Using your “I” on the Internet

If you follow Sam Dylan Finch’s blog (and if you’re not, you should)  you would have seen his response to a xoJane article from a woman talking about how glad she is for her friend’s suicide. The actual article has been since removed from the website, thank Christ, and replaced with an apology from the editor of the website. But, as this Jezebel article points out, there is a problem beyond one insensitive think piece somehow reaching a wide audience – it is the entire culture of the think piece, this assumption that within the bounds of a personal, I-centric essay, anything is permissible.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did not read the original article. As someone who worked as a counsellor, as someone who blogs about mental health, as someone who lives with depressive episodes, I recognize my triggers when I see them, and I didn’t see the point of giving some narcissistic piece of click-bait more attention than it deserves. I did share Sam’s piece with my Facebook friends, however, because it illustrates the shocking lack of empathy and compassion that we have for people who go through a rough time.

Fact: You can never know everything that goes on in a person’s life. You cannot. Never, ever assume that you understand them perfectly, or that you know their motives, and never judge them.

But this post isn’t another response to Amanda Lauren. Rather, this is a post about the personal essay on the Internet.

They say that discretion is the better part of valor and while I may not agree with this entirely, (I believe valor is the better part of valor), there is something to be said about the value of discretion. Particularly in a world where any old argument can be called up and viewed, years after everyone involved parted ways, with just a few keystrokes, it’s worth thinking about long-term consequences before you post something.

Those of you who have read the Lenten stories on my blog might have noticed that I use my “I”s liberally and that I’m pretty reticent about details regarding other people. Particularly if something negative transpired between us. I can’t say I’m always successful at it – in fact, I probably was less successful than I thought – but I did try to protect the innocent where I could.

I was also careful about the angle I took with these essays – I focused less on analysing other people and more about myself, because… well, Lent is about self-examination, and also I have no business judging others.

There were some stories that I didn’t share, too.

Some stories were too raw to share.

Some were too new.

Some stories were not mine to discuss.

And in some, my story was too intertwined with that of others, so that it was impossible to tell it without dragging some along for the ride. And without their permission, I could not do that.

Obviously, my mileage varies from that of other people. Some of you may hear these stories and think they’re not that shocking or worth the secrecy. Some of you might think otherwise. It matters on what you believe is ethical to share, but also what your friends might think. Because some stories really aren’t ours to share without permission, no matter how much they lend themselves to tasty blogposts. There are even some stories that we can’t share with permission. I know there is at least one that, even with the person’s blessing, I cannot bring myself to write.

Bottom line is this: you decide where you sit on this debate, but please, please, please, be aware of the impact of your stories. The Internet, trite as it is, is forever. Some things cannot be taken back.

Compassionate mental health: if we treated anti-depressants like any other drug

I grew up in what you might call a science-minded family. We appreciated traditional remedies for some things, such as lemon juice for sore throats and vinegar rags to bring down fevers if you couldn’t digest the anti-inflammatories, but for the most part, we deferred to medicine whenever someone was sick. We had no choice – as children, both my brother and I fell sick a lot, and our parents couldn’t afford to wait on us hand and foot while our bodies fought the infections by their lonesome selves.

That was the world I grew up in, and for the most part, that was how I believed the world was – people went to the doctor if they got sick, they got a precription, they took their pills as instructed, and they got better (after spending a few days watching soap operas from the couch and calling their friends for their homework). I didn’t know what homeopathy was, and when I did learn about it, I pretty much adopted the attitude of “good for other people, not for me.”

I didn’t realize how much of the “let nature do its healing work” attitude I had, or how much ableism I had internalized. Because for all my family’s belief in the power of medication for other physical ailments, we all drew a big line at anti-depressants.

It wasn’t until I found myself approaching this line that my own attitudes came into stark light.

Two years ago, I first sought help for my disordered eating and my compulsive exercising. The therapist was understanding, but she also asked me to speak to the university GP about my options. I was offered some information on SSIs to take away and read, and then come back and discuss.

