0 In Life Online

Let’s talk about the internet and mental health

I don’t know what it is. This book cover just speaks to me.

Hi, friend. It’s me, your good pal from the internet. Like Samantha Irby, we will probably never meet in real life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about you. Just thought we could check in. How’s your self-care going? Are you drinking enough water? You better be.

It’s important that we chat like this because I haven’t seen a lot of my closest, dearest friends in many months, some even years. Many of my friends have given up on this overpriced, godforsaken land called San Francisco and moved on to greener pastures. Those who haven’t (yet) live right across the bridge in the East Bay where the rents are moderately cheaper, or as far as an hour south in San Jose where…um…well, some people like it there. I still don’t go to see them, because once I’m done paying rent all I can afford is a subdued trip to the art supply store and an afternoon going buckwild at the local library. Frankly, this makes me sad. In this city, engaging in Friendship costs, at minimum, $25 a day: $10 round trip to leave your house, and $15 to snag one reasonably-priced burrito or unreasonably priced craft beer. So I alot myself up to three (3) Friendships per month.1

Sorry, didn’t mean to make this about me. Dating anybody interesting? Oh, you already posted on Facebook about that? My bad.

I guess we millennials are living in some weird times right now. The same generation to poke fun at us for buying avocado-based sustenance instead of diamonds is also mocking us for not talking to each other. But we’re talking now, right? We talk all the time: on Twitter, Facebook, LINE, Instagram, and Snapchat, in a dozen formats that didn’t exist a decade ago. Linguists are publishing books and studies on the ways emoji enrich our shortform written communication. We trade podcasts and some brilliant memes, and have become pretty adept at brightening each other’s days from afar.

But when we go through tough times, sometimes the lighthearted memes and cat videos aren’t enough to support us. Our generation is steadily reinventing what self-care means and looks like. We power forward in our lives trying to stay hydrated, keep a solid routine, stave off anxiety, eat enough vegetables, pay rent on time and call home semi-regularly, but sometimes we’re just not ready for when shit really hits the fan in real life.

I don’t know about you, internet friend, but I’ll take the millennial approach to self-care over the Boomers’ any day. I grew up in a household that didn’t do mental health. Teenage me was a trainwreck of anxiety, post-traumatic stress and a yowling desire from attention. My mom’s initial response to my depression was something along the lines of “Maybe helping me clean this house will help??? 🤷🏽‍♀️” We didn’t talk about things like self-care, and Mom sure as fuck couldn’t afford therapy for me, not with two kids and an elderly grandmother to provide for.

How I feel 50 hours into watching people fight on the internet

When I finally did make it onto a shrink’s couch at 16 years old, everything felt so contrived. I must’ve been expecting a miracle. The lady was “prescribed” to me. Every Tuesday morning I’d take an hour out of school time to catch the BART train up to Richmond and divulge a chapter of my life story until my voice was hoarse, and each week her response would be “How did that make you feel?” Six months later our relationship fizzled: when I ran out of things to talk about she deemed me healthy enough to stop talking to her, and I didn’t feel any different.

That was in 2006. Today, self-care is a pretty hot topic. When going through tough times, everyone’s needs are unique. As a rape survivor, I can tell you how I coped with that stress, but I can’t guarantee that what worked for me will work for you. I know a girl who uses her Instagram to chronicle her own journey to recovery, describing in detail every feeling and thought she has relating to that experience. This method would not calm me AT ALL, but if it gives her peace and healing, it’s the right choice.

It’s easy to see social media and the interwebs as the source of all anxiety, the cesspool in which we’ve learned to appraise ourselves in a society powered by Likes and Shares. But just like the traditional shrink’s couch, that’s a Boomer methodology that hasn’t aged well. My wellbeing would plummet without the internet in my daily life, because I enjoy it and also because it is what literally keeps a roof over my head.

So let’s have a hard conversation, friend. I’m going to tell you about all the things I use to stay on top of my mental health, online and off. I am poor, so I’m giving you low-cost options first, but some resources do require real money. Just like you, some days are harder than others, and I have different tools for different needs. If you have other practices or resources to share, by all means, share them!

Disclosures: I’m not a professional psychiatrist or anything like that; just a professional human trying not to die. I’m also not making money from these recommendations, although you’re more than welcome to Venmo me any amount of money, for any reason, as many times as you want.

If you need human interaction (but don’t want to go outside)

When I don’t want to leave my house, online multiplayer games are a huge help. League of Legends in particular got me through some pretty rough times, like that time I was a college student renting out a crunchy old woman’s living room in Berkeley.2 LoL is fun and free to play, and Riot does a pretty okay job of promoting positive behavior these days. A couple of dudes I know spend their weekends playing LoL, chatting in between about their love lives. Avoid playing Ranked and you’ll meet some pretty interesting people.

