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Here I am, talking about my mental health issues openly, on the Internet where everyone (with Internet access) can see it. Anonymously, however, as noted on my About page. I also have an anonymous Twitter account (@DisorderlyChick) and I feel that this is a decent way to handle being crazy online.

The main reasons I’ve taken this route came up before the bipolar diagnosis. I had always attributed it to ADD: impulsivity. In fact, impulsivity can be symptomatic of both bipolar and ADD. Impulse control is not my best skill. I’m better about it than I used to be, but I’ve almost always been a speak-first-think-second person. This is not a particularly good trait for someone who tends to be critical, is easily frustrated, is not always particularly tactful, and has many social media contacts that overlap personal and professional lives.

Fortunately, I figured this out almost two years ago and deactivated my Facebook account. I had 650 Facebook friends, many of whom were professional contacts, and I could never tell who was actually seeing what. Many people on Facebook take a “look but don’t touch” approach which pisses me off to no end. That’s called free-riding and is antithetical to the whole concept of social media. They’re being voyeurs, watching from the sidelines, but never playing the game. Why should I let them watch my drama?

Yes, I’m dramatic at times. I can’t help it! I’m glad I know that now because I used to beat myself up over it. But the frequency with which I’d post something on Facebook and then retract it–after people had already had a chance to see it–was disturbing to me. I was saying things, very publicly, that I later regretted. It could be professionally damaging. After all, I have yet to get the job I’m hoping to eventually land, and employers use Google just like the rest of us. I worried about that a lot, and actually have three Twitter accounts in order to better manage that sort of thing.

Yes, three Twitter accounts. Two are personally identifiable, and one is my anonymous “crazy” account as identified above. The two that are personally identifiable include a public account where I post the most innocuous of stuff, and a private account with a very exclusive circle of friends where I remove (most of) my filters and say what I’m really thinking. So long as it doesn’t have to do with being mental.

Sounds excessive, right? Well, the visibility of interactions on the Internet is disturbingly high. It’s impossible to know who is seeing our public content. Google and all its ilk make it really easy to find stuff that is directly related to me, and I rank high in search results for my name. It’s so easy to track Internet content back to its author. When it comes to social networks, researchers have found that our personal networks are so individualized that we can be identified across platforms. So if someone mined my Facebook contacts, they could also find me on Twitter, even if I were using different names.

Call me paranoid (and no, I don’t generally have psychotic symptoms!) but that lack of privacy can be problematic. At the same time, I can’t resist being part of the conversation. So now I take advantage of tools that help hide my impulsivity by using private and anonymous accounts. Even then, I retract my statements more than I like, but a lot less often than I once did. So at least I feel better–or less paranoid, anyway–about the potential professional and personal fallout of speaking my impulsive mind online.

There’s another part of the combination of the Internet and impulsivity that gets me. Online purchasing is so easy. Credit cards make money so intangible it’s hard to really wrap my head around my spending. I know there are mechanisms to better control that, like low-limit credit cards or giving them up entirely, but for a number of reasons (like international travel and the potential for having a credit card cut off simply because of foreign charges and then being stranded abroad without a method of payment; emergency necessities like a boiler to heat my house when I don’t have $4K in savings…) those are just not practical options.

I definitely do some hypomanic spending. In fact, I’ve been tempted to add daily spending to my mood chart tracking to look at the correlations, but it’s already self-evident. Fortunately, I do tend to retain enough rationality to mostly avoid the completely stupid purchases that a lot of people make when manic. I’m so accustomed to having a low income that frugal shopping practices have become thoroughly ingrained. Instead of spending thousands, I spend hundreds. I go to my favorite online retailers and meticulously peruse their clearance sales, finding good deals on clothing and outdoors gear that I otherwise couldn’t afford. I still can’t really afford that spending, but at least it’s not disastrous. I do have some hope of catching up once I start earning a better wage because I don’t expect my overall lifestyle habits to change much.

At this point, however, I’ve realized that spending habits are one way to gauge my moods. When I find that I’m spending more than I ought, I can try to make myself think twice about one more purchase, whether I really need it, and if I can wait on it to make a decision when I’m not feeling quite so spendy. In any case, it’s much easier for me to rack up debt with Internet purchases. I don’t have to leave home and spend precious time digging through stores, which I don’t much care to do with the exception of resale shops. Of course, I end up spending as much or more time combing through the Internet sales. There are still limits to the damage I can do that way, and I tend to be less tempted by shiny things that aren’t on sale!

UPDATE Interesting related Yahoo! News article:
Facebook With Care: Social Networking Site Can Hurt Self-Esteem

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