Tuesday, 1 May 2018

M.E. On: Giving Up Blogging & Where Do I Go From Here?

This is my umpteenth attempt re-writing this, I've been coming back to it for months and indeed there's a very similar one lurking in my drafts folder from February last year. That in itself is very telling of the theme of this post, I'm struggling. I'm struggling to blog, I'm struggling to share my 'life' on social media. I'm struggling to read or reply to the hundreds of emails that fill my inbox every week (sooo overwhelming), I'm struggling and my body is letting me know that. We've had this conversation before (me and my body and you and I); I think it was one of my earliest M.E. On posts, where I said I'd no longer apologise for missing deadlines, falling behind with work or not doing something I said I'd do and yet a couple of years on, I've fallen into the same cycle and trap of saying "yes" to everything and thinking I can work like a 'normal' person. I can't, so why do I keep pretending I can? In a way, I'm pleased my body has decided to give up. I feel like saying "good on you, you show her she can't do it"! On the otherhand I feel incredibly disappointed and maybe even slightly pathetic, that I went through that horrendous year of gallbladder issues whilst continuing to blog, but now I'm "better", I'm not managing. That's ridiculous though. I shouldn't need another reason besides battling M.E. to find blogging and all that comes with it, hard. It's an extremely debilitating illness and that should be enough. Part of me taking this much time away (and it's definitely the biggest part) is that I'm simply not able for it. I really do have to stress that and I don't want this post to detract from the fact that the physical issues are the biggest and indeed the root cause of everything that I'm about to write. You simply cannot blog when you're in a lot of pain or sleeping. So please take the time to read my (slightly shorter) post here on the added health issues I've been having this year (it'll open in a new tab, so you won't lose your place here) as well as dealing with my usual M.E. symptoms.
face of MYALGIC ENCEPHALOMYELITIS sufferer with blue hair, smiling
There is however, a small part of me that's struggling with motivation or attitude. If I'm really honest I've felt relief that I've been able to wake up each day knowing I didn't have to blog. I didn't have to paste a smile on my face (why do I do that behind a computer screen?) and think up something witty or creative to write or force myself to take photos or edit or promote this and that. I didn't have to do it and I was so relieved. If I were reading that about someone else, I'd say they were better off giving it up if they weren't enjoying and it sounds like I'm not enjoying it. I'm not sure that's how I really feel though, certainly not wholly. The truth is I've been chasing my tail for years, so it's not come as a surprise to me that it's reached breaking point. I chatted with my family a few months ago about the prospect of giving up blogging entirely and they were devastated, absolutely gutted. It came out of nowhere for them. I think the biggest issue for them is, I wouldn't have a reason or purpose to get up each day if I wasn't blogging, as outside of blogging I'm capable of very little. They know it's a lot of work, but I don't think until you're doing it, you can really grasp all it involves. It's taken up every waking hour of my day, 7 days a week for years now and while nobody held a gun to my head and forced me to do it, I have to put in those hours in order to get the work done, because I'm not a "normal" person. It doesn't come easy to me and I never realised how much of a task it would become or how much my health would deteriorate in this time. Blogging has changed a lot over the last few years and there's so much expected of you now, which is a tremendous pressure and one I often don't feel up to fulfilling.


The Difficulties Blogging With M.E. 
I act like I don't have an illness when I blog. Many people don't even know I'm ill, because I put out polished posts (that was a lot of "p's"!) and get the job done; but behind the scenes it's a different picture. For a start, it's physically demanding taking photos. My arms ache lifting a heavy camera for any length of time (or even a lighter phone). I sometimes have to contort my body into less natural positions to capture that shot and often have to sit or crouch on something uncomfortable. My arms are weak and shake, so I have to take more photos in the hope of getting enough in-focus for the article. I have to stop and rest several times throughout a shoot, so it takes hours and then the pain continues for several days afterwards. Often I'm so knackered afterwards that it zaps the motivation out of me for actually editing and writing the post and the photos will sit unused for weeks or months. 

All the shoes or props for those photos, don't just fly off and back on the shelves themselves, but wouldn't that be cool if they did? There's a lot of prep and again that's all physical. Reading, writing and editing are all problematic and take so much longer than if I didn't have M.E., because my brain doesn't work like it used to. I forget words, for hours, days, sometimes weeks. I can either lose focus completely on what it is I'm trying to say or know what I want to say, it just won't come out into words. Inevitably I end up re-writing it so many times, that I'm still not happy and ditch it completely. I then scold myself for wasting hours on something I never even used, but having M.E. doesn't exclude you from being a perfectionist! My concentration is terrible and at the moment I'll find there are days without any clarity at all or other times where I have a very small window of opportunity where I feel my brain is working and I can get something down on paper and perhaps that moment isn't convenient. Often it's never long enough to complete anything, thus why my drafts folder is eternally brimming. Then it'll get to the point the post has sat there so long, it no longer seems relevant. The topic is out of fashion, the time has passed. Again, I chastise myself for wasting precious time and energy on something that never materialised. I've tried to work around these issues over the past few years and adapt to more manageable or realistic expectations, but I do expect a high standard from myself, so if it's not spot-on (the writing or photos or both), I find it very difficult to publish.

