The Double Edged Sword of Anonymity

I love the fact that I can bleed my soul on here during my darkest hours and nobody from my ‘real life’ can question me about it, the freedom to express my madness in my own domain, in my own terms and without immediate accountability keeps me writing. Shouting my fears and my beliefs without fear of judgement from those who can impact me allows me to organise my thoughts and so often saves my sanity, anonymity keeps me breathing.

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But sometimes being on the other side of anonymity also stings, sometimes these bonds we have formed with other people who are just like us, sometimes they hurt like fire because they leave us helpless. We in the online mental health community hold each other through the ups and downs, we understand them and we know just how deeply those downs can travel to the very bottom of the darkest pit of despair, the one we feel that there is no possible escape from, the one that all too many of us are painfully familiar with.

This rock bottom pit of hopelessness is where a final call for help may be screamed out into the vast world of cyberspace, a last resort when all real world options have been exhausted. But sometimes, right at that moment even in the bustling world of social media, nobody is there to answer it. People online of course still go offline, they become immersed (rightfully) with their real life people, commitments and the busy world that is still going on around them outside of their computer screen.

What if we miss that last cry for help? What if we see it 47minutes too late, then what? What if we miss that last opportunity to distract someone, to stop them from taking that final drastic measure? We can’t call them on the phone, pop over to their house because in the end they are just an anonymous voice from far across the vastness of the oceans. If they switch off their computer or choose not to reply we are rendered powerless, we don’t know if they are okay or not, the reality is they are probably safe but the fear is they are not.

And we don’t know how to find out, not properly anyway. Do we take drastic measures contacting admin support in the hope that somewhere in the ether real contact information has been provided and something can be done? Do we keep waiting for them to reply to our messages, hoping that they managed to contact someone who has gotten help for them or that they have decided to take a ‘break’ from the inter webs for a while, ore have even run out of monthly internet data?

If we take that larger step it could have lasting repercussions on the life of a real person, it could expose their illness to friends and neighbours, get their social media account suspended making it harder for them to ask for help, but if we don’t do anything it could have far more dire consequences.

We have invested ourselves in each others stories, we fill our hearts with joy and sadness right alongside each other and then suddenly without warning someone who has been struggling disappears. Mental illness of course will already give us a tendency towards isolation, then there are unplanned hospitalisations, lack of access to the internet, real life… A million reasons not to post or update.

But for those left behind in the online world it can feel as though the final chapter has now been torn away and we don’t know if that last sad tweet was in fact their last tweet. We don’t know if we could have helped. Hours pass, days, weeks, nothing. Silence.

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To the beautiful soul on Twitter that I sometimes chat with, I won’t name you here but this week when you called out for someone to talk to and nobody replied, I want you to know that I am still thinking of you, I hope so very much that you are okay.

I am sorry that I was 47 minutes too late to be there for you when you really needed someone to talk to. I really hope you were able to call the suicide hotline or make contact with a friend before you did something unchangeable.

You haven’t been back on Twitter since, or on your blog and today when I went to check on you again your Twitter account seemed to have disappeared into the abyss – I am hopeful that that means that you chose to remove it for whatever reason and that means you are okay, well physically. You know who you are, I left you a bunch of messages, so if you do read this, please just let me know you are okay!

And to all my wonderful followers, fellow bloggers, mental health advocates and mental illness warriors, please remember that no matter how dark things are getting around you and how awful and alone you feel, it is possible for life to change and things to get better.

We are all in this together and while someone might not be able to reply to your message immediately due to life and time differences, it doesn’t mean we don’t care, it doesn’t mean that your life and your journey don’t matter, please pick up the phone and at least give the suicide hotline in your area a chance to change your mind because once you take that final step there is no going back, you DO matter and you DO deserve to live, you really, really do!

Biggest hugs xoxo Kate

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