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The past few weeks has been devastating for so many of us with news that some our most beloved celebrities have been silently struggling & that their hardships have ultimately claimed their lives. It’s been a jolting & heart wrenching reminder that mental illness targets beyond social ranking or income. It infiltrates even the most enlightened & creative minds with little to no mercy. While the masses have rallied together on social media to both comfort & grieve these public losses, I can’t help but feel more alone than I have in a very long time. 

I’ve struggled with mental health issues for the majority of my life. Social media has been a tool for me to be open & accountable about my journey. I’ve used my voice & my words to both connect to others & to heal aspects of my own life. But truth be told, I’ve always felt the inherent divide that these platforms inevitably fuel but last week solidified what I’ve always known deep down. 

I looked on as well meaning people extended important & thoughtful wishes for the people in their lives to know that they’re “always there.” Always there. My heart felt comforted while my feed flooded with people I knew, both personally & virtually, telling me they were there for me. For people like me. But the second I put down my phone, I felt a new depth of isolation. Social media breeds passive action. It fuels itself on the notion that a general call for unity & support is enough to replace true human connection. It fools us into thinking we’ve done enough, when in reality we’ve fed into the exact divide that causes so many of us struggling even deeper into our illness. 

Many of us with social followings try our hardest to have our online persona be a fair representation of who we are in our real lives. We mesh our two worlds to the best of our abilities but deep down knowing that there are parts of us missing online. This subtle duality is an inevitable product of being a version of ourselves online & in my opinion, it’s one of the most dangerous side effects of being on the Internet today. 

Everyone I knew, from close family & friends to long time acquaintances, publicly extended their support for anyone they knew who was struggling. I was told publicly that they wished people like me would just “reach out.” That we’d “never be ashamed to ask for help.” That we should “call a hotline if it ever got to be too much.” But sadly, not one of them reached out to me personally. It made me question if what I saw online was only true in that realm for people who were well enough to believe it & far enough to never actually use it. It made me question if I was more alone than I thought & that maybe my publicly sharing my struggles were a bit too real for my supposed “support system” to be able to take on directly. I felt rejected in a way. I felt alone & unseen. I felt like I could use some help but that my illness made it impossible for me to ask for it.

We’re conditioned in our current climate of our social media focused lives, to believe that we’re the most successfully impactful work when we’re extending our reach as broad as our following allows. But sometimes, the further we reach the more diluted our impact, especially when advocating for better mental health support amongst people we feel accountable to. We’re quick to overlook the basic needs of meaningful connection of our lowest common denominator; each other. 

I encourage anyone who’s looking to help & not knowing where to start to focus inwardly on your smallest & seemingly most insignificant personal connections first. They may feel redundant & meaningless to you amongst grand gestures of what we’re used to seeing all around us lately. You may feel like you’re not doing enough, fast enough or on a large enough scale to make a difference. But know that to us; you’re saving lives. 

Nothing online could ever take the place of a hand on the should of someone who’s struggling. No post can replace wiping our tears. No direct message could comes close to hearing the voice & reassuring words of someone we trust & love. We need you more than we have the capacity to tell you. We rely on you when things are bad but especially when things seem good. We need to know you’re always there to help but more importantly, we need you to remind us of it often because our illness works so hard to have us forget. 

Next time you feel like you’re called to go deeper, grab hold of those closest to you. Hold them tight. Your impact is felt strongest by those who are constantly reminded of your presence, first hand & ongoing. No connection is too small. Let’s take care of each other. 

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