I know another couple of guys whose primary social tool is playing FIFA and Call of Duty together. Neither of them are terribly forthcoming emotionally, yet they’ll sit on their respective sofas 3,000 miles apart, pour a finger of bourbon and chat noncommittally about their problems in between playing the Sportsball. They use these games to support each other in tiny, manageable doses that each of them are comfortable with.

If you need help understanding why you feel a certain way

Moodnotes ($4.99) is an iOS app that tracks your mood and prompts you to explore where that mood is coming from. You pick your current emotions from a list of positives and negative, then the app gives you a short set of questions to answer depending on the intensity of your emotions. Sometimes I get cranky at work, for example, when I feel like I’m not keeping up with the more seasoned members on my team. Instead of letting me cascade into my regular “automatic thoughts” (“I’m not good enough,” “This is too hard for me”), the app tries to get you to think about what’s contributing to those thoughts, which “traps” you’re falling into, and how you can retool your thinking into something more productive.

You don’t need to buy this app. If you want this experience for free, Google “automatic thinking worksheets” and look for printables from professional therapists. I prefer to use the app because it’s beautiful and easy to keep all of my mood notes on my phone in one place, but if that $5 would be better spent elsewhere there’s nothing inside you can’t recreate.

If you need to vent but don’t want to trouble anyone

Venting about one friend to a related friend is a quick way to wind up with zero friends. But sometimes I just need to get it out there, and the Day One app is perfect for that. Also, it’s free!

I use it to bitch and moan about everything I deem too rude or vapid for the rest of the universe: exes, relationship partners3, that crunchy old lady, office politics, the pain of living in a pet-free apartment, growing out my locs…anything and everything. It feels good to have an outlet that’s PASSWORD PROTECTED and therefore won’t get you fired or broken up with.

If you’ve had enough internet for today

The shift to digital as a primary space for your friendships can feel isolating. Texts and Snapchats don’t always feel “real.” Putting something physical out into the world gives you something to do with your hands, provides an opportunity for creativity, and puts you in a reflective mood without being too aggressively focused on your feelings. Since I spend some 50+ hours a week online, I LOVE dropping off the grid for a little while to recalibrate my eyes and live outside of my screens.

Gift exchanges

I like to make tiny watercolor paintings of animals flipping people off, but some enjoy making more practical gifts. One of my coworkers makes handpainted shop signs in his free time, and also photographs people’s dogs.4 Another one takes his moped out into nature and…photographs his own dog. Photos of dogs are the best gifts you can give, tbh.

I mean just look at this nugget! LOOK.

Personal journals

I’m a HUGE FAN of journaling in particular. It’s a legit hobby you can do anywhere. You can incorporate other creative hobbies into it (sketching, poetry, language learning, photography, graphic design, etc), and you can look back at your pages from years ago and clearly see your progress—in your life, art, writing, or anything else. A journal is a time capsule that appreciates in value the longer you write in one.

Mail art and shared journaling

When’s the last time you sent a good old-fashioned letter? Some of my pen pals have never been on the same coast as me, but we talk every day. Make something beautiful, send it off to your faraway friend, and wait for them to return the favor. It’s like Snapchat, but for real things! It also gives you something to look forward to.5 Keeping a shared journal is a responsibility to each other to keep writing and passing the torch.6

If you’re so stressed it’s causing you physical pain

It is time to SEE A PROFESSIONAL. Don’t do what I did the first time I could feel my throat closing during a panic attack. Until then I had been operating under such wisdom that if I was feeling sick I should “sleep it off,” so I toddled, wheezing, to my room and crawled into bed, where I continued wheezing harder and harder for several minutes until my face was red and I was drenched in sweat.

This happened again on the bus from work, and again on vacation in New Orleans, and again in the gym until one time when I was lying in bed willing the world to stop spinning and a little voice chimed in: “OH HEY BITCH, DID YOU KNOW THAT NOT BREATHING MEANS SOMETHING IS FUCKING WRONG?!” So I took myself to the doctor and paid my $100 co-pay just to have a doctor shrug, sling her stethoscope on a hook and say, “You’re fine. Maybe see a therapist?”

At this stage in mental health fuckery, I would recommend seeing a doctor first. Yes, paying triple digits to get shrugged at is borderline disrespectful. But if you’re anything like me, you’ve been “THIS IS FINE”ing your way through adulthood all this time anyway and haven’t bothered. It’s time to bother. “You’re fine” is leaps and bounds better than “It’s cancer,” but you won’t know until you let them poke at you a bit.

Repeat after me: I will seek help when stress becomes physically taxing.

