Blogher '06 Session Discussion: Outreach Blogging on Day Two

BlogHer Original Post

9th in our series introducing you to each of ourur BlogHer Conference '06 sessions and their speakers, and finding out what you would like to get from each session. Today, inspired by Health & Wellness editor Denise's recent post about self-harm, I bring you from Day Two:

Outreach Blogging is not for the faint-hearted

The debate: Life savers? Or Enablers? There's no doubt the online world can provide tremendous support, but can a blogger get in over her head? danah boyd will discuss with bloggers tackling the most sensitive subjects, such as anorexia, addiction and mental illness. Join Leah Peterson, Jenn Satterwhite, Denise Tanton and an anonymous blogger for a conversation you won't forget.

Denise is just one of the BlogHers willing to share her experiences in order to help others. We all know the Internet erases boundaries, but for many dealing with sensitive issues boundaries are exactly what they need to draw.

Meet the women who will share the responses they've gotten to blogging to help themselves and others...the good, the bad, the overwhelming. And find out how they deal with all of the above.

[img_assist|fid=512|thumb=1|alt=danah boyd] danah boyd is a well-known voice around the blogosphere. You might call her a social media anthropologist, studying what makes us tick online. She focuses on youth culture and has lately been turned to by technologists and the media alike as an expert on MySpace. danah will be on hand to give a big-picture perspective on the personal stories that each of our speakers will be telling.

[img_assist|fid=516|thumb=1|alt=Leah Peterson] Leah Peterson has a story to tell. She blogs and has written a book about her own mental illness. Leah had multiple personality dissociative identity disorder and finally was integrated in 2002. She is extremely open, answering all manner of questions in great detail about her experience. But she also gets way more incoming communication from people needing to talk or get help or get answers than she could ever deal with. So much so that this is a message on the page promoting her book:

I get a lot of emails from people that are or have suffered from a mental illness and/or depression or know someone who is or have read my book and want to contact me. My heart goes out to you and PLEASE know that I appreciate your emails and I read every single one. I regret that there is no possible way for me to answer them all. Please understand that if you write me and I don't answer, it's not because I don't care about you and your situation. The best advice I can give is Take Good Care of Yourself. Find a support group or contact a therapist. Look at your resources and see where you can find help that is close to you and preferably from someone that is licensed or has a degree, because I do not. I do want and wish the best for you in every way.

If you still want to, you can write me an email here. Sometimes I post the questions and answers on my blog. I can't tell you what you should do. I won't tell you what kind of medication to take. If you are in danger of hurting yourself or someone else, please call 911.

UPDATED: This post has been updated to delete identifying aspects of this speaker at her request. This anonymous blogger is a college student in xxxx, studying psychology. She is also a woman who has struggled with depression, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders and self-harm since her teen years began. She is brutally honest about all of it in her blog:

Why did I want to do that? I have been deliberately blocking out so much lately. Numbness takes over if I let it. I'm good at distracting myself with "not thinking". But sometimes the emotion is too overwhelming- too strong. And sometimes I can't even identify it. And that scares me.

I sat there for a long time. A really long time. As I sometimes tend to do during these crisis moments, I ran out of hot water, hoping that no one else in the building would know. I don't know why the tears don't come. Sometimes there just isn't anywhere for them to go. And I exhausted myself the other day when I had the worst flashback of my life.

So what exactly is this feeling? How do I process it? Why does it scare me? Actually, I think I know a little bit about why it scares me. Well, maybe I know a lot about why it scares me. Maybe. New things are scary. I don't like change. Creatures of habit we are. But is this a bad new thing? I know inside that the answer is 'no'.

So what ultimately kept me from self-harm? You did. Trust. Knowing that I didn't want to shut you out by deceiving you. What she doesn't know can't hurt her. But then I would have lied to you- and to myself. And deep down, somewhere, a part of me that I desperately want to hang on to, believes it when you say I love you.

