
Since this is my chance to reintroduce myself, it’s also an opportunity to take an inventory. I don’t think I do a good enough job of providing visual content on the blog- while almost every post has some kind of accompanying graphic or picture, there’s a lot I could be doing with visuals that I’m not. I have an account at PicMonkey.com which allows me to do some photo and graphics editing, and while I’ve done a little bit, I’m not really taking full advantage of the capabilities I have at my disposal. I also could probably create and post some video/audio content on the blog. I’ve talked about an accompanying podcast, and this is the time to commit to doing more to provide some different ways to express myself and make the site more unique and user-friendly.
I would love love love to have some more interaction here in this space in the comments section. While the interaction I have on the macro level with the blog is great- the emails, Facebook comments, face to face conversations is awesome, I’d like to capture that on the site itself. The marketer in me worries that what makes the blog great from a production perspective but not ideal from a conversational perspective is that it’s a central location from which to distribute content across multiple channels, but unfortunately the feedback I get is then scattered across those channels. So looking at the blog as a reader it may seem like a one way conversation, when in reality I’m hearing back from people all the time. If you’re another blogger reading this, how have you dealt with this issue?
Finally I’m wondering if this year I’ll have generated enough content on the blog that I could take a crack at writing a book. It may sound naive, ridiculously ambitious, etc. but I’ve thought that writing a retrospective of the first year after the suicide attempt might be compelling. It wouldn’t just be an edited anthology of the posts, but a narrative about my depression, anxiety and alcoholism, the suicide attempt and what followed, and I would use the blog as my notes in reconstructing how it played out. Writing and maintaining the blog went from something I felt obligated to do after the first few posts to something I look forward to. The discipline of writing 500-1500 words three-four days a week has (I think) made me a better writer, or at least a more confident one. I feel very comfortable with my voice and want to use it in a productive way.
So that’s me reintroducing myself- some of it is covering old ground to find the parts of me and of the blog that are consistent, steady and foundational, and some of it is looking forward and contemplating new challenges and opportunities. Happy New Year!