I had thought my M.E. On posts would be easier as they don't require a lot of photos and all the editing that goes with that...but I really struggle with structure and like I say the words and concentration aren't there, so actually they can take even longer to finish. It's frustrating for me. I think my brain remembers what I was capable of 16 years ago and expects me to manage that now, when I can't. I often feel like the 20 year old me is inside me and she's got all the skills, memories and fun stuff and she wants to do this and that and is utterly oblivious to the fact the 'outer me' can't comply.  Just like anyone else, I have standards and I don't want to be the person that puts out jumbled sentences, rubbish photos or incorrectly spelt words. I spend a lot of time checking and re-checking, so nothing on this blog gets done quickly.

Social Media & Shadow-Banning 
That's just the actual blogging part, but nowadays you are expected to have a social media presence. I'm finding less and less people are discovering my blog organically or even that regular readers are checking in, unless I promote that post on social media. My traffic always peaks when I pop a reminder on Instagram or Facebook, so I'm aware it's a very useful tool in promoting my latest blog post. However it's something I've always struggled to keep on top of, alongside getting the blog posts out there. Often, I'll put in all the hard work for the blog but not manage to promote it, then hardly anyone reads or comments on it and it feels like a big waste of my time. Then last year Instagram decided to shadow-ban me for no reason. Without warning they hid all my photos from appearing in hashtag searches. That meant unless you specifically went on my profile or on the slim chance (with the new algorithm which seemed to also hide posts from being seen) you saw my pics in your feed, my photos were hidden. I spent hours researching the contradicting views of what did and didn't get you banned and how to solve it and didn't come up with anything concrete. The general consensus was, you needed to act like a human and not a bot (obviously up to that point, I'd been acting like my human-self, because I am actually human!), but taking everything I'd read on board about changing up what you post about, using different hashtags, less hashtags, more hashtags etc etc I ended up behaving less and less like myself, until it became an absolute chore to think up what was left to post about. It became so difficult and still my images were invisible, that it deterred me from posting altogether. There was absolutely no reason for me to spend time and energy on it, when it wasn't being seen. It got me really down, I was upset actually when I'd search #IrregularChoice and not see any of my photos there.

So, I stopped using it and it became another form of social media I'd cut-off. My Tumblr went exactly the same way years ago-my photos were hidden, so I stopped posting personal pics and instead just reblogged other photos. I've also developed a bit of social anxiety when it comes to using Facebook and the like. I'm not used to socialising in real life and I've noticed that coupled with the M.E. brain fog symptoms I mentioned earlier, is affecting how I use social media. I worry about what I'm going to write, that it'll be taken the wrong way and that if someone starts debating with me, I won't be able to get my point across cohesively because of the brain fog. I worry about it so much, that it's stopped me from posting. I've updated my personal Facebook maybe twice in the past 4 years. I just have nothing to say, I feel so irrelevant because I'm not out in the real world. Like I said earlier, I feel this need to paste a smile on my face and come across as positive, but it's hard to think of something to say when you've done nothing but be in bed for 4 days straight.

Emails 
It's a similar situation with the emails. I avoid emailing friends, because I feel I have nothing to say (or nothing positive to update them on) and I procrastinate if I have to reply to blog emails. I over-think everything, because I've lost confidence in my social skills. I get roughly 120+ messages to my blog email in a day (and have 2 personal email accounts besides that one) and that's so overwhelming.  I feel I should read each one out of courtesy, but it takes up sooo much of my time. I fell behind during my hospital stay last year and have never caught up, it's become so daunting, that I often log in, skim my inbox and log back out.  Not constructive, I know.  I've tried to unsubscribe from as many as I could, but that in itself is hard work. It's easy when they are irrelevant and there's lots of those! Would my readers like to know about a restaurant doing a special Valentine's menu in Manchester, that I've never been to and likely never will? Err no. How about the hotel package in London for Father's Day that I got told about 5 months in advance? Nope. Do some bloggers really do this? Write about stuff completely unrelated to their blog and literally copy and paste the press release they are sent without trialling anything for themselves?  Maybe this is where I'm going wrong, I'm giving myself too much work!

