Over on Twitter a very sincere mental health blogger with a million tweets and a thousand posts expressed a new shock: people referred to advocacy and encouragement as “inspiration porn.” Yup, I said, that’s what it’s called sometimes. The dedicated and sincere mental health blogger did not find this phrase funny because, well, sincerity.
Our differing opinions on the subject got me to unpacking that phrase, “inspiration porn.” Why does the term stick? Is it because I’ve conducted extensive research on this topic by reviewing many posts and comparing them to many films? Yes, yes it is because I researched an extensive amount of film footage. I saw two parallels between plain old porn and inspiration porn.
Like porn, people who engage with inspiration porn tend to over-engage at the expense of other relationships and experiences. When I first started exploring my issues around childhood sexual abuse I lived in the MaleSurvivor.org chat rooms and discussion forums. The sun rose and the sun set and there I was, still glued to the screen reading, responding, posting.
Behind me, I heard the murmur of familiar voices threatening an intervention if I didn’t bathe at least once that week. It felt so good to connect with similar people who understood my life, but obsessing on it every spare moment of every waking hour was robbing me of my “real” life. So it goes with porn and inspiration porn, if someone likes it they typically love it and that lends itself to a very one-sided therapeutic release. There’s a reason the sincere blogger has a million tweets and a thousand blog posts.
The other thing about porn is the unattainable nature of the glossy product. Few of us have body parts that enormous, and even fewer of us engage in the outlandish activities portrayed. In that world every beautiful stranger is ready to seal the deal after three minutes of chit-chat. Then they go for forty minutes without the slightest chafing. Those of us who advocate the tough causes in blogs and social media are a bit like those tanned and waxed people on screen, meaning, we are camera ready. I didn’t write about abuse, depression, PTSD or suicide when I was a basket-case. It’s too hard. You didn’t see me fail and you didn’t see me grow. You only see me when I pop out, fully formed, like Athena herself. I'm continually reading comments from suffering people who say, why aren’t I as healthy as all the other people posting here?
We aggrandize today's achievements with the hope to encourage others but we never fully articulate the long, disappointing, heart-wrenchingly awful struggle it took to get here. The effect is others have unrealistic expectations for themselves and their results. Which brings me to the things I wished I'd known about therapy.
Three Things I Wished I'd Known About Therapy
The therapy session is the place where a person sets expectations and looks for results, not the online world. To overcome a severe mental health problem like chronic depression, or PTSD it's key to work with a professional. I tried it the other way without professional help and let’s just say I’m getting a lawyer to expunge my record. A therapist should work with each person to define personal expectations. A therapist should also help assess progress, a progress that very often we don’t even see until someone else points it out. Because there are benchmarks for success, therapy becomes a set of achievable goals not a slog through hashed and rehashed issues like we often see online.
Second thing: any therapist who does not want to work like this, to me, is highly suspect. Would anyone go to any other type of professional and say, I dunno what you’re going to do and I dunno how you’re gonna do it but let’s just go for it! No, they would not. It is both your right and your responsibility to get to know the therapist and her orientation. The things to ask about are her favored therapy modality and her background and how she structures the session. Get to know the therapists herself. Once I had a therapist and I literally felt like I needed to see a therapist after seeing him. Not a good fit. So make sure that you can receive and understand the treatment agenda. Also, realize that goals and expectations will shift. The guy I saw years ago did help me. Then I learned he was no longer right for me. With that I took a break, did some searching and changed therapists
Third thing: I wish I'd know that therapy is not the sole modality for healing. I was broke for a lot of years and I used that as an excuse not to look after my mental health. We know therapy is expensive and good therapists are much harder to find than the bozos you’ll meet. What I could’ve done is joined a real live support group. I could’ve researched online communities and benefitted from their info and resources. Instead I had several mental breakdowns. I could’ve gone to an outpatient clinic and owned up to my chronic depression and suicidal thoughts. I could’ve. But I did none of these things. I was so focused on my love/hate relationship with that one modality of therapy I neglected to consider any others. I should’ve never let my lack of access to one avenue prevent me from exploring the others. Neither should anyone else.