MY STRUGGLE WITH AUTHENTIC VULNERABILITY

When I finally felt ready to blog again, I knew that this time, I wanted to create and share content that was out of my comfort zone. I wanted to tell my stories – like I had been for the past two years – but this time, remove the anonymity that had previously allowed me to feel safe and comfortable with sharing such intimate details about my life and my struggles.

In real life, I struggle immensely with vulnerability. My theory is that this struggle comes as a result of childhood trauma, and my social anxiety, but I haven’t quite figured that out yet, to be honest. Deciding to “remove the mask” of anonymity online was a huge challenge for me, as that would require getting comfortable with the uncomfortable by facing my fear of authentic vulnerability.

The cognitive dissonance that I experienced from portraying different versions of myself, online and in real life, became incredibly overwhelming for me to manage. This, obviously, was never my intention when I first started Twitter and blogging (authentically and anonymously) but unfortunately, it was the end result. The platforms that had once brought me a sense of belonging and connectedness, had overtime developed into a debilitating depression, excessive anxiety, isolation, and a full-blown identity crisis. Fortunately, over the past few months, I was able to accept that it would be necessary for me to be my authentic self in all areas of my life, so that I could become “unstuck” from my unhealthy mindset, and continue sharing my stories online again.

The biggest question(s) that I kept revisiting before creating this new blog were, “Would I be able to actually create authentic content once I expose my real self; or will I (intentionally or unintentionally) end up censoring myself and sharing a carefully crafted version of myself so that I feel less exposed – less vulnerable?” (Which I’m sure would only serve to create more cognitive dissonance if this was the case…) Once I honestly thought that I could be authentic and vulnerable (and feel confident with that decision) I created this blog.

I haven’t shared too much on here yet, but I think that from what I have shared so far, I am achieving what I’ve set out to achieve this time around – pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and embracing authentic vulnerability. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t feel incredibly anxious when I share a new blog post, but whenever I start to feel the anxiety rise, I remind myself as to why I am doing this in the first place. From there, I am able to acknowledge that this is scary for me because it is something that is new to me, and that my reaction is totally normal. I understand that it will take time for me to feel comfortable in this new chapter of my life; being just as real, open, and honest with everyone as I used to be when I was an anonymous entity.

I think my greatest fear about being authentic and vulnerable now, as a real person online, is that I am willingly opening myself up to judgment, criticism, and possible rejection. But, on the other hand, I am also opening myself up to forming real connections, a true sense of belonging, and a new type of understanding. I think that when you struggle with vulnerability as much as I do, it’s easy to default to portraying yourself to the world in a way that doesn’t always accurately reflect your authentic reality. It is much easier to censor ourselves and paint a nicer picture, so that we feel that the stories we share are relatable, while also being digestible for others to consume.

As my story continues to unfold, I am going to continue to make sure that I am only sharing an honest depiction of my life and experiences with you all – regardless of how terrifying that feels to me! I am not going to sugarcoat, or manipulate my experiences through my storytelling, just to make myself feel more comfortable and less vulnerable because I think that would be doing a great disservice to myself and to anyone who follows my journey.

A final thought, if anyone else has struggled with, or struggles with authentic vulnerability, please reach out to me on here, or on Twitter (@hellolinla) and let me know what has helped you overcome this struggle, or what coping skills you use to manage this struggle!

I appreciated your feedback in advance 🙂

Much love,

Linla

REWRITING MY MENTAL ILLNESS NARRATIVE

STOP

I think the best place to begin sharing my stories with everyone again is to start off by giving some background information (for those who may be new to my story, or for those who would like a refresher) about my previous diagnoses and the situation that started my Twitter and blogging journey in the first place. From there, I will do a “deep dive” into the headspace that I’ve been working from (and continue to work through) since I received my new diagnoses in February 2018.

REWIND

            In 2011, when I was 17 years old, I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Around that time, I began journaling about my life, thoughts, opinions, and my experiences living with mental illness. Journaling helped reduce my anxiety and became a safe haven for me to speak my mind freely without feeling judged or embarrassed. Over the next few years, I consistently kept a journal until around mid-2015. At that time in my life, I had hit a low point, and journaling no longer provided me with the same sense of relief that it used to. In the 4 years since my initial diagnoses, I hadn’t been very open to having a conversation about my mental health issues, primarily due to the societal stigma surrounding mental illness and my own self-stigma. I barely had a conversation about it with my family, and had only told a few close friends (who were, and continue to be, great supports – but they honestly couldn’t relate to what I was going through.) I didn’t know anyone who could truly relate to my experiences and I had never felt more alone.