Boring Stuff
Alongside meaningless emails are boring, what I'd like to call "adulting" parts of blogging and the technical side of things.  Nobody teaches you this stuff when you start out.  I thought I'd just take photos of shoes, upload them, write something alongside it and boom, a blog post is born!  There are things I've had to learn, I never even knew I'd have to know.  You have to figure everything out for yourself and often, you'll find yourself spending hours or days researching a topic you know nothing about.  That's hours or days wasted in my opinion.  I could've and much rather would've spent it taking more photos or writing more, but like I say, it's the adulting side that needs to be done.  You are expected to be a whizz at everything when you get into blogging and I'm not just talking HTML or photo editing. There's coding for blog stats that I still haven't properly set-up (the stats are the same for both my blogs when they shouldn't be!), but I've never got round to fixing it, because actually I don't know how and can't remember what I did in the first place. I spoke last year about the photo hosting issues I was having, after an extension, the deadline is this August. I have thousands of posts still to sort through and manually re-upload each photo. Nobody is going to do it for me, but where am I supposed to find the time? A couple of weeks ago an email popped up about new laws or rules or something to do with blogging. Honestly I didn't understand a single word of the whole email, then laughed out loud at the end when it said, I should discuss it with my legal team or advisers. Like, jaw-drop, I'm just a girl sharing a love of shoes, not Richard Branson! Ideally, I want to blog and not get bogged down by reading up on legal jargon or learning some new computing thing that I'll forget how to use the next time it crops up.

Blogger/Reader Interaction
Interaction between readers and bloggers has changed quite a bit over the years.  Like I said earlier, social media is where it's at these days and I find a lot of people prefer that quick photo and caption over reading a full blog post.  When you're a blogger and you've put a lot of work into a post, that's pretty crushing.  While I don't expect a pat on the back for every blog, it is heartening to read comments (on it) or know that people have taken the time to really hear what you said.  I'm finding a lot of times I'll get asked simple questions I already covered in the post.  Heel heights or shoe names on my Shoesday Tuesday posts for example (which aren't even word-heavy posts).  Or I've seen people post my photos elsewhere (from Google searches) and ask questions that I'd already answered, but they just couldn't be bothered clicking on the photo to be taken to my blog to find it (their way takes far more effort in my opinion).  Don't even let me go off on a tangent on the people that don't realise Google is a search engine and think the photos belong to them! 

I don't know if this is just a sign of the times and with the increase in digital/tech things doing everything for you, people just ask and expect you to jump rather than learning for themselves.  My childhood and most of my teenage years were spent without a computer or mobile phone, so I remember what it was like to get by without them and while I think advancements in what we can do on both these days, is amazing (and I realise my blog is something that can only be viewed online), I feel like people are relying on them too much.  They are staring at their gadgets instead of using common sense and older techniques such as conversation!  I remember a few years ago, being in a car with my friend (who was navigating) and we repeatedly missed turn-offs and went in the wrong direction because she was buried in her phone, using the sat nav on that, rather than looking up and reading the road signs.  At one point, on a road I knew, she was arguing with me about the turning when I knew her phone was wrong and it was taking us to a shopping centre car-park instead of onto the road we wanted to go! It was honestly driving me nuts!  It's like people have forgotten that the tools are already there for them if they'd just look.  I have no issues with anyone asking for more information (i.e. "you said the shoes were generous, is that in width or length?"), but asking me to repeat exactly what I've already said because you can't be bothered reading, is quite frankly, a kick in the teeth for my efforts and totally redundant.  I just won't do it, when my time is already limited.   

More pressing than that though and this one is entirely my fault, is that I haven't replied to blog comments for over a year.  I always prided myself on answering every comment, but when I had the gallstone issues, I found I no longer had the time for that as well as blogging.  I also haven't read other blogs or left comments on those in all that time (I could honestly write another post on this and how guilty I've felt), but it's another line of communication removed, which isn't great for me.  I greatly miss knowing what's going on with you, so it's something I hope I can remedy.  I may never get completely caught up, but I want to allocate time to this.  I can assure you, I have read and appreciated every comment left here (I get email notifications), but I just haven't been able to reply. 

