How it Feels to be a Prominent Mental Health Campaigner

I want to start this off by saying how incredibly grateful I am to everybody who supports me on social media.

To everybody who reads my blog, follows my Twitter and Instagram and cheers me on, I owe you more than you can all imagine. Not only has having so much unconditional support been a really pivotal part of my recovery, but I have undoubtedly had some excellent opportunities arise from it.

It’s impossible to say if I would still have been part of as many media campaigns as I have been, or whether I’d be having a book published had I not got the presence I have, but I’m not naive to the fact that my social media following has probably contributed to these things. Equally though, I do work very hard and have put huge amounts of time and effort into campaigning, writing, public speaking etc, 99% of which I do for free in my own time outside of my full time job as a nurse.

I know that it’s easy to compare yourself to people with bigger followings and to feel bad about yourself – I do it to people who I feel are more successful than me too and I do wonder at what point we are ever truly satisfied or if we are always chasing the next goal. I always feel like what I’m doing and who I am isn’t enough, even if on the outside other people don’t feel that way. Often people ask me how I have time to fit so much in, but I always feel like I should be doing extra.

I ummed and ahhed over the title of this post for a while (and of course turned to good old social media to help). I don’t really consider myself an influencer although I have been called this before. To me ‘influencer’ carries connotations of selling or advertising things which isn’t what I do. I don’t like the term ‘popular’, it makes me feel like I’m back at school – where incidentally I was never a popular kid, I was the weird mentally ill kid who got shipped off to the psych ward and never came back. ‘High profile’ doesn’t sit quite right – in the grand scheme of things, a combined following of around 34,000 people pales in comparison to those with hundreds and hundreds of thousands. I settled with influential because although it doesn’t sit quite right, I am not oblivious to the fact that what I say probably does have an influence on some of the people who read it.

I imagine everybody with some sort of following feels the pressure that comes with that. But I do feel that in the circles I move in, namely of mental health advocacy, I have an audience of people who are potentially vulnerable, whilst also at times being very vulnerable myself. I am constantly worried about saying the wrong thing and sometimes I do, because I am a human being and I’m not perfect, as much as that kills me. Making a mistake in front of 100 people is bad enough, but doing it in front of thousands is terrifying. Rightly I don’t expect to not be called out on things and I’m grateful when I am because it gives me the opportunity to learn and grow, but it’s also really scary at times to feel the weight of upsetting and disappointing so many people.

I also get messages from people in private most days. Some of these are lovely and supportive and I always try hard to respond to them when I can, and I really love receiving them and hearing from you guys! Others are asking for help which I really want to be able to do, but I was burning myself out on spending all day as a mental health nurse helping people through their problems and trauma and then trying to do the same when I got home. I have learnt that the best way to deal with this is to signpost to professionals who can help, but I often wish I could do more.

There is a dark side to the messages too though. The more followers I have gained, the more people message me telling me their weight, how much they exercise, how little they eat. I am in a really good place with recovery right now but I am not out of the woods and I’m not immune to finding it difficult to hear things like this. I used to try and respond and explain why that’s not okay but now I just delete for my own wellbeing. I feel guilty sometimes, but I have to protect myself and put in those boundaries. I also get more trolling, more dick pics, more people begging me for money who have never so much as said hello to me before. There are more people to comment on my body and my appearance, which is not always favourable. The more people that like me and support me, the more other people hate me.

There’s also the pressure of it just being impossible to engage with everybody as much as I would like to. I work 40 hours a week. I’m studying an incredibly difficult and intensive course that takes up hours of my spare time. It’s just not an option to give every interaction the attention and concentration it deserves and I regret that, because so many of you are so wonderful to me and I wish I could repay that somehow. Having the energy to pop a tweet out and the energy to then socialise are two different things, I don’t always have enough battery to do both.

Anorexia is an insidious illness and I want to do everything I can to protect people from it, help people recover and increase understanding of it. That’s why I talk about it so much. But a really common aspect of anorexia is how much it becomes your identity, and it’s really hard at times to separate myself from it when so much of my campaigning is talking about my experiences. I’m also inherently a numbers driven person and have always judged myself on my achievements. Grades, BMI, NHS banding, the list goes on. Inevitably then, my social media following becomes part of this, and no matter how many people support me and are wonderful, I still worry what I did wrong to the people who unfollow and block me, and if I should have done something to be better.

I have this feeling too, sometimes, that I have to do recovery perfectly now, because people look up to me and I inspire them. But recovery is fucking hard and sometimes I slip up. Sometimes I engage in behaviours I shouldn’t, I frequently hate everything about my body and I mourn my eating disorder every day. It’s tough out there.

I never expected to have the platform I do and to be honest I am really unsure as to how and why it’s happened. Yes, I share useful information and put a lot of myself into my advocacy but so do a lot of people. I don’t know why they haven’t been given the following or opportunities or influence that I have and I feel guilty that it’s happened to me and not to others.

I feel I’ve rambled a bit. Although I have highlighted some challenges here, overwhelmingly I am honoured that so many of you are interested in what I have to say and take the time to support me. For every one of you who has messaged me to offer me some recovery motivation or told me how my writing has helped you, I’m endlessly grateful. To the people who hold me to account and remind me that I do have a platform and a responsibility, thank you for helping me to learn and be better. To those of you who have stuck with me through all the ups and downs I feel privileged to have your support and I honestly spend a lot of time wondering what I have done to deserve it.

I didn’t understand Twitter when I joined it, and I thought I’d have a blog for all of five minutes before I gave up on it. I was somebody who was so worried anyone in the world would find out that I had mental health problems that I would stay up at night panicking that I would somehow be exposed and lose my job or my education or my friends. I was scared that nobody would ever want to be in a long term relationship with me and that people would leave me if they found out.

The response and support I have had over the years has shown me I not only don’t need to be ashamed of who I am, but that I can actually be proud of it, and I’ll never stop being grateful for that.


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