Near the end of 2015, while in the midst of an everlasting depression, I had an idea: What would happen if I made an anonymous Twitter account where I could begin to talk openly and honestly about my mental illnesses, and maybe even connect with others who are experiencing similar issues? From there, I created my Twitter account, @hellobipolar, where I introduced myself to the online world as “Linla”. I didn’t know whether anyone would care about what I had to say, or if there would be anyone on that website open to connecting; but it turned out that there were many people who were happy to connect, and genuinely wanted to hear about my life. It was comforting to finally connect with others who were also experiencing mental health conditions, and have a safe space where I could anonymously share my stories.

In the following 8 months after creating my Twitter account, I had connected with so many amazing, diverse people from all over the world, who were incredibly supportive of what I was contributing to the platform. I began feeling less alone, and like I had finally found a community where I belonged, even as an anonymous entity. It was my friends on Twitter who encouraged me to start blogging so that they could read more than the allotted 140 characters of my story at a time. I was nervous to share more, but I eventually started my anonymous blog titled, “Hello Bipolar Linla.” For the next 2 years, my HBL blog became my journal – except this time anyone and everyone could read it. I enjoyed writing, it felt comfortable, safe, and I truly loved it.

FAST FORWARD

            After completing an intensive 560-hour internship in Ottawa, ON, I came back home in December 2017, feeling completely drained, lost, and extremely depressed. I struggled to get through the holidays, and finish the remaining assignments required to pass my internship, which would allow me to finally graduate with my undergraduate degree. After a few disastrous (and traumatic) psychiatrist and doctor’s appointments, I knew things were not going to be okay if I continued living in this state of mind. [TW] I was frustrated, discouraged, distant, and my suicidal thoughts had become incredibly overwhelming. I couldn’t finish my assignments, and I had no support from the mental health providers in my care team. Luckily, over the years I had become more comfortable sharing my experiences with my mental health with my friends and family, so I reached out to them and had their support to help me take the next big step in my mental health journey: going to the hospital to seek help.

It was mid-January 2018, when I allowed one of my closest friends to bring me and stay with me, as I waited in the emergency room at the hospital; where I was eventually assessed and admitted as a (voluntary, turned involuntary) inpatient on the Adult Mental Health unit. The following 24 days as an AMH inpatient were incredibly challenging but life-changing for me. I learned a lot about myself, my mental health, and the power of vulnerability in that short amount of time. I “live tweeted” bits of my days on the inpatient unit to keep my Twitter friends updated about what was going on with me (to the best of my ability at that time), and to share with the world what it’s truly like living on an inpatient mental health unit. I also had friends and family coming to visit me at the hospital twice daily throughout my admission, which felt amazing to know that I had their support.

During my admission, I was completely reassessed. They did all the necessary lab work, a CT scan, trialled various medications, I spent hours filling out questionnaires, being interviewed, and attending groups. By the time I was released from the hospital in February, I was stripped of my old diagnoses and given new ones. The psychiatrist, and psychologist told me that based on their assessments, interactions with me, and observations, my experiences aligned more accurately with major depressive disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder, than they did with bipolar II disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

PAUSE

            Mentally, that was a lot for me to process as I had spent the past 7 years trying to understand my mental health experiences through the perspective as a person with bipolar disorder. These new diagnoses made me hyperaware of the fact that I had intentionally built an online community on Twitter and through my blog, primarily influenced by my desire to connect with people who shared a bipolar diagnosis. This alone made it much more challenging for me to understand, accept, and reconnect with my online community. I felt alone and like an outsider, all over again. I felt angry (at my previous mental health care providers), anxious, and upset. I thought that everything that I had ever shared online must be a lie, and would surely invalidate the experiences of the people I’ve interacted with that actually do have bipolar disorder. I felt like a fake: that this whole time, I had been sharing a life of lies with my community. It was those thoughts that prevented me from engaging online as much as I used to. I stopped blogging. I stopped interacting with my friends on Twitter. I wasn’t sure how to move forward, so I stayed quiet and stuck for the next 4 months.

PLAY

            Thankfully, I have been able to use self-reflection, CBT skills, and self-compassion to work through these psychological mind-blocks so that I no longer think or feel this way (or at least to that extreme) anymore. My thinking is more flexible; I understand that some mental health providers are just bad at their job, as they don’t care to take the time to really look into issues/patterns of behaviour, and unfortunately, get diagnoses wrong. I also understand that diagnoses can change and that is totally okay! I can acknowledge that everything that I’ve ever shared online has always been my authentic experience, regardless of my diagnoses. Nobody has been outwardly offended or hurt by the content I’ve created and shared. In fact, everyone has embraced my healing journey, and continues to be patient, loving, and supportive, regardless of whether they consider my stories relatable anymore or not. That, I think, is the special thing about sharing common humanity.

