Why My Vocal Stats Are A Weapon In My Recovery
Using statistics to aid mental well-being
The path towards to emotional well-being is a long one.
There's no shortage of metaphors one could use to describe that journey. Many like to employ the idea of climbing a mountain, but I dislike it. For me, it implies that there is a tangible endpoint; the apex of the mountain. Once you've reached the summit, you've done it: You're cured!
But, honestly? There is no endpoint, no imaginary summit; recovery is a journey you undertake everyday - it doesn't end. There will always be a new a mountain to conquer.
In my case, there will always be new elements of my depression and anxiety for me to master. Both are resourceful foes; they shift, and assume new qualities - they are chimeras. They won't be beaten with one expedition; they'll just morph into something else, something I won't always recognize - at first - as being my two familiar enemies, just disguised in different clothes.
They're sneaky like that.
Instead, I prefer to visualize myself at the beginning of a very long road. One I cannot see the end of because there isn't an ultimate destination.
It would be easy to say that one of my goals, and therefore my final destination, could be to remain depression-free. However, that's not entirely in my hands, and setting a goal you do not have the complete power to achieve is only asking for trouble.
I do not have that control because I do not have the gift of prophecy. I do not know what obstacles lay in wait for me along the journey, ones that will disrupt my progress, and cause detours into strange, and unknown (imaginary) villages, towns, and cities. For example, during the past year I've found myself in a place I never knew even existed in 2018: Corona-land.
There will unforeseen stops in other places in the future: The World will continue to turn whilst I navigate recovery - and it will keep giving me mysterious, new places to explore.
Ones that will offer new, perverse, opportunities for my depression and anxiety to wreak fresh forms of havoc.
All I can do is focus on the journey itself - not on the non-existent end-point. It's not my job to arrive in one-piece at a point marked by a giant 'X.' There isn't one. There is no pot of mental illness-curing gold at the end of that rainbow: It has no end - it snakes around the planet in a never-ending, infinite spiral.
It's not my purpose to reach the end: It's my responsibility to keep going, to keep treading that path. And to incorporate the detours into my story. To learn from them, to grow.
It's not about being 'cured': It's about continuing to get 'better.'
Keep moving forward - that's the journey. Process; not end product.
How? Baby-steps. One day at time. The aim isn't to be depression-free forever; my goal is to simply not to be low today.
And then tomorrow I will wake with the same goal. And the day after. And the day after. And the...
Focus on today - on the 24 hours ahead of me. That's manageable, less overwhelming. That's all I have to worry about. The rest will take care of itself.
With luck, and hard-work, who knows? Maybe I could string a month of non-sad days together. Perhaps two. And just imagine what I could achieve elsewhere in my life if my mood remained good for that length of time.
But I don't need to worry about that.
Today. That's the only day that matters.
And that is the journey towards emotional well-being.
It's hard. Slow. Impatience raises it ugly head continually: I want to be better NOW!
Screw baby-steps; I can't see the progress. I can't feel the progress. I don't want to wait another six months. Or a year. I want to feel alive today: I want to feel tangible progress in this very second. And, anyway: How do I know that this work will pay off? How can I be certain that tiny progress everyday does indeed build up into something more profoundly noticeable?
Because it already has: My Vocal stats prove it does.
Whenever I need evidence that baby-steps work, that their cumulative effect makes a difference, my stats page is there to remind me.
For the first few months on the platform, I averaged 2, maybe 3, 'reads' a day. Given that I was still very unwell when I began my writing journey, I'm amazed I even averaged those figures. I was still finding it hard to simply care for myself; goodness knows how I managed to knock out the occasional - largely coherent - article.
Then I came second in a Challenge. Due to the extra exposure, I briefly averaged 10 'reads' a day. This was it, I told my battered brain; this is the breakthrough!!
It never materialized.
After a week, my average dipped back to pathetic - pre-Challenge winning - levels.
I was disheartened. No-one was reading my work. Should I even continue?
I did. Because I enjoyed it. It was a rare ray of fun in a life that was still settling after the traumas of 2019. It made me happy. But, writing about my breakdown, and mental health, ALL OF THE TIME wasn't making me happy. I was bored.
So I started to write about THINGS I liked. THINGS that did make me happy. James Bond; Shakespeare; The Beatles, football, horror movies... if no-one was going to read my work, I may as well choose subjects I enjoyed exploring. Even better, I could be as niche as I liked. I was writing for me; I could go any place I choose.