I approached the leaflet with skepticism. I read the list of side effects and dismissed it immediately. At the time, I was still an undergraduate (in name if not in actuality), I had a crush to occupy my mind, I had a job and goals and mostly a rosy outlook on the future. I was depressed, but highly functioning. If people didn’t know any better, I looked normal.

I convinced myself I was normal – just a little down, and also with a tendency to moralize food choices and beat myself up, and also place way too much value in the subjective preferences of people who didn’t really know me. So I decided to stick to my daily activities and talk therapy and leave it at that.

Fast forward two years, I’m not working on a Ph.D., shouldering more responsibility as a self-led researcher. I haven’t  got a crush and my future prospects aren’t great, and my outlook on the world is grim as Hell. I’ve just been benched from a volunteering position because my orthorexia is flaring up. I feel angry, upset, and betrayed – I felt comfortable sharing about my struggles, and I was being punished for it. My doctor refers me to a counselling service and gives me a perscription for a mild antidepressant.

I wish I could say it was then that I realized that maybe I needed to re-examine my own attitudes towards medication geared towards improving your mental health, but no, I dragged my heels for another two months, first getting more depressed, then experiencing an unexpected high after going on holiday.

And then several things happened, convincing me in quick succession that my attitude towards perscription medication could be wrong:

I experienced persistant, distracting ringing in my ears. My doctor, finding nothing wrong physiologically with my ears, told me to take my antidepressants. It hadn’t occurred to me prior to that moment that I might be experiencing a psychosomatic manifestation of my illness. I just thought I’d finally overdone it with the loud music.

But bodies are weird. Illnesses are manifest through different means, as anyone who has seen an episode of “House MD” knows. I hadn’t thought this might happen to me, but you know what they say about plans, right?

My mood lifted after a long period of sadness. That was before I started my medications, by the by. If you have been struggling with low mood for a while, you will recognize how moods a cyclical – highs following lows following highs and lows again. Sometimes a high coincides with a major change of pace, like a holiday, or a breakthrough in a professional project. In the past, I always assumed that as soon as my life got better, my mood would stabalize, too. I just had to grit my teeth and get through to the next stage.

Can you see the flaw in that thinking?

Much like somebody who laments their teenage years in their twenties, or their twenties in their forties, I learned the hard way that youth isn’t some sort of slow progression towards an adult utopia, and that birthdays mark little more than the adding items on the list of things you need to worry about. You can hold a stiff upper lip, but for how long? You can spend your entire life waiting for things to get better, and they may never would.

I didn’t want to be a slave to my brain, to the very arbitrary flow of hormones in and out of my glands. I wanted my mood to be stable so that I could get on with my work. The realization made me move forward.

I realized I did not want to die. I’ve never been actively suicidal, but I didn’t want to wait until I was until I sought help.

I also began to question the reason behind the stigmatizing of antidepressants. Yes, overperscription is a thing. Yes, it’s difficult to get regular appointments with your GP to track your progress. Even as I write this now, I feel anxious because I need to have my prescription refilled and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get it before I run out of my current ones. Yes, talk therapy is important and access to it is very restricted.

But there is a difference between being critical of the system in general, and refusing to explore an option regarding your own personal health because of what you think other people will say. One is a necessary part of being a productive member of society. The other is just plain dangerous.

Despite my fears about side-effects, I had no idea how antidepressants would affect me before I started taking them. I knew that therapy was good to me, but I couldn’t always access it. And like I said, I didn’t want to be a slave to my brain.

When I took away my own personal fears about side-effects, all that was left, I realized, was internalized ableism. And anti-depressant related ableism is oppressive and classist, as this Everyday Feminism article demonstrates. Like the author, I also tried a lot of “natural” remedies for my stress and depression – exercise, healthy eating, St. John’s wort. But while I discovered my own athletic abilitiy and began to take pleasure in moving my body, I also discovered food moralising, internalized fatphobia, orthorexia, and using exercise to “earn” nutrients, the consequences of which I am still trying to cure myself of.