These days, my life mostly revolves around improving my mental health, finding balance, and working on creating stability. I see a therapist every week (or every other week) for individual therapy, I have participated in weekly CBT based group therapy, I have a case manager that I see weekly (or as regularly as needed), my family doctor currently writes my prescriptions as I am waiting to be picked up by a new psychiatrist this August, and I hope to attend a short, intensive residential treatment center sometime in the near future. Now that I’m able to write again, I plan to finish up my final internship assignments (as soon as possible) so that I can finally receive my undergraduate degree! My university has been very understanding, compassionate, and supportive throughout this whole process. I feel very fortunate.

Well, that’s all that I have to share with you for right now. I am looking forward to sharing even more about my life with you all in the most authentic way possible, and to see where this next chapter in my life takes me. I hope this post has given you a more detailed understanding of what the past 7 months have entailed in my recovery journey, as I have been pretty distant up until recently.

As always, I appreciate you taking time out of your day to read this long blog post (usually my posts are much shorter!) I hope you decide to continue following my story, as this is just the beginning!

Much love,

Linla

MEET THE STORYTELLER

On my original blog, I described how remaining an anonymous entity on the Internet allowed me to feel comfortable enough to discuss my personal experiences in an authentic way. I then went on to give a vague description about who “Linla” was in the real world. Well…

Twenty-eighteen has been an eye-opening process of self-discovery, change, growth, hardship, and healing.

Anonymity mixed with authenticity felt comfortable… for a while. As much as I am proud of what I’ve shared as “Linla” on the internet, I can now recognize the self-stigma that I have been sustaining, and the cognitive dissonance it has created for me as I try to grapple with being authentic but anonymous online, while remaining uncomfortably vague about myself and my personal experiences in my real life.

So let’s get honest for a moment, shall we?

My real name is Lindsay, and I am a 25 year old, bi/pan/queer, cis-female, of Scandinavian heritage, and I currently live in Thunder Bay, ON, Canada. I enjoy mountain biking, going for walks/hikes, fishing with my dad, hanging out with my family, friends, and dogs, drinking iced coffee, listening to music and podcasts, watching YouTube videos, colouring, reading, going to church, volunteering, traveling, and writing (just to name a few things!) I also spend a lot of my time doing therapy related stuff, which is challenging but helpful. I previously had a diagnosis of bipolar II disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, but in January/February 2018, I was re-diagnosed during a 24-day inpatient hospital stay, with major depressive disorder and anxiety (in many forms, but primarily social anxiety).

You may be wondering where the name “Linla” came from…

The name “Linla” came from my dear friend, Shayla, in a little poem that she wrote for me when we were laying on my parents couch, procrastinating studying for our grade 12 exams back when we were 17 years old. I love the nickname as it reminds me of her, so I will continue to use it on my blog as my “sign off” name and on my social media. Just know that moving forward, I am totally comfortable with being addressed as either Linla or Lindsay, as everyone has gotten to know me by a different name, and I do love both names!

What can you expect from this blog?

If you choose to follow me (or continue to follow me) on my journey, you can expect to read stories about my life (for example: content related to my mental health, journal entries, recounting adventures I go on, learning about where I live, or even a themed thought that’s on my mind). My stories will be written in a similar writing style to my old blog (you’ll know what that’s like if you followed my old blog). My personal goal is to blend my two worlds as both Linla and Lindsay, put a face to my name, and unapologetically speak my truth without letting my anxiety, fear of judgment, and fear of vulnerability get in the way.

As always, I use writing as a creative outlet, and for my own enjoyment, so I will post when I feel like it and won’t when I don’t feel like it – hence the “spontaneous storyteller” title that I’ve given myself. If you do choose to follow me on my journey, I hope my words will entertain you, help you, inspire you, resonate with you, or expand your world a little bit more. If you’ve read this far, know that I appreciate that you’ve taken time out of your day to get to know the real me a little more.

And finally…

To my OG blog and Twitter followers, thank you for your patience, love, and continuous support. I know that I’ve been distant, but self-discovery, rewriting my narrative, growth, and ultimately, healing, takes time. You have been amazing supports. Thank you for investing in my stories: for being the best cheerleaders during my struggles, and celebrating my victories no matter how big or small.

Welcome to the newest chapter in my story.

Linla