every year i think it’ll be different. every year we approach this week in may and i think i’ll finally have it all together enough to perform. and every year i realise once more: ….to PERFORM!!!
this is what happens when you put a hashtag in front of a worthy cause. it becomes harder and harder to enact change or reach people in a meaningful way because it has become a spectacle. it has become a default printed ‘holiday’ in corporate diaries. corporations that do nothing to help their employees the rest of the year are suddenly leading the charge on mental health awareness? and, suddenly, our contribution - often one that is a year-round vocation - pales in significance to the scheduled tweets, the activist-du-jour collaborations, the pastels-and-florals campaign imagery.
and every year, in response, i sit and i think how i can compete. i wonder what painful, horrifying detail i’ll need to reveal about my daily struggle in order to be heard over the ever-louder perfunctory messages about speaking up, or loving yourself, or always being there to listen. we’ve seen it with international women’s day, we’ve really seen it with pride, and now we’re seeing it with mental health. and there will always be those who say these things aren’t a competition. but, actually, when the loudest voices are the ones with the biggest platform and the most money - regardless of their stance, their output, and their impact the rest of the year - it does feel competitive. it feels unfair. and it’s not - as so many people are quick to assume - that this competitiveness is about jealousy or craving for attention, money, or likes. it’s because there is almost always zero correlation between the size of platform and the quality of content - and especially not when it comes to something as nuanced and complex as mental health. we can all spread a message of positivity, support, and encouragement but, actually, anyone attempting to engage with mental illness in a way that is educational, clinical, or support-driven online should be qualified to do so. in simple terms: if you post for hashtag mental health awareness week but the week before have tweeted something about being OCD because you like things tidy, or your brand sells a product with the slogan “cute but psycho”, then you’d be better to just hold back til it’s national pizza day or something equally less life-or-death.
this week has, ultimately, like so much else, become reduced to creating content. it’s become a hashtag that we’re now under pressure to step up to the plate for. and while that pressure may feel self-inflicted, at the end of the day, being able to reliably and consistently create content is what defines success for many of us working in social media reliant industries. the irony that creating content requires the cooperation of your mental health is not lost on me.
so every year without fail i promise to perform. i set myself these goals - of posting daily, of writing stuff that is new and engaging and will benefit people (or reach new people) in a way that i haven’t thought of before. and every year the pressure makes me realise that i’m trying to do it for all the wrong reasons. i don’t feel under pressure to talk about my mental health when i’m organically doing it the other 51 weeks of the year. that pressure doesn’t exist because it’s just what i do, and what i’m good at. i’m not setting out with the aim to fill a week’s worth of scheduling. but maybe this pressure doesn’t really exist. maybe it’s just a symptom - among many other things - of my, at times debilitating, mental illness. maybe i’ve spent three weeks in a near-constant cyclical panic about may 13th-19th for literally no reason whatsoever. but, actually, isn’t that the point? that, often, having the most experience in mental health leaves you less able to actually talk about it?
maybe i’m just applying my exhaustion with social media to a situation that it doesn’t really apply. maybe this is a manufactured issue; i’ve convinced myself that i’m competing against an imaginary enemy, out of my own feelings of inadequacy, laziness, and self-inflicted disappointment? but regardless of the perhaps less-than-justified source of this angst, i’m certain that i’m not alone in feeling it. what i’m also certain of is that i refuse to continue cutting myself open online in order on cue to feel like i’m making some sort of positive impact. i refuse to let the internet stick its fingers into my open wounds in order to be satisfied with my contribution to an arbitrary calendar date. this year, i’m not creating a scandalous clickbait spectacle out of my daily pain in order to compete with corporate marketing 101. the work i do, and the suffering i endure, is year-round.