Yes, antidepressants are cheap(ish) and maybe too-widely prescribed. Yes, it sometimes takes a lot of adjusting to find the right combination, if there is one at all, to help a specific person. In an ideal world, everyone would have access to regular therapy and check-ins with their GP to make sure their healing is going well.

But when we stigmatize a widely-available mental health support tool, like SSIs and other antidepressants, we are also supporting a system of ableism and class-related shame. We impose a hierarchy of need, a hierarchy of compassion. Drugs are the “lazy” way out, while people who make an example of their “healthy” lifestyle and talk openly about their struggles with therapy and processing are seen as “inspirational”.

The truth is that there isn’t a hierarchy of need. One person’s mental illness is no less deserving of compassion than another’s just because of their chosen method of coping with it. I believe that everyone deserves to have free choice of options, and an acess to a support network that helps them discover what works and doesn’t work for them. I believe mental illness is just as complex and varied as physical illness and thus needs to be treated with every individual’s needs in mind. I believe that people should be allowed to make decisions about their own health without stigma or ableism hamstringing them.

Imagine for a second if we approached the taking of antidepressants the same we do with antibiotics or other pharmaceuticals. If we acknowledged that people react differently to them, but in general they serve a purpose. If we didn’t ascribe cultural meanings of goodness and badness on the sufferers. If we treated mental illness with compassion rather than an embarrassing problem.

Wouldn’t it be nice?

 

 

 

 

 

The problem of staying motivated

 

20150703_203627

Source: Me. Messing about with dry pastels.

From time to time, I really resent the Internet.

Mostly I enjoy it, but like everything else, once you start to make a living thanks to something, a bit of bitterness always creeps in.

Earlier this month, I went on a writers’ retreat with SCBWI and it was everything and more. Beautiful sights, excellent food, all the coffee you can want, and fantastic company. Sure, my word count at the end wasn’t that impressive, but I came out of it with more motivation and enthusiasm than I’d had in months. Moreover, I came out of it with a feeling of hope and excitement. What, pray, lies around the corner? How can I make this novel better? That’s the sort of thing writers live for – enthusiasm for a project.

It’s now almost three weeks later, so the momentum has died down. Instead of getting out of bed at 6 AM, and letting my coffee go cold at my elbow as I banged out a bunch of new words, I get out of bed at 6 AM and stare at a screen for two hours, going “Kill me now, this is rubbish.”

This is all quite familiar – anyone who’s tried NaNoWriMo will know what it’s like, to start a project and lose your mojo. It doesn’t matter how well you planned your project or if you’re a sticker for deadlines. It’s natural. You move on. There were stumps and blocks and demotivating things and distractions long before the Internet. When I was doing my undergraduate degree, during revision I would read three or four trashy romance novels, one after the other, wasting days on bad fantasy sex and emotional porn (hence why my Kindle library looks like an extended spread on abs in a fitness mag).

But this post isn’t just about the Internet being an extra banana peel. It also lays down many cushions for you to fall on, places interesting box sets right within reach, and when you do try to get up and get on with it, it conjures up a thousand hands to hold you down, in the form of blogs and social media updates about how pointless your job is.

Much like anxious sick people who were turned away from their GP’s appointments turn to WebMD and come out thinking they have cancer, struggling writers are always one Google search away from convincing themselves they are worthless hacks who are better off sacrificing their energies at the altar of investment banking. Or else, wasting away in the dead zone of make-up videos and fancy new gadgets. It’s where I found myself today and where I’ve been finding myself a lot, googling articles on the hardships of writing and the true meaning of rejection. Even when the time comes to do my actual job and lay aside the writing, my brain throws a tantrum.

There’s no point.

Let’s read trashy romance instead.

(That is not to say there is no room for trashy romance in the world. My God, I am a huge fan of trashy romance. Trashy romance FTW. But I do need to get my papers written on time.)

