What would I think if I met my online persona? Would I like them, or would I sneer slightly, embarrassed by my own proximity? I’ve tried not to hide behind that persona too much – I use my own name (more or less), and a picture that’s only a year old. But I have to acknowledge that there is a degree of online creation, be it rather random. When, for example, I set up my twitter account some years ago, I wanted to be RebeccaLT, my name and initials. This was taken, obviously, and I forget how many numbers I tried before I thought sod it, and jumped to 99. There was no meaning involved, and now I’m stuck with Rebecca99LT. Sometimes I wish I’d chosen something more pertinent – maybe theunlikelydoc or moodydoc, and an underscore somewhere would have added a touch of mystery – but I’m glad I used my name. Actually, let me change that – I’m glad I was able to use my name, I know that some people don’t feel able to do so.
I have wondered why I have recently launched myself and my thoughts into the internet with more enthusiasm than previously. Writing is not new for me, but I have been both reluctant to share it and afraid of the response, which I acknowledge is a form of vanity. Over the last year, however, I have written many more words than usual, much of it about my own experiences as a psychiatric patient and my subsequent blind leap into becoming a psychiatrist. I have written a memoir, poems, blog posts and many an enthusiastic tweet. I began the blog because I had so much to say, and I no longer wanted to hide behind myself. I wanted to reach a few people, at least some of whom I hoped would know me, so I could tell them something of what I’d been through, and what I thought about. It is easier and less embarrassing for me to write things down, and I found I don’t actually mind whether people read it, don’t read it, read and comment, or read and don’t comment. My vanity was dispelled.
But why now? The explanation I mostly give is that my daughters are now all old enough to understand, and to say if they would rather I didn’t. This may be the case, but I wonder if it’s the whole truth. In the odd darker moment I have wondered if I am more disinhibited, and I can’t stop the occasional thought that this might have followed my recent course of ECT. I know that there are those out there who consider themselves brain damaged following ECT, and I think – how would I know? How would it manifest itself? I don’t really believe this, and there is no evidence that I am cognitively impaired, but it’s hard to put entirely to rest. It is more likely that any disinhibition would be a manifestation of my underlying illness – or even treatment – and this has its own issues. Mild elevation of mood enhances writing and self-belief; any higher leads to the spouting of rubbish, and low mood dries up inspiration completely. But what in the wide mood spectrum is normal? People function all over the place, and I’m not altogether being facetious when I say that 6.5/10 is my preference.
But overall I think I’m in a place where I’m relatively comfortable, as regards family and career. It all feels rather fragile, but for the first time I feel safe writing about some of the harder things I’ve been through, and I think I also have the advantages of experience and hindsight. Maybe that makes it less fresh, but it gives a longer view.
Returning to the online persona, I am trying to view my own with an objective eye, and it’s difficult. I see a senior doctor, with a story of a mood disorder, who has, despite this, managed to climb the ranks. She also has a family, is rather short, and occasionally brags about playing the viola. She thinks she has a lot to say because she’s both patient and doctor. Already I can’t stand myself! Perhaps I’m not quite that bad – I’m diffident, shy, self-deprecating. I have a very quiet voice. But these things don’t really come across online, and I realise that I see myself differently to what I think I project. Even in real life, the person in one’s head can be very different to the one that others see, but this is far more obvious online. For some it’s deliberate (not a criticism), some may be unaware, and for many of us it will be somewhere in between.
I am a member of a few online support groups, and I find this frankly very difficult. People with both mental and physical illness can often feel misunderstood by the medical profession, and sharing symptoms and feelings online can be very helpful. But there is a danger when others (not just doctors) offer advice, medical and otherwise. The online persona remains a creation, it can never fully represent the person behind it, and the true picture will never be clear. Those who manage to offer support without advice, and without judgement, may well be providing something really important; but some find it difficult not to get embroiled, and there can be real dangers for both sides.
Returning to the less specific, I am becoming quite fond of many of those that I meet online, including other doctor/ patients; but I wonder what it would be like if we were suddenly all trapped in a room together? Some, like me, use a picture which might make recognition easier; but, let’s face it, we choose the picture. The most eloquent might be lost for words, or the spoken words may not be what we expect.
Ultimately, I’m not sure any of it matters, other than the need to remember that who you see online may not be who you see.