The social media and mental health have an odd relationship. I for one am NOT going to shit all over it, because blogging is my bread and butter. Twitter helped me to connect with other anxiety sufferers, Facebook enabled me to set up my own mental health community and instagram indulges my love of dogs looking cute.
However, I do acknowledge the dark side, one that I doubt even Lord Vader could deal with. In short, people can be mean online, brutal even. So far I’ve got off lightly, the worst comments being that my writing style is “too simple” and my references to alcohol are “irresponsible.” But as a lover of red wine and a self-proclaimed non academic, I can deal with this.
I read Hot Feminist in late 2015. Part memoir and part road map, detailing how a woman can indeed be a feminist and still want to look gorgeous. I thought it was f**king brilliant. Sharp, insightful and doesn’t take itself too seriously. As a woman who cares deeply about feminist issues, but who also wishes she had bigger tits, I could appreciate the sentiment. It’s a great read.
Sadly a lot of people didn’t agree and they weren’t afraid to say so, in what can only be described as a barrage of online abuse. Being told that you’re, “moronic,” “sickening,” “pointless” and “disgusting” 24/7 is bound to take it’s toll, and sadly it did. Author, Polly Vernon developed anxiety and depression issues that caught her off guard.
When I asked to meet Ms Vernon I wasn’t sure what to expect. She’s been accused of pretending to be a ‘Cool Girl’ (Gone Girl style), but within minutes it’s obvious that she doesn’t merely, “smile in a shit grin loving manner and then presents her mouth for f**king.” She’s very smart, opinionated and well HUMAN.
We bond instantly over a shared horror about how much sugar is in Naked smoothies, (I mean seriously it’s a piss take, we might as well just have a Mars Bar and be done with the BS), and then I go straight in with my questions.
You famously quit Twitter after the book was published, as a result of the abuse. How do you feel and engage with it now?
I’m still not over it, I was very badly burned. People say that these experiences make you stronger, but it really didn’t for me. It was traumatic and I’m still working through my issues. It made me realise how cruel people can be, always looking for the next person to chuck fruit at. As a journalist I accept that I’m fair game to a certain extent, but I’m also human.
Did anyone every stop you in the street to criticise the book?
(Laughs) No, not once. When we criticise someone to their face, we have to register the pain and emotion inflicted. Twitter makes it so much easier because it dehumanises people. I was ‘just some woman,’ not a real person.
What is your opinion of the social media in general?
I don’t believe in it in the same way that I used to now, which is sad. It seems to be a platform for either self promotion or abuse.
You talked about the mental health issues you experienced after the publication of Hot Feminist. Did you feel comfortable talking about it?
NO. For starters I’d never experienced a bout as strong as this before and I didn’t want to acknowledge it. Plus how could I? I was so afraid that if I did then the abuse would start all over again. “Aww the poor successful journalist is now pretending to have depression.” I felt so vulnerable and I didn’t know how to handle it. I started having dreams in which people would physically attack me, and eventually I stopped leavinig the house. I felt as though it (the depression) was stealing my identity and who I was. I was lost.
How long did it take you to get help and recover?
Around three months. A friend asked if I was ok one night over drinks, and for the first time I said “no, I’m not.” After I admitted that I was suffering I was overwhelmed with support, which really shocked me. I also began to see a therapist. It was bizarre how something as simple as admitting that I was depressed helped so much.
It’s wonderful that writers such as yourself are tackling it head on, making it more acceptable to talk about, because it should be.
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At this point I can’t help but ask my lighter/fashion related questions… because she’s a fashion journalist!
What item of clothing never fails to lift your mood?
Oh God, that’s so hard! Clothes are a big mood lifter for me in general. Making the effort with my appearance always makes me feel better. But if I had to pick I’d go for my old second-hand Levi jeans, because they make me feel and look great!
Would you rather shave your head, or never wear makeup again?
Polly: Never wear makeup, easy.
Me: Shit, really? I’d totally just wear wigs!
Polly: (looks shocked) you didn’t say I could wear a wig.
Me: *Thinks* Those who’ve played this game with me before always know to ask for the specifics. Muhahahaha!
Polly: No, fuck it. I really like my hair.
In fairness she does have great hair….
If you take away one thing from this post, let it be this… the next time you feel tempted to write an abusive tweet, (because we all do) stop and think about the human on the other end. Unless it’s Donald Trump.. he can f**k right off.
Hot Feminist is available now.