There is something else, something that often gets overlooked when we talk about what we read on the Internet. There is a lot of it. An overwhelming volume of it. So much so that it is hard, if you’re not looking, to get a balanced view of anything.

Well, then. Let us look. 

 

The deep breath and the plunge

 

Death_to_stock_photography_wild_3

source: Death to the Stock Photo

There’re two ways to get in the sea. One is where you slowly wade in, splashing water onto yourself to get accustomed to the temperature before submerging yourself little by little. The other is to just dive in.

I prefer the latter. Cold and shocking as it is, I need the cold and the shock. I need it, if only because the feeling of breaking the surface for the first time is the best thing in the world. I feel refreshed. I feel alive.

That’s not always the case, but most of the decisions in my life, I approached them as I approached the sea – eyeing wearily from the side before diving right in. Moving and studying abroad. Taking a scholarship. Learning a martial art (okay, that took several false starts.)

Medication.

I have two things that might one day grow up to the point of becoming full-on disabilities – Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome and depression. One I’ve lived with all my life. The other seems to have developed, on and off, during my late teens and early twenties. I want to say that this is the reason I think of them in very different terms, but that would be a lie. Truthfully, I have internalized a lot of ableism over my life, and it didn’t start coming out until I was faced with a choice: Get better or be stuck in Limbo.

Okay, so it wasn’t as dramatic as that. But my work was suffering, my relationships were suffering, my motivation had gone down the drain and I couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror. Every time news of a death – family or celebrity alike – reached me, I felt terrified for reasons beyond simple mortality.

Then, for a brief moment in time, I felt incandescence. I spent a few weeks away from work, I met up with people who shared my passions and values, felt a surge of hope and love of life and art again, and I realized: fuck, I want this life. I have dreams beyond the next day, and the next, and the next.

I didn’t just need to get better. I wanted to get better.

I’ve had a condition that affected me almost from the day I was born, but which really kicked in when I was around 7. It wasn’t fixeable, but it was manageable. So I manage it – I put on my elastic stockings, do a lot of exercise, and don’t shop for skinny jeans. I do what I want, but when my body tells me to stop, I listen. I know my limits. I work with what I’ve got.

So why the fuck should I be precious about being depressed? It’s so freaking common, far more than K-T, and a bloody plight on Ph.D. candidates and writers. It doesn’t help that I do research on social media, which can be like an echo chamber for insecurity and self-doubt. It happens. It’s nobody’s fault. If I got a really bad infection, I’d ask for antibiotics without a second thought.

Except the world believes that people who are on medication for depression and other mental health conditions are somehow less-than. Less-than what? Less-than everything. And somehow, despite my best efforts, I fell into that trap. It wasn’t until push came to shove that I realized I had these beliefs, and I had to do something about that.

So now I wait. My head feels like it’s full of cotton, I’m moving as slow as a tortoise and every day feels like the recovery from a long, terrible flu. But it’s quiet. For once, my heart and head are peaceful. And despite all that I’m afraid of, I feel hopeful.

I wonder how much more different it would have been, had I not been so afraid to seek help earlier? Had I not been afraid to talk about it? I’ll never know.

 

Things I wish I could tell myself: the eating edition

 

Death_to_Stock_Photography_BodyTruths_1

source: Death to the Stock Photo

Hey beautiful,

 

No, don’t look away, and please don’t glare at me either. I know that you cannot tolerate compliments about yourself, because a select few people spent a good chunk of time training you to be afraid of any comment on your appearance, but bear with me now. This is important.

You are about to embark on a wonderful new stage in your life. A stage of hard work and relative self-sufficiency, a stage where you will slowly take responsibility for your own nutrition and health. And while you will make some excellent choices, putting your imagination and curiosity towards trying out new foods, you will also be under a great deal of stress. And stress will make you vulnerable.