[img_assist|fid=524|thumb=1|alt=Jenn Satterwhite] You probably know Jenn Satterwhite because she blogs here on the Mommy & Family beat, or because of her own popular blog, or the blog she started with her two partners (Jenny Lauck and Meghan Townsend) last year after BlogHer, or because she guest blogs elsewhere too. If you follow Jenn's work you also know that she is open about the most painful parts of her past and present. Death, grief, addiction, recovery. Because she's so open, and because she's been clean 6 years, readers turn to her. Sometimes she can help, and sometimes she can't. And it doesn't mean she still doesn't experience her own dark nights. The most recent post on her own blog says this, as a matter of fact:

It is in these midnight hours that I am at most risk of a slip. Or a slide. Or a go directly to addict hell. Do not collect $200. Just slip back into your addiction. I will admit it. Even after 6 years, I can jones for a fix with the best of them. My Addict Mind begins to tell me that there is a way to feel better. Just a little pill or two won't hurt. You know how to get them and you sure as hell know you can get them this late. You've done it before.

At this stage of the game, there are no longer thoughts of Sleep or Mom or anything but a fix to make it better. Yet, I know it won't give in. Not on this night. So I take my betraying, wandering mind back to memories of rehab. What would so-and-so in group tell me to do? That leads me to think about rehab and recovery. Want to know what I picked up in rehab? Smoking. I have since quit. Several times. But when life kicks me down, Sleep eludes me and my Addict Brain betrays me, my mind goes to the almighty smoke. Why? Because I relate it to my recovery. I relate it to getting through the hardest time in my life. I relate it to not using drugs to numb myself. I realize it doesn't make a lot of sense to most people. I wish my brain was wired differently. But, alas, it is not. So, now that I am fully awake, I miss my Mom, want to drug it up and need a smoke. Can you see why I might possibly be totally pissed off that Sleep is such a fickle companion of mine?

But tonight--and as any addict knows, I can only give you now-- I will not slip. I will not smoke. Instead, tonight, I will blog. I will send off emails. I will make lists of things I need to do in the next few days. Tonight I will not neither fight with Sleep nor pretend I don't want it. I will simply wait for it to come to me. Ready for me this time. Then--and only then--will I be offline.

Because I know what could await me if I don't. And that is not a price I am willing to pay simply because Sleep won't have me yet. I can wait. And I will win.

[img_assist|fid=528|thumb=1|alt=Denise Tanton] Well, Denise shared it yesterday. She is a former self-harmer. But you should also know that Denise has spent years moderating and managing online communities and forums centered around eating disorders and other highly sensitive issues. Denise has seen the best and worst of online support-oriented groups. And it's clear from her post yesterday that she can still remember vividly what it's like to be in that position herself:

Even though it has been 30 years since the first time I cut, and a very, very long time since I last cut, it doesn't take much for me to go back to those feelings. I cut because it seemed like that was the only thing I could do to stay sane, to keep safe, to stop the pain I felt and to prevent other people from being hurt. I cut to regain control of emotions that were spiraling out of control. I cut to feel something NORMAL rather than the chaos in my head or the complete emptiness. It didn't seem like throwing a chair through the window of my algebra class was a good idea. Breaking down uncontrollably during gym also seemed like not a good choice. When you're 13 and those are the sorts of things you feel that you need to do, heading to a bathroom stall with an X-acto knife seems like a much better option.

In the few seconds that it took to make the cut, to focus on the very normal pain, to watch what happened and deal with the clean up, my head would clear and I could head back into the world and act almost normal, for awhile. Normalcy was all I was looking for. Cutting gave that to me... for awhile.

This session isn't intended to provide a voyeuristic look into private dramas, rather we might learn how taking these topics public can help people...and how to protect yourself if you are doing or plan to do so.

So, that's what we are envisioning for the session. But what do you think. What do you want to learn? What do you want to hear? What do you never want to hear again? What would make you attend this session?


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