All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…

The pleasures and perils of writing about family and friends on a mental health blog

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For those thinking I’ve bailed on my Mental Health Month Challenge, you’re wrong. At the very top of the PDF outlining the daily prompts for this challenge is a wonderful line that states: ‘you get two “Get Out Of Post Free” Days. Use Wisely!’

Whether I’ve used them wisely over the last two days is yet to be seen as I now have none left. But let’s not worry about this just yet, let us instead focus on today’s prompt…write about how you choose to write about others in your blog (friends, family etc.).

Writing about my family and friends

My family...

My Family…

The lost blog post…

Although I began writing this blog in 2007, I stopped writing it in mid-2008 when I threw my attention toward rebuilding my life in Alice Springs. Being employed after eighteen months of isolation was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do and in order to better my chances of success in a ‘normal’ life I had to let my blog go, which became one of the biggest regrets of my life as I would not return to it until late 2009.

After months of living a homeless non-existence I returned to my blog for a series of posts celebrating its two-year anniversary. I wrote posts detailing the continued effect that the abuse I received was having on me, I wrote about my homelessness for the first time and of psychiatric appointments I’d had months earlier.

Although I’ve never really mentioned this before (as it makes me sound completely insane), I have no memory of writing and publishing any of these posts!

When I returned to the blog earlier this year I read through all I’d written and stared in complete disbelief at the atrocious writing I’d committed in my name.

Certainly, the post about Stephanie was wonderful, but the vast majority of these posts are atrocious crimes against writing, even though the information contained within them is true. None more so than a post called Fourteen Beautiful Souls, which is one of the single greatest examples of hypomanic writing that has ever been published on this blog! Thirty-five rambling pages of A4 that chronicle some (but not all) of the most important people in my life.

When I read this despicable post back for the first time I wanted to vomit. Without doubt it is one of the negative highlights of my shameful life and one of my biggest regrets. Although, given I can’t remember writing it, is it right to regret doing it?

Of all the major posts I’ve written over the last five years this is the only post I refuse to re-publish. I still have it, nestled somewhere as a draft in my posts menu, but what I did in that post broke all the rules concerning ‘other people’ that I’d established for myself when beginning this blog in 2007.

The five rules…

1. I will not write about the lives of other people unless they have given me permission to do so.
2. I will only write about other people if it is vital to the topic at hand.
3. I will at all times use a pseudonym when writing about other people.
4. I will be respectful, compassionate and non-abusive when writing about other people.
5. No identifiable photographs. Period!

Since returning to the blogosphere earlier this year I have been careful not to break these rules again when writing about other people, something I will only do when necessary in order to avoid the unintended pain my Fourteen Beautiful Souls post caused.

Kathryn

I had wanted to write about my sister for as long as this blog has been alive. But back in the early days my sister was a regular reader and contributor to this blog and I didn’t want her to read about the effect her illness had on my life. So, not wishing to cause her any pain, I avoided writing about her in detail, choosing only to drop the occasional sliver of information as and when necessary to fill in my back story.

However, earlier this year I realized through conversations with a psychologist that it was important to deal with this hitherto untouched part of my life. So not wishing to break rule (1) I phoned my parents to ask their permission to write about my sister and her illness.

I couldn’t ask Kathryn personally as we haven’t spoken for many years and probably never will again, but if I was going to write about this part of my life, I wanted to be sure to do it right.

Fortunately, my parents understood and with their help filling in forgotten facts, the (as yet unfinished) trilogy of posts dealing with my sister was finally written.

My Sister and Me (1): Childhood
My Sister and Me (2): Anorexia Nervosa

My Family

As for other members of my family, aside from the occasional reference, I have barely written about them in detail. Certainly I have mentioned that some members of my family also suffer from mental health issues but I am cautious not to be too precise or revealing. Not only do I not want to offend people, but it would be unfair for me to discuss their lives on this blog, healthwise or otherwise.

The only other occasion I can recall writing about a member of my family was during the Unsent Letter’s series back in August. Although it was clear that the letter was being written to my nephew, there were no names or personal information given so his identity should only have been recognizable to my family.

