With so much bad press about Twitter and Facebook, trolls and abusers, it is nice to realize once in a while that it is not all bad.

I have a few main areas of interest on the social networks (mostly Facebook) – these include humour, photography, injustice (and lately politics), music and mental health, care and disability issues. Yesterday I posted something on Facebook about how things have been for me recently – mentally and emotionally. The response to it was quite amazing to me: very moving and humbling. I am lucky to have such good friends on and off there. It is worth copying the post here as well as one comment that summed up the general feeling I got from the responses and my reply to it.

I’ve been going through a ‘volatile’ patch lately in terms of mental health. Thankfully some of the time I have had things to do and to distract. Today was particularly low when I woke from what was without doubt the most horrific, cruel and sadistic dream I ever had.

I haven’t been able to understand WHY I’ve been going through it, and sometimes it takes someone else who knows you (sometimes better than you know yourself), and knows your ‘history’ to figure it out.

Today I was reminded that this was the time of year that, after everything else had been tried, and after becoming as resigned as anyone ever can be to the last stages of a terminal illness, Helen came home from the Marie Curie Hospice. I never forget that time, but sometimes I forget the timing. Does it help to know what is behind this miserable feeling? Absolutely it does! It helps to allow myself to grieve, to remember the wonderful times with a wonderful person; it helps to move on in the small way we all have to at every key point in the years that follow loss.

So wholeheartedly I can say Thank You to Frankie [my girlfriend] for reminding me and helping me through.

I often worry when I post items like this that it may be seen as self-indulgent, or self-pitying and sympathy seeking. I never see it that way myself, and it only comes into question when I read it afterwards as objectively as possible (which is admittedly not all that). By the time I post things like this, I have usually worked through the issues that are mentioned in it (although the horrific nightmare that woke me is still haunting me now!).

My view is that by sharing such stuff, such experiences and the coping and support strategies that come into play in these situations, it helps in the gentler side of campaigning to de-stigmatize mental health issues. The stigma around them has decreased significantly in the time that my life has been blighted by depression, but of course, it still has a way to go. Especially under a political regime that is working hard to ‘re-‘stigmatize mental illness, disability, poverty etc.

Thankfully, I think most of my friends on FB don’t see it as self-pitying – I get encouraging comments about my honesty and openness. I also get a lot of supportive comments too. To me it shows the better side of Facebook.

The selection of friends that commented is notably diverse too. There are friends from college, 35 years ago, that I haven’t seen in all that time. Until we were back in touch on FB, they had no idea of the loss of two of my partners in succession, or the depression that resulted (although I suspect those that knew me well could discern the potential for depressive issues even back then). There are people that I have met in and around Liverpool in the years since Helen (my second partner’s) death, then there are those around this country and abroad – many of which I’ve never met in person.

Of course, no post about social networking should go without some warning about self-disclosure. As vulnerable people, it is far too easy to give too much information away. We should always be careful not to give addresses, phone numbers and other personal information out publicly online. Sometimes we can do this almost unknowingly. It is always worth checking privacy settings frequently and for each post you add. The trolls, abusers and other undesirable elements are out there and they do watch. So we need to be cautious.

To end back on a positive note, here is the comment I mentioned just now. It is from one of the people I knew at college:

Catherine Francoise: I have only recently been back in touch with you through the wonders of Facebook Marc but I absolutely love your honesty and your ‘realness’ in being brave enough to say how you really feel. I am also struck by the absolutely awesome friends you have in your immediate circle! We forget how much past experience will still affect us now so no wonder you are in a more difficult place right now ~ but holding on to the wonderful things your life with Helen brought you both will eventually pull you through this ‘throwback’ time. You have such a great heart Marc ~ keeping you in my thoughts and payers right now xxxx

Facebook really doesn’t get much better than that for me, and the rest of the thread is equally supportive. Here is my reply:

Marc Fraser: Catherine – thanks for all that. Sometimes I worry that my honesty and realness border on self-indulgence. I don’t post stuff out of self-pity: usually by the time I post about things related to depression, I’m over the issue. Depression and related conditions really have overshadowed a lot of my adult life and it’s only in the last few years that I have started to turn it around and put the experience to some – hopefully – good use. When I was first diagnosed (which in all honesty was probably long after I had the condition), nobody talked about it. It was a thing people were ashamed of. Even my psychiatrist – my PSYCHIATRIST! – told me to pull myself together. Over the following years, that stigma has been reduced greatly, and the support network, certainly here in Liverpool, has developed into something amazing. However there still IS stigma attached to it, and my posts about it here and on my blog are an attempt to help in de-stigmatizing it. If it really does help other people that have been through similar issues to read about it, then none of the experience has been wasted.