What now?
Well it's all just gotten too much and I simply don't have the energy or time to do it all. I've tried over the past few years to adapt and manage what I can, but even that's become too much and there's too much pressure. I'm sick of feeling like I need to produce stuff right now or the time has passed.  I can't keep up with that. So I felt I'd come to the point where a decision had to be made. This is when I discussed the possibility of giving up blogging, with my family. I explained that the workload was too much and that I'd taken such a battering over the course of the past few years that I felt like nobody would notice I'd gone anyway. Even now, 10 years on from starting this blog, I feel like sometimes I'm speaking to myself or for reasons noted above, a post has gone pretty much unread. Unless I keep my social media going with several posts a day and regular blog updates, the interaction just dwindles and I feel I have to start from the beginning each time and build it up. I can't do that. I can't stick to such a heavy workload when I'm this unwell, so I feel I have to stop. I have to learn to say "no" without feeling guilty and yes, some of that pressure or desire to do everything is from myself, not from others. In the past 4 months I've been away though, I genuinely feel like I've lost my place in the blogging (and social media) world. I feel like nobody needs me anymore and as I often feel so useless in real life when I can't do things for myself, it's discouraging to feel it here too.

I've debated back and forth a lot over the past few months and tried to figure out if there was some sort of compromise that didn't involve me cutting off the final contact I have outside these walls. If I don't have you to talk to, I have no-one. If I don't have photos to take and posts to write, I have no purpose for getting up each day, but how could I prevent myself from falling back into the cycle of it becoming too much and needing a break. I'd pretty much made my mind up that I would give it up, even although it really upset me when I came to that decision. The relief I'd felt earlier from taking a break was replaced with sadness. I just didn't know if I had the courage to go through with it, when it was something that had meant so much to me and been the biggest part of my life for over a decade. Then last month I received an email from Rebecca and I hope she doesn't mind me mentioning this, but basically she'd been missing me and my Irregular Choice posts and was wondering how I was. I read this "You always have such great thoughts and opinions on these shoes which are spot on and your photos and the way you set them up are spectacular as well. Reading your blog has always been a bright spot for me so I guess I am being selfish when I tell you that I hope you are ok, because you really make a positive difference in my life and in the lives of many others I am sure." and it honestly brought tears to my eyes. It couldn't have come at a more crucial time for me. Just knowing that one person missed my elaborate scenes and ramblings on fit and heel heights, is honestly enough for me to want to keep going. I want to try, even if I'm not sure how to do that.

Making this happen won't be easy as I'm still ill and even if my iron picks up, my M.E. is at a level that makes blogging very difficult.  I've tried and failed to come back each week since March and have been so unwell, I haven't managed to get anything finished. Once more it knocked my confidence and I thought it would be easier just to give it up and was so glad I hadn't announced a big 'comeback' as I'd have looked rather foolish when I didn't deliver.  My Mum and sister have been so encouraging and keep trying to persuade me not to be so fussy and just put anything out there, rather than give up entirely.  I know I make things more difficult by writing a lot or using a lot of photos, but it's just my style and I always have so much to say because I rarely speak to anyone in real life.  Maybe there's some way of mixing smaller posts in amongst the larger ones. 

I'll be honest, I'm pretty scared of doing this. My confidence is at an all-time low and I don't have much faith in my ability to write, photograph and manage my time to get the job done. I can't continue as I was before, but how do I implement the new regime?  Do I try to post just once a week or once a month or do I post when I can manage?  When do I force myself to finish a post and when do I accept it's too much? If Instagram shadow-ban me again, besides crying, do I give that up entirely? I don't know. I don't know if I have to just use trial and error and see how things pan out. I know I definitely do need to have some sort of system where my life/work balance is improved or I risk another breakdown. This means cutting back on blogging, there's no way around that, I can't do it all. I also have that deadline looming to move all my past blog photos over to another hosting site, so again that cuts into potential blogging time. I have to be strict with anticipating overdoing it, but kinder to myself when I fail, because I will! I'm not a machine and if I want to enjoy blogging again, I have to go at my own pace and stop comparing myself to other (able-bodied) people that can churn posts out quicker.  I don't want to get caught in the cycle of feeding those that need posts quickly, because it is that, it becomes a cycle and never stops.  I have so many unfinished posts or photo shoots from months or years ago that I'm keen to finish regardless of whether they are 'relevant' today.  I realise all this might put some people off and I may lose some followers who expect posts more regularly or come here for shiny shoe posts and don't want chatter about life-struggles, but I'm doing this my own way!  So phew, ok, I'm back!

M.E. On are a continuing series of posts aimed at raising awareness of and detailing what it's like living with chronic illness (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/M.E.) through discussion of a variety of topics.  I was diagnosed in 2002 after contracting glandular fever earlier that year.  Unless otherwise stated, all opinions and experiences are my own.  If there's a specific topic you would like me to cover or you have any questions, please comment below and I'll do my best to address those in future blog posts.    