Unsent Letter: In the end, what we regret most are the chances we never took

But as always when writing about other people, the nervousness was omnipresent throughout the writing, editing and publishing process, never more so than when I’m writing about my (old) friends.

Samantha

Long-time readers of my blog will be asking one question…why did Sammi not begin to be mentioned until earlier this year?

The answer is two-fold:

1) She was mentioned in past posts, albeit in an indirect manner, as far back as 2007. (She even had a couple of her own posts published on my one-time sister blog Eliminate the Stigma of Mental Illness and wrote many comments across all the blogs I’ve had over the years)

2) Because of the nature of our friendship (which was more complicated than most) she requested that she not be written about until she was comfortable with me sharing our friendship with the wider world.

Due to her untimely passing, Sammi was never able to give me that permission directly. So the decision to write about her (and our complicated friendship) was not taken lightly. I had long wanted to tell the tale of our friendship and ultimately decided that the time was finally right to do so.

As long as I followed rule (4) to the letter!

One Night in Adelaide (Mature Content)
I will never forget her
What would you change about yourself?

My Friends

Time, my own failings, mental health and the fact I’m a worthless arsehole rendered me isolated many years ago. But even though I no longer have the friends I once did doesn’t mean that I ever stopped caring about the people who once meant the world to me, and in a way still do.

The primary reason I nearly vomited when reading back Fourteen Beautiful Souls was due to the sheer amount of personal information I shared in that post. Not just about who these people were but my own feelings toward them. It was disrespectful, unfair, a massive breakage of trust and something I will deeply regret until the day I die.

It’s true that from time to time these people are mentioned on the blog, some more than most, but I do so only because I need to. Not to hurt them, embarrass them or humiliate them, but because for a long period of time these people were the reason I would get out of bed in the morning.

These people made me into who I was, who I am and who I will be in the future, so in writing about my life’s journey it is important I share how they touched my life.

I would love to write more posts about these people. Posts that celebrate their awesomeness in the manner I have written about Sammi. Tales of backpacking adventures, drunken escapades, heartfelt conversations and moments of pure bliss, pain and regret – but I can’t as I don’t want these people to be (any more than they already are) associated with this weird, confused loner who is but a shadow of the person they once knew.

Unlike Samantha, who will never read what I write about her, there is a chance (albeit minimal) that these other people will.

And I just don’t want to cause them any further pain and embarrassment.

The future…

Talking about mental illness is one of the most personal things you can do. As I said recently, it is not something that should be considered brave and courageous (merely normal), but it is something that should be an individual’s choice.

Stigma and discrimination is just as alive as it’s always been when it comes to mental health, so in addition to not wanting to upset anyone, this factor has always been high in my mind when writing about other people on this blog.

Not just in terms of their own health, but in terms of being associated with my own.

So whenever I write about my friends, my family and other people who have touched my life on this blog, I will continue abiding by the five rules I laid out all those years ago. Rules that I have occasionally broken, but never once out of malice or with intent to cause harm.

...and friends

…and friends

If anyone does remember the Fourteen Beautiful Souls post (hopefully not) and were hurt by its content, I humbly and sincerely apologise.

I am not saying I don’t remember writing it to give myself a convenient excuse or avoid taking responsibility, but because I genuinely have no memory of writing it. It was a mistake, and like all the mistakes I’ve made in my life, one I’ve been (and will continue to be) living with for the remainder of my life.

 

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2 thoughts on “The pleasures and perils of writing about family and friends on a mental health blog

  1. I have worried about who I write about in my “journey” posts and the fact that those events I write about are part of a draft that hopefully will be published one day. If you have noticed, I do not meantion anyones name. If published I will probably give pseudomyn for all the names. Which seems strange since it will be an autobiography. I am not even going to use my known name as author either. I was just talking to my son last night about the fact that, I wasn’t writing about his life or anything and that when I did mention him I wouldn’t be using his real name. I still need to talk to my daughter about that. But do I have to talk to everyone and get their permission to write about them? I don’t even want my parents to know that the book exists (if it ever does). Then there is my ex husband too. I guess I will figure these things out as I go right? I just don’t want to gete sued one day for defamation. lol

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  2. I usually go with writing their initials, no last names and not including personal information unless it’s something that was already online anyways.

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