It's easy to play off social media as a place where teenage boys, or just those who act like them, go to make dick and fart jokes, lie about their sexual prowess, or fantasize about women or men they'll never have. And that most assuredly happens a lot, but I've learned -- particularly in the last five years -- that that's not all the Internet is.
I don't know when I made the jump from "Internet as fad" to "Internet as support," but it was for sure at some point about six years ago. I joined Twitter with some delusion I was going to become friends with Wil Wheaton. Remarkably that never happened (or at least it hasn't yet, I'm still holding out hope -- Wil if you see this call me!), but what I've gotten instead can never be beaten. The connections I've made on Twitter have gotten me so much. They've gotten me jobs, gotten me friends, gotten me opportunities, kept me alive.
It's tough to really describe "all the all" that happens when you are constantly fighting mental health issues. Other than sucky. Rest assured that "all the all" is just about the worst thing ever. The smallest hills and challenges become insurmountable. Big hills and challenges make walking away seem the best option.
I've been there. More than once. The first time I remember coming so close I almost drove myself off the road into a stand of trees. It was a then coworker's assurances that we'd still be friends (even though I had messed up pretty royally at work) that kept me on the road. Since that frigid night I've toed the line a couple more times, but it's always been friends I've made online that have kept me from crossing it.
These "fake" friends have been digital ears and shoulders. I've unloaded on them -- virtually or over the phone (or in person, for that matter). They've always been a judgment-free zone. I could (can and do) dump all my worries on them no matter how petty or trivial they might seem.
It was an online friend who, upon my disclosure that I was cutting, contacted my brother and told him to check on me. It's my online friends who in times of crisis or trigger events will send me text, Facebook, direct or email messages to keep me engaged. When I haven't posted anything online in a couple days, these are the friends who will reach out to me just to make sure I'm okay.
Don't get me wrong. These same friends listening to me with such unwavering love are also sharing and posting dick and fart jokes, making me laugh, and otherwise taking the edge off a volatile situation. These jokes help me stop focusing on everything in my head and heart. While there may not always be a lot of "socially redeeming" to my friends' posts of baby pictures, pets doing stupid things, or the latte they had that morning, when I feel my life is at a nadir it doesn't take too big a ledge to keep me from going under.
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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.