9 comments :

  1. I have you on my feeds and I was super excited to see a couple of posts from you today. No matter what you write about, I’m always interested in reading because I feel you’re having a conversation with us, words seem to flow naturally for you, although I understand it’s not really the case. I’m truly sorry for all you’ve been through, life is not fair and things get really tough sometimes. But at the same time I’m grateful to you for sharing with us, I feel that by being here at the other end to read about it we might be able to take away a little bit of the sadness. You matter. You are important to us. I miss your shoe posts a lot, I find myself going back to old ones to look at the pictures and read the details, because I love them so much. But like I said, I enjoy reading anything you post, and I know there are many out there like me that will appreciate anything you write, just a small paragraph or a long post. Doesn’t matter, whatever and whenever you feel like posting, just know you have faithful readers like me that will be here waiting patiently. I wish you all the best!

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    1. Sandra, thank you so much, that's such a lovely comment for you to leave. I'm glad my writing comes across as natural, although I didn't set out to write in that way, I'm pleased that that's become my style. I suppose I talk it out in my head as I write it, so it does come out as a conversation between us, which is nice. I have to say, it's been quite freeing since I wrote these posts, just to get them out there eventually (!) and not put pressure on myself of what or when to write next. I wrote a post relatively quickly today from scratch, with a few photos and was so pleased with myself for managing that. I still have a long way to go with balancing everything and making sure I stay on top of the social media side as well, but I'm excited and happy to be back doing what I love x

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  2. *hugs* I miss your posts when you aren't around. I really enjoy your writing style, it makes yours one of my favourite blogs. I would say just post when you feel like it, no pressure.

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  3. I love reading your posts, however few and far between. I truely believe you'd be missed without all the crazy shoe pictures, or anything else posted (I know I have- as I follow you on several media sites). I'm inspired by them. post when you can/or feel best to, and short and sweet is just as good as long ones. And I think its great to post about the illness. bring awareness to all, or when you have a bad day, and have a place that people with the same issues can read and relate too (whilst wearing adorable shoes). We all have bad days. That's what make us Human. Share when you can. I pray that you get better throughout the year and have that chance to do the little projects you long to do again. Just take it one step at a time. ~Eileen

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  4. A few weeks ago I wondered what had happened to you, I missed your posts and blamed it on the IG algorithm, but when I checked your page I realized something important must be up. I'm terribly sorry you've had such hard last months, all medical conditions are important but those that chip away our strength and mental health are the worst. As I was reading the previous post I got the idea that you were indeed quitting, but this post gives me hope and I'm glad you'll stick around. Write whoever you can, use it as your outlet, it doesn't have to be perfect (life isn't, so why should a blog post be), take you time, just know we are here for you. Sending a big,but not too tight hug your way. Xoxo

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  5. I have read your blogs since the early days. I value them so much for your insight on Irregular Choice, your amazing attention to detail (you pick up things I don’t see!), your understanding of ge brand and their ethos. Most importantly I trust your blogs, I trust your reviews and often when a new style comes out, I do think - I wonder what Gemma thinks of these. Blog as often (or not) as you’d like but when / if you decide to - there are lots of us, waiting to read. Xxx

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  6. You are one of my oldest blog friends and one of the blogs I have read for the longest and I would miss you if you decided to give up so I am glad you are still 'here' even if not as regularly as you might like! What you have done on here has ALWAYS impressed me so much and I am sorry if I have failed to comment as much as I used to- to be honest, Instagram has a lot to answer for- I seem to spend SO much time on there procrastinating and as I have followed more and more people, it is hard to get through the feed without it updating and being overwhelming.

    I am glad you decided to share this as I had noticed you had vanished off the scene and was worried.
    Sending you hugs. xxx

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  7. Totally agree with you about the move over to Instagram and the "faster" response ways of doing social media. I've found blog comments (and readers) are few and far between and my blog has certainly taken a back seat due to various health issues this year for me too. I absolutely love your blogs and have since I first searched for other people who wrote about Irregular Choice. But I totally understand how hard it must be for you. Only you can know what's right for you and what you can manage. <3

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  8. Wow, I read through your blog post and my eyes were opened. I never know what ME was, so I've had a quick google and it's opened my eyes to all your challenges. I started following you on IG for your great photos and helpful, honest replies. I thought it was IG fault when you didn't appear for a while until I checked your IG page. You have a create ability to write so fluently and articulately that it would be a shame not to continue your blog. Just blog when you feel up to it... I'll be checking back to see how your doing on this blogspot from now on and not just on IG. Stay strong (and sane), you rock - and you definitely need to know that! ;)

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Wowee your comments cheer me up!

Unfortunately I've had to disable anonymous comments for now, due to a high volume of spam.

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