I spend far too much time social networking, and indeed if I cared about such labels at times I might have been labelled as addicted to social networks. One of the things I did when I signed off sick from work was sign out of twitter and facebook for a while. I'm back on them now.
But this post is not about that at all.
The fact is that as well as my ordinary life, and things like my facebook life, I have a separate life of what I might call "asocial networking"
Since coming out as a depressed academic - mainly by starting this blog and later announcing in an email to my whole department that I was taking time off sick due to mental illness (which may have been a subtle clue to some people) - I have had many conversations with people who I had no idea struggled with depressions or other forms of mental health issues.
Some of those contacts have been one-off messages by people, sometimes long conversations have resulted. Sometimes in person. Sometimes on facebook. Often people say "I had no idea you had such struggles". Often they talk about their struggles and I think "I had no idea you had such struggles." I don't know if I can help you. I hope that maybe reaching out to somebody helps you, even if I can't. I have no medical training, I have my own experiences and they might not be valid for you. Anything I might say might be ... Exactly. The. Wrong. Thing.
The enormous difference with social networking - hence the name "asocial networking" - is that obviously these conversations are confidential. I don't go talking about them to other people. I have been fairly open about my issues, but I am a very strong believer that nobody else should feel they have to be open about theirs. If you share your issues with me, then you deserve to assume that I won't share them with our common facebook friends, or our common work friends and colleagues, or our outside friends. I believe you can assume that with me.
Secrecy is not my natural metier, but despite my wearing-my-heart-on-my-sleeve persona, I believe that when I need to I can keep secrets. My rather different evidence for this is when two of my friends were applying for the same job, and I tried to give each the best advice I could. When they both realised the situation (through some other route like both being invited to interview, I don't remember the details), I said something like "Oh gosh, it turns out I can keep secrets after all."
I will say one thing. If you talk to me about this there is a good chance I will tell my wife. Not necessarily and not if you tell me not to. But I might. It's a mild safety valve for me.
I don't really know how to say the following.... so I will just say it. Often these contacts make my day. I worry about saying some thing like this because it sounds like I am pleased that you are struggling. Absolutely I am not pleased, I am sorry. But I am pleased and honoured that you felt safe or at least prepared to share it with me.
It might sound an odd thing to say, but absolutely one of the best things for me about being open about my problems has been that other people have entrusted things with me that they would not share with many people. As they say, when you are having a hard time you find out who your friends are. I may not succeed, but I like the fact that I at least try to be a friend to people during their hard times.