I’m sorry. I know, you hate the idea of being vulnerable, too. You are, after all, the “tough” one in the family, the one everyone tells to act more stereotypically girly, but also the one everyone runs to when they need a good listener. It’s a tough balance to strike because you really don’t know how to be both, and no-one pulled you aside to give you pointers. It sucks. It’s one of those things you find out by trial and error. I know you hate to hear this, but it’s the truth: you will be vulnerable. That’s okay, that’s human, and you need to admit it, to yourself and other people. Because guess what, sweetie – if you don’t, if you continue to “tough it out”, you will soon find yourself into a deep pit of despair and you will not have the courage to call out for help.

What will you be vulnerable to? Many things, but food will likely be the one you fixate on. I know, because it’s what happened to me. It started off innocently enough (as it always does) and then spiraled out of control. You thought you could handle a few “healthy” changes in your diet, but you ended up feeling sad and disgusted with yourself, a “failure” by virtue of not being a living, breathing Instagram food feed.

I know. You’re not the only one.

If you’re still listening, here are a few things I want to tell you about eating. Forgive the list format, and forgive me for being a bit tired and hungry myself (I’m still recovering):

1. Do you need to restrict food groups? I mean, do you NEED to be restricting? There are people out there who do need to cut out food items, even entire food groups. Diabetics. People with Celiacs. People who will go into anaphylactic shock if they consume a particular allergen. If you have none of these things, what is your motivation to restrict food? If it’s your health, has this been confirmed by an actual doctor, and then double-checked with an actual dietitian? Yes, GPs are fallible and have a million patients to see every day. Yes, dietitians are as divergent as there are stars in the sky. It’s still better than self-diagnosis or taking medical advice off the Internet.

2. If someone is promising you a miracle cure without even having met you, they are a quack. Even if cutting out sugar completely cured somebody’s Hashimoto’s, that doesn’t say anything about the overall effectiveness of their lifestyle. It just says that it helped them. Even if you have the exact same disease and your lives are so similar you could be twins, one person cannot give universal advice. In science, any science, we always look at sample size and characteristics and only dare to generalize findings if there is sufficient evidence to suggest they can be applied outside of a study group. A sample size of one isn’t generalizable – it’s barely enough for a case study. I’m not saying that this person is lying to you when they say something worked for them – I’m saying that if they try to say everyone should do it, and it will cure the world’s ills, they’re selling you snake oil, and they won’t give you your money back.

3. Beauty is not an objective category. Beauty, at best, is socially constructed, and society is flawed in its own ways. Go to any museum and look at what artists chose to draw. Not just across ages – individual painters had their own preferred body types, faces, styles. Stop spending money on expensive face creams, stop squeezing your pimples, and ask yourself why it’s so important to you to be able to squeeze into size 6 jeans. Is it really about being happy? Or are you just envious of people who are thin and have clear skin?

4. People who are impressed by your dress size more than you are not people worth trying to impress. Yes, even this guy you really fancy. If it were up to you, you’d diet and work out until there’s nothing left of you but bones, and believe it or not, he’s actually not interested in your bones. He’s not interested in being the ultimate authority on your value as a human being. He wants you to love yourself because that means you’ll love him, and whatever flaws he’s deathly afraid of. And if somebody does get off on you constantly looking up at them, stand up from that floor, walk out the door and don’t look back. Such people have no interest in ever giving you validation.

5. Still don’t believe me? What were the sorts of people who made you feel down in the first place? No, they were not your “friends”. You hated spending time with them, even in kindergarten, but you still chose to be a singing, dancing, 24/7 show for those royals than actually hang out with the rest of the clowns and staging a coup. When you had fun, it was with people who were as flawed and weird as you were. And it was awesome. Why was it awesome? Because no-one expected anything from you, other than show up, and that used to be so doable.

6. Food used to help you connect. It can still do that. The first time you met your roommates, and the person who would be your best friend for the next 4 years, it was over breakfast. When the Christian union came to preach, you had a nice chat over biscuits. Whenever you managed to connect with another person, it was over a meal. What happens when you start restricting is that you close in on yourself. You avoid restaurants. You order the least appetizing thing on the menu, hoping it will make you look good, but it only makes everyone else feel guilty. People didn’t want to eat your sugar-free cakes, and to be honest, neither did you. You are constantly hungry – for food, and for validation, and it’s exhausting to be around. Just sit with a new friend and have coffee. Have a damn cake if you want it so much. Eat a sit-down meal, and order the thing on the menu that you want, and then talk about how it turned out. You need energy to connect with people. So go get it.

