Good morning! My internet is now working again – the engineer said the company had done some work at one of their sites on Friday and some of my wires had been crossed. A common occurrence in my life 😛
I have spent most of the last five days feeling rather sorry for myself, although also recognising how silly this is. I mean, people in Ethiopia are starving to death and I’m upset because my internet is down? Well done Katie, you get the prize for over-reaction of the year. I suppose what’s missing here is any context to my freak out. Since the age of 16, most of my social life has been played out online. I’m naturally shy and my awkward manner can easily be mistaken for aloofness, so I find it hard to make friends. On top of that, up until recently when I met new people it was impossible for me to make even the smallest of talk without being asked for some sort of explanation as to why I wasn’t working/studying. I could say “I have a chronic illness but I’m a lot better now and hope to start work again soon”, but that always came across as me being a bit mysterious, and I was usually asked what the illness was. So my choice was to either give a potted version of my life story or refuse to talk about anything but the weather, and run away when the difficult questions started. I’m not the sort of person who likes to spill her deepest secrets to everyone she comes into contact with, but it’s amazing how hard it was to make conversation without doing so. Take taxi drivers or hairdressers, the patron saints of small talk – they always asked if I had a day off work, or what I studied at university. There was no easy way to answer those questions.
Now I have a job and I’m about to start yet another degree, so I can avoid scaring the crap out of people until they get to know me a bit better. I find it easier to interact with people now. But for nearly ten years the only place I felt able to be myself was on various internet forums for people with mental health problems, or on my blog in the last couple of years. I have a boyfriend now, and some friends from my last counselling course, but the boyfriend is often ill and the friends are busy themselves. Most of my socialising is still done online, and without the internet I feel extremely isolated.
Most of my activism work is also done online, although I also do “real life” stuff with the local ED charity I volunteer for. Yesterday dozens of articles were published on a study which showed the numbers of children being admitted to hospital due to eating disorders – in three years, around 600 under 13s needed inpatient treatment, which apparently translates as about 3 in 100,000 children aged 5-13. Not a massive number, and probably not a case of rising prevalence but of greater awareness, but the tabloids went mad. People in recovery immediately protested the idea that this was to do with “size zero”, because it makes sufferers look vain, shallow and really rather stupid, and eating disorders are hugely more complex than a simple reaction to our culture. God, I really wanted to join the debate. If I hadn’t been at work I would have sat in the library all day, stealing their internet.
There are so many articulate and intelligent people out there, and this is great because it means there are a lot of allies to my cause, all fighting for the same thing – better understanding and evidence-based treatment of eating disorders. But at the same time, I felt rather redundant yesterday. I can’t say these things better than anyone else. I don’t have as much knowledge as some. I don’t have the same way with words. People will never share my blog posts around on FB or twitter – okay, that’s a lie, it has happened occasionally in the past, but very rarely.
It sounds like my pride is dented, like I want to be a blogging superstar with adoring commenters fawning around her. This isn’t really true. I like my blog being small, because I like to follow and comment on all my followers blogs too – it makes it seem more personal. If I had three hundred comments to each post I would feel terrified of falling from grace and under a lot of pressure to keep up the standard/frequency of posting. I wouldn’t really feel a part of the community, because I wouldn’t have time to get to know everyone properly – and it’s the sense of community which keeps me blogging. So having a small but very personal blog is a good thing. The problem is that I feel like people will forget about me if I’m not useful to them in some way. If I’m not leaving helpful comments, joining my friends in fighting ignorant reporters, writing posts myself, sharing things on twitter/Facebook, and so on then I lose my purpose to others. A psychologist once told me that I seemed to lack intrinsic self worth, which meant I only felt like a worthwhile person when I was doing things to help others, whereas to her mind I had value just by virtue of being born. This was about five years ago, and I still seem to believe that I will disappear from the minds of my friends if I’m not being useful to them in some way. And I hate to feel lonely. I spent too much of my adolescence feeling like a crazy little island standing out against a sea of normality.
So I’m glad to have my internet connection back. I also need a better social life, and to stop thinking that I’m worthless unless I’m doing something worthwhile. This is easier said than done.