Firstly, I want to thank you all for the positive response to my admission of mental health challenges. It means so much to know that people in the academic community are sympathetic and supportive.
(Here comes a big, extremely disorganized, almost-stream-of-consciousness paragraph about mental health stuff. If you want to skip directly to the research stuff, please scroll down to the third paragraph.)
Secondly, I want to apologize for the lack of activity in this blog for the past couple weeks. I’ve, honestly, been having a difficult time lately with depressive symptoms like low motivation and hypersomnia. The amount of effort it takes to get out of bed some days is way too large, and even then I have to fight myself every step of the way. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining or making excuses; I am responding to a reader request to speak more about the ways mental illness affects my work (I am now obsessively doubting whether a reader actually requested this, and trying to convince myself I’m not a narcissist). On those bad days, the thought of getting up, bathing, eating, driving, even getting on the computer to check emails is overwhelming. I usually have to coax myself step-by-step into acting like a functional human being. For example, to get out of bed, I tell myself, “You just need to make it into the shower; then you can sit down and let the water roll over you. Don’t worry about what’s after that.” From there, it’s, “You just need to stand up and wash your hair”; “you just need to brush your teeth”; “You just need to go into the bedroom and sit on the bed with your towel”; “You just need to get dressed”; and so on and so forth… During this whole charade, I usually have my OCD making me doubt whether I really did each thing. Yeah, I saw myself wash my armpits; I saw the soap wash off; I can smell the soap; I did it again just in case; but what if I just imagined that I did all that? What if I didn’t really do it, and I’m going to stink? Knowing that your brain is going to doubt each step you take makes accomplishing things kind of daunting. Instead of that fulfilled, “I did it! Go me!” there’s “I know I checked this fifteen times, but did I really do it right?” Readers, you don’t even want to know how many times I’m going to look at this same damn paragraph before I post it. I’ve been building in at least 30 minutes to “OCD over” assignments, emails, and texts before sending them. This is different from responsible proofreading or double checking; it’s like a nagging doubt that won’t leave once you check, and a terrible fear that if you don’t check everything “right” your identity and future are in jeopardy. Paradoxically, that fear and doubt often makes the checking inefficient, and typos get through. But you can’t let the OCD know that because…. well, fuck. It knows everything I know, so I guess I’d better check more. Soon this blog post is going to lose its original meaning and context and become less about sharing research ideas and progress, and more about putting out ridiculous mental fires that seem a lot more catastrophic than they really are. And I just edited some stuff into this paragraph, so that dispels all the checking I’ve already done, so now I have to start reading over it from scratch. Sometimes, the thought that I am going to have to doubt and worry about things so much makes me want to avoid doing them. Then the depressive thoughts kick in and make me feel worthless about not having done what I’m supposed to do. It’s like a bear killing a cognitive elk, and then ravens coming in to scavenge the carcass. Only it’s not dead; it’s alive and trying to motivate itself to check its damn email. The cherry on top of all this (Now I am doubting whether people are going to read this and think I’m a whiner, or conversely, that my symptoms aren’t bad enough? That’s always fun: when the OCD makes you doubt whether or not you really have OCD.) is the urge to pick at my cuticles until they bleed. I’ve got a little MadBall sitting here on my desk, which I use to keep myself from unconsciously picking. They’re really good for me because of all the interesting textures the different grotesque facial features provide. I also have a squishy caterpillar, whom my boyfriend has named Figaro, that I keep in my school bag for the same purpose. I don’t care if people think I look stupid playing with silly, little toys all the time; it’s that or picking my fingers apart until I get infections. MadBalls are cheaper than antibiotics.
Now that I’ve finished rambling about that, let’s talk about research! I’ve decided I am going to slightly alter my topics of concentration. At the encouragement of my thesis adviser, I am going to examine participatory culture in the context of mental health recovery. This is going to take the place of my planned section on civic imagination. So now my thesis is going to be (Now I am battling thoughts that my blog isn’t academic enough, and real scholars are going to think I’m a joke; I am going through checklists in my head of why I am a real scholar, and I will spend at least ten minutes going over the same checklist as many times as it takes to feel “okay.”) a section describing the CS communities I’m studying, a section about why they are examples of participatory cultures, and a section about the possible mental health benefits of participating in these communities. Additionally, I am going to add one more CS community to the roster. I will now be examining the CCCat community as well as GremCorps and Griffia. My decision to include CCCats comes from the wealth of data (textual artifacts, visual artwork, and personal observations) I have already encountered in that community that demonstrates sensitivity and beneficence to those with mental health challenges.
(I just realized that blogging about my mental health challenges as I conduct research about participatory cultures and mental health challenges is kind of meta… Cool!)
With those changes noted, now I will talk a bit about some resources I’ve discovered. I already have a lot of general stuff about online communities, participatory culture, DeviantArt, etc. saved in my Zotero, but now I need to find stuff specifically looking at mental health and online participatory cultures. I’ve just begun this search, but I’ve already found some interesting tidbits. There are some researchers in psychology looking at ways Internet and smartphone-based interventions can help patients with mental illness:
Some are looking at whether practitioners and patients would be accepting of technologically-based supports and treatments.
Others are finding that online communities may help those with mental illnesses talk about their struggles, and could reduce stigma.
One study conducted in the Netherlands showed that “community-based participatory media projects” helped participants to gain awareness of mental illness and the ways that stress can lead to or exacerbate such illnesses.
I have not yet come across anything specifically addressing DeviantArt, closed species, or similar interest-driven online communities in this context, but I am just touching the tip of the iceberg. I am going to continue my research, and I will report back next time with what I have found! Thanks for reading, and for sticking with me!