7. The hacks you look up to live on social media. Social media, where every experience is through a medium. We choose what to post, regardless if it takes us no time at all or a month of careful planning. We try to make our photos look more flattering. We choose what to put in a frame, what filter to use, what caption. We choose what to omit. We don’t mention when stuff is difficult, and when we do, we always put a veneer of heroism over it – “Look at how brave I am, being real on social media” – when in reality, it’s called living in the real world. It’s not that special, yet moralizing it makes it harder for you to go about your day without panicking. Do you want the truth? Check out their cookbooks, and their blogs. Notice how 50% of the recipes they share are desserts, using the “right” (read: expensive) ingredients. All you wanted were more ideas about a weekday meal. Instead, you crave cake, and you can’t have it, and you can’t make it because it costs an arm and a leg, and if you do decide to have a regular dessert, you end up feeling guilty. That’s not messed up – that’s being human.

There are so many things I wish people had told me when I was 19-20. I wish I got validation more. I wish someone acknowledged that I was being bullied and that it wasn’t right. I wish someone had taken a moment to tell me I was beautiful. Maybe then I wouldn’t have been so exhausted all the time, telling myself that against what I believed was overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I wish I had known the difference between a case study and a generalizable finding. I wish I cooked food for my friends without being afraid that using white sugar in a cake is equal to abusing them. I wish I hadn’t felt like I needed to work to get people to like me.

I don’t have to. Neither do you.

Love,
In Recovery

The Writing Bread

 

Growing up, I honestly thought authors were a different species from me. I admired Terry Pratchett and Garth Nix and Holly Black and Astrid Lindgren, but I didn’t connect my schoolchild scribblings with what they did until I was well into my teens. And by that time, I had grown well into my self-conscious phase, which took made sure the next five years were completely aspiration-less.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t telling stories, or that I wasn’t practicing writing – I’d been filling notebooks with fairy tales since I was ten (I even illustrated all my stuff!) My mother was my biggest fan, and my father always let me have age-appropriate books (I had to be sneaky when I wanted to read the age-inappropriate ones). I thought 100 pages of typed text were the longest book I would ever produce. My first and favourite review was hand-written by my best friend on two sheets of A4 paper. I gave family friends stories to read – I even gave one to my piano teacher. But full-length work that might actually appear in a book format? Nah.

The depictions of writers I saw didn’t help either. I wasn’t keen on smoking and I didn’t want to develop a drinking problem. Critics and editors scared me. I wasn’t painfully thin, and my only joke was that my sense of humor was removed at birth. The closest I got to identifying with a writer, as portrayed by someone else, was in “Sputnik Sweetheart” – Sumire’s prickly, self-conscious and angry portrayal was so much like me as a teenager, it hurt. (Later, I would come to appreciate the advice she received from Mio at the start of the book: get some experience, live a little, take your time to write your novel. Man, it would have saved me some heartache.)

Funnily enough, it was writing fanfic that got me thinking I might one day be able to tackle a full-length project. And, seeing Marissa Meyer finish and then publish her Lunar Chronicles, someone from a fanfic community who I admired, I finally made a link. Normal people can become writers. There is hope for me.

Of course, it would take some time for me to realize that not only can normal people become writers, it is vitally important for writers to be normal people – putting their shoes one at a time, taking out the trash, investigating weird smells in the kitchen, etc. But it was too early for me, then. I would spend a few more years trying to write, failing, and beating myself up for not feeling and acting like I thought a “real” writer should.

Even as I type these words, I compare myself to other people and find myself lacking. I don’t consider that I’m comparing myself, not to a real person, but the selective, polished persona presented by social media. I’m using someone else’s success as a measuring stick, not taking into account all the work they put in that didn’t go to waste.