I now had thirty pieces on my homepage. Who cared if no-one was reading...
That average number of daily 'reads'? It was creeping up again. 4, sometimes 5, a day.
Okay; bit weird. Not quite sure what to make of that...
Just keep going, Christopher. Baby-steps.
Then something really strange happened...
You know those niche subjects I thought no-one would care about? Turns out people did care.
A piece about the ridiculous nature of the Premier League's Transfer Deadline Day? Top Story.
A frivolous article about what Beatles' lyrics I'd choose to be my second tattoo? Read by hundreds.
A story about the charitable activities of Manchester United's Marcus Rashford, written over one frantic hour that was propelled by the anger generated by a senior politician who had belittled the young man's work, branding him as nothing more than a 'virtue signaller'? Readers left me 'Tips.' Enough to pay for my Vocal+ membership for a year.
An absurd list of trivial facts I'd been collecting for years about 007? Another Top Story.
Because baby-steps matter. They add up.
It's not simply that I now had more pieces, scattered around a number of categories, for readers to find. It was also that I was becoming a better writer. That daily effort of forcing myself to write everyday, to post at least once a week, was making me a more accomplished writer. Baby-steps.
No, I was still a million away from being Hemingway. But, I was better than I was when I started. I was able to write pieces I couldn't six months earlier. I was braver, more willing to take risks. However, I had also grown in my ability to critique myself; I had learnt to be my own editor simply by writing.
Learning to tell yourself, "I know you love that sentence, but it's utterly superfluous - lose it: The piece will be better for it", is a hard skill, but a vital one. The best way to acquire it is write a lot. You soon see what is good, and what is you coasting, going through the motions, with nothing to say.
And I'd learnt to trust myself. To say, "I don't care if this bizarre piece about 007 villains isn't read by anyone - I enjoyed writing it, and I think it's good."
All of that builds up, accumulates. Keep going, and - over time - you've got a body of work behind you that is not only improving in quality, but more likely to seen, and read.
Baby-steps matter. This will be my 70th article on Vocal. 70. Regardless of anything else, I'm proud of that achievement. It's testament to not giving up, to moving away from my comfort zone, to stretching myself, to improving, to trusting yourself. To keep going.
But, it's also a tangible achievement.
I can't just feel it: I can see it.
My 'reads'? 40 a day. Some days it's a lot higher; others a lot lower. But, on average, 40 people every day now read my words. I'm not a professional writer; more of an enthusiastic amateur. So I'm pretty happy with 40.
Even more so because it's an improvement. It's growth. It's clear sign that all those baby-steps do add up. That - sometimes - progress can be measured.
The novelist, and mental health advocate, Matt Haig has spoken about how, whilst you wrestle with recovery, anything goes. As long as it's not innately maladaptive or harmful, if it works for you, employ it. Don't worry about what others might think; if something is improving the quality of your life, use it.
My stats page is one of my weapons.
Whenever I'm trying to quiet my natural impatience, who is getting rowdier at what it perceives is a lack of progress, I shut it up by briefly looking at that page. And I tell it, "See? That figure is incrementally growing. Who cares how long it's taken - it's growing: The work is paying off. So, please, be quiet now - I've got a silly idea about the films of Stanley Kubrick I want to play around with."
40 reads a day. For you, that might seem small. But, for me, the importance is massive, and far transcends mere numbers. It represents progress. Growth. That baby-steps, when combined, can take you a long way.
If tiny, continued, progress can take me from almost no-one reading my work, to now having the daily readership the size of two Premier League match-day squads, where else might it take me?
The confidence that gives me is huge. It grounds me when my mind starts to whirl. It gives me the fortitude to take yet another small, halting step, and accept that I may not see the results of that step immediately, but one day I will. Especially if I combine it with another. And then another...
It tells me that, with work, I can keep improving. Getting better. Not just as a writer, but as a person. The stats might be largely metaphoric, they might just be numbers on a screen, but they have a power - they're fuel, powering my journey.
I'm still on that path, moving forward. The best thing is that I KNOW I'm moving forward.
They add up. Boy, do they add up.
If you've liked what you've read, please check out the rest of my work on Vocal. Among other things, I write about film, theatre, and mental health:
You can also find me on Elephant Journal and The Mighty.
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