I created @anxietysupport on November 12, 2012. I was sitting on my mom’s couch in dire need of a supportive community of people who shared similar struggles. I had been in recovery for a little over a year from panic disorder with agoraphobia and was struggling immensely with anxiety and depression, so much so that I had to take a break from college for three semesters. The account started off as tips and techniques, pulling from what I was learning in therapy. It wasn’t until about four months that I put a picture up of myself and really started telling my story in real time, never shying away from the dark and unpolished parts. I’d be lying if I said I had a set plan for the maturation of the account but I didn’t. I just told my story and little by little more people joined in on the conversation. And from there it just grew and grew and grew and I just kept telling my story and speaking a truth that people could relate to. It’s been six years now and the community has grown to over 106,000 brave and kind people who just get it.
Here is what I did to make sure the community stayed just that:
Tip #1 | Put Your Mental Health First
The nature of what the community is based on, mental health and self-care, must come first for me. If I’m having a difficult day, I take care of myself. I unplug from social media and turn inward. I practice what I preach! I listen to my body and mind and give them what they need. I fill my cup and then pour from it when it feels safe to. I find that if I overdo it and pull from a place of lack or ill time, I don’t produce sincere material because it came from a place of pressure rather than my heart. I do my best to remember that although I am the owner of a large account that patiently awaits my posts, my mental health must come first. I try not to let the expectation of feeling like I need to post or share overcome me. I post and share when it’s coming from a genuine place and when I do so I curate content that mirrors what I advocate for. What I’ve been met with every single time is a community that understands I show up when I can and from this priority setting I have set a healthy boundary and nothing is ever at the expense of my mental health. When I’m taken care of, my advocacy is taken care of.
Tip #2 | Don’t Sugarcoat Your Story
I’m met with the most supportive, compassionate and relatable comments when I dig deep into my struggles and shamelessly share them. I don’t shy away from sharing the anesthetically pleasing details of my hard days or the accompanied ache. I’ve learned that people can relate to that just as much as they can relate to the good days. I have a deep understanding that not everyone can relate to shiny, sparkly, happy posts with inspirational quotes and images. When I’m hurting sometimes that’s the last thing I want to see. Sometimes I just want to read something similar to what I’m going through! I of course balance this with sharing my good days, accomplishments and successes, but there is something about breaking the spine open of my hard days for the world to see that creates the strongest bond between the community and myself.
Tip #3 | Don’t Take Negative Comments Personally
Note that I said “I work on” because the truth is negative comments still hurt my feelings even after all these years of being a mental health advocate on Instagram! Luckily, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been hurt by someone’s comment or have had to delete one because I deemed it to be triggering or negative, but they still happen and they still burn. I’ve learned that hurt people hurt people and their negativity has nothing to do with me and everything to do with their inner pain and it’s a pain I show compassionate support for. If I posted a picture of a white wall there will always be that one person that argues it’s an ugly shade of white. Differing opinions exist! I’ve learned that I cannot be everything for everyone otherwise I lose what makes this community structurally sound. This is my shade of white and it’s what makes me, me! I can only be me because that’s the easiest and most important person for me to be. If I share my advocacy with the community I remember that my content will be read through the personal lens of another. Some may misinterpret my message or disagree and that’s completely okay! I just lean into that inner trust in my advocacy, myself and remember that everything I put out is for the greater good.
What you have to offer the world matters. Your journey matters. Your advocacy matters. I personally want to thank you for doing what you do- the world needs it. Stay true to who you are, take care of yourself, don’t rewrite your story because you’re worried it doesn’t fit into every box- be proud of your rhythm. Be proud of the story you want to tell.