Last weekend, I was at a writer’s retreat – a glorious experience, one that allowed me to make wonderful friends, one that gave me more energy and enthusiasm about a project than I’d had in months. It was so easy to do all the Instagrammable things, but as I kept going back to my favourite writing spot, leaving my phone behind in my room, leaving my laptop too, it finally clicked, that final piece of the puzzle:

You are a writer because you write. Everything else is curtain dressing.

It’s not how many contacts you have, it’s not the number of followers, it’s not the perfect pictures of coffee on a Sunday afternoon and journal open on a new page. It’s not how photogenetic you look in a headshot. It’s not what you think you should be saying or thinking or doing. It’s not the wordcount at the end of the day, but it is the thinking and the plotting and the meandering conversations and the painstakingly written scenes that you scrapped in the last moment. It’s figuring out your protagonist’s motivation. It’s putting down a few words to guide you. It’s championing your work to other people.

The writing bread is in the writing. Who’d have thought?

Healthy living bullsh*t, or making a case for precision

 

Death_to_Stock_Photography_BodyTruths_8

Source: Death to the stock photo

If you read my blogposts throughout Lent this year, you might have figured out that I have a complicated relationship with food, exercise, and self-esteem. I’m saying this to give you some context to the rest of this post. I may sound angry and bitter. I might be angry and bitter. But beyond that feeling of anger and bitterness is simple, straightforward exhaustion.

 

Food blogging exploded in the last 5 years, along with possibly every other type of blog. It’s not just a covert little corner of the Internet anymore, heavily segmented and niche – it is everywhere. In a way, it’s great that we all write about more than one  thing. But for people like myself, who struggle with disordered eating, it makes it really hard to avoid, too. Once upon a time, you could follow a fashion or book blog without necessarily being triggered. Now, I have to thread carefully everywhere.

This post, however, isn’t just about me. It’s about all of us, and whether we are asking the right questions before we hit the “publish” button.

Let me start from the beginning: blogs can be about many things, but at their heart, they are incredibly personal. My journey. My experiences. My thoughts. My ideas. Everything needs to be taken with a grain of salt because everything is subjective. That is all well and good when we’re talking about things like makeup or books, but “health” is something so incredibly personal, so reliant on individual biology, it is impossible to give advice based on your individual experience.

I have Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome, which, last time I checked, occurs in 1 in 20,000 people. That is so rare and yet so important to me. Every aspect of my life is affected by it, but I would never dream of telling people what they should eat or how they should exercise – because we are not the same. Even if someone had the same affliction as myself, I know better than to assume they would find the same things helpful. Their experience is not mine. Their resources are not like mine.

And what “healthy” means for me is very different from what it might mean for somebody else. That is undeniable and unchanging.

And it’s okay.

What’s not okay is when I go online and I see person after person dispense health advice like it’s some sort of gospel: eating “healthy”, “exercising for health”, staying “healthy” on holiday (I mean, wtf, aren’t holidays the thing you get when you need to be more “healthy”, as in, relax?) The very word has been hijacked by every snake-oil salesman, food guru, and marketing expert, to sell us everything from diets to Viagra, and that needs to stop.

To be clear, I’m not telling anybody what to write about: by all means, tell us what you eat in a day, or how spin class makes you feel, or how you love green juice. But use the right language. Be precise in your vocabulary. And for fuck’s sakes, stop pertaining to knowledge that you don’t have. What is a “healthy” diet for your age, body type, and individual health markers might be absolutely devastating to another person’s system. Or worse, if they’re suffering from low self-esteem or anxiety or have issues with body image, it could be a psychological trigger.

When we made our blogs, we made the decision to participate in public life. Our pages are not a private diary – they are easily searchable and they are around forever. We are public figures, regardless of our readerships, and as such, there is a responsibility for the content we put together. We write about what we want – about everything that we want. But we must be precise. We must always be precise.