I WILL SEEK HELP WHEN STRESS BECOMES PHYSICALLY TAXING.

Now it’s time to look into actual therapists, but as aforementioned, I am poor. In this city, a therapist in your insurance network (assuming you have insurance) could run you several hundred dollars an hour. You have to look for them yourself, they don’t always accept or care about insurance, they’re not open at convenient times and jesus, some of them are still faxing invoices, for fuck’s sake.

A more affordable—and, so far, infinitely more effective—solution is online therapy apps. I’ve tried Talkspace and I’m super into it. Here’s why:

  • It’s “come as you are:” The platform is available on both desktop and smartphone. That means you don’t have to get out of bed, put on appropriate “outside” clothes and transport yourself to a therapist’s office, which is pretty clutch if you’re too depressed to leave your duvet. You can pay more to video chat with your therapist too, if you want, but like…y tho
  • It’s also someone else’s job to put you in touch with the right therapist. There is a dedicated psychiatrist on staff who talks to you about what you need, then matches you with several psychiatrists. If you don’t like any of them, she goes back to the drawing board and presents a few more. The first therapist I chose was more opinionated and less personable than I would have liked. Thinking I’d shot my shot, I almost quit Talkspace, but if you pick someone who’s not right for you, they set you up with someone new according to your feedback. Within a month I’d started a great relationship with someone I actually enjoyed talking to, who gave me a ton of hard feedback and helped me figured out where my crippling anxiety attacks were coming from.
  • It’s super flexible. You can quit whenever you want. Depending on both of your schedules you sort of set up a natural cadence with your therapist. You have a set issue that you work on for as long as you need to, and when you feel comfortable with the tips and practices you’ve learned from your therapist, you can set a new goal. Sometimes you can work on more than one at a time. If you get busy or can’t afford the monthly fee, you can put your membership on hold for month. If you feel like you can move on from therapy, you can cancel anytime.

Talkspace is just one option for online therapy. It’s expensive enough to feel like a luxury buy—granted, anything that costs more than my phone bill is fancy to me—but if your mental health is impeding your ability to function, you really need to consider making this investment. I learned a ton about myself and how I react to adversity, and while I haven’t ironed out all the kinks I came out of therapy feeling well-armed to maintain my health in the long-term.

Important: I don’t recommend venting or talking out your problems on any free or insecure site, including Facebook groups, Tumblr, or Reddit. Reddit, for example, has subreddits like r/relationships, where you can ask a bunch of strangers how to deal with someone to whom you have at least some positive attachment to. I wouldn’t wish r/relationships on any couple; most of the time these threads devolve into salty mudslinging against the person in question instead of anything remotely constructive.7 9 times out 10 questions like “How do I [17/F] tell my boyfriend [19/M] he hurt my feelings?” are met with “A REAL MAN WOULD ALREADY KNOW. If he can’t tell, he is TRASH and doesn’t deserve you!” Also, the threads are public; if your partner doesn’t find the thread on his own, some “well-intentioned” stranger could look you up and ping him directly.

So that’s it, friend!

What was supposed to be a quick post about friendship on the internet became…just a bit bigger. I hope somewhere within these 2,700 words you finally grabbed a glass of water. Mental health is hard to talk about, and not everyone wants to share these sorts of things with friends in-person. So hopefully these recs from your random internet pal comes in handy, if not for you, then for someone you know who needs it. And hey, don’t be a stranger. Let’s keep in touch like only millennials can! (Send cat pics.)

Footnotes

  1. I had to quit one friend cold-turkey. He works in insurance. Every night out with him resulted in a head-splitting hangover and a $150 Venmo request the next morning. (He moved to LA, anyway.)
  2. She was a gardening teacher in an elementary school and her mortgage was underwater, so she would often kick me out of the living room I was paying for so she could teach yoga and “meditative bodywork” for her old lady friends on the side. If my boyfriend was over and she didn’t have a jar for him to open or a bookcase to move, her face would shrivel up and she’d get tight-lipped as if breathing in maleness might give her hives.
  3. People who would probably become exes if they knew what I was saying about them
  4. Among other things. The other things aren’t important because they’re not dogs.
  5. This was FUCKING CLUTCH when I was grasping my way out of a controlling relationship. Without something to look forward to, I quickly sank into depression and forgot what it was like on the “outside.”
  6. It’s also a responsibility to stick around and continue the story. Let’s be journal buddies!
  7. When I asked a private Facebook group how to leave a controlling partner, someone in the group screenshotted the conversation and sent it to him. Stunts like this have literally gotten women killed but in my case, this only resulted in a controlling partner becoming an even more controlling, butthurt partner, eventually seeing himself out in a white-hot blaze of insecurity.

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