Complicating Character

I like titles that contain alliteration. It makes me happy!

That aside, I have been thinking over the past month or so since I wrote ‘hopeful depression’ about the nature of character and the power of diversity in communicating our character.

I know this is an often discussed topic, and I claim no expertise or particular intelligence. Just pondering on a few thoughts that have been popping in and out of my head.

I have been nervous of writing another blog. I question my ability to ever be as interesting or influential as I feel I ought to be. I feel this way because in the month since speaking out about my depression I have been called brave, courageous, influential and have been heaped with praise I am not entirely sure I deserve. I write what I think about and what I care about. I care about the stigma around depression, I find it exhausting but my thoughts are often mundane and boring. For example, I did a lot of baking this weekend and would have blogged about it but thought it might not meet what was expected of me.

I am aware no one else is putting such expectations on me, and I got to wondering why I do!

I think, and these are thoughts alone, that I feel constricted by the weight of what my character should be, within my blog, because of what it has been. I know that’s a sentence that probably shouldn’t be said again, but basically, I started the blog with the most serious of topics occupying my brain. I now feel that I need to follow this with equally serious topics, probably still around the topic of depression, but I need to keep it light. I am trying to ensure that I present the right character to the world. Problem is, I am not sure I know what that character is!

Here we arrive at my alliteration happy title. Complicating character. How much does our online character complicate our offline character? How much do we feel, having edited ourselves to the nth degree online, about our characters offline?

We often write in ideals, I write of grace and communication and reconciliation, and yet I am rarely graceful, I do communicate but not always in a reconciliatory tone! So, when people meet me, what can they expect?

I am passionate about community and write about it a lot, but I am currently so worn out and tired I am barely maintaining the community I am already part of, let alone drawing new people in. Does this make me a liar?

How do we understand our character when so often what we present to the world is our slightly idealised version of ourselves? I love social media, and through it have developed some relationships which I treasure. I enjoy seeing more of the world through the eyes of those around me. I like being able to develop relationships with people all over the world.

I am also more suspicious online, I find it a toxic and frightening space. My ability to judge the character of those I meet could be called into question, I tend to trust people’s word. Online however I am the opposite, I question everybody’s motive, and am reluctant to trust anyone. People seem to feel that they can say things to people they would rarely dare say to their face, it is mean and aggressive and can bring a more instant reaction out of anyone.

So does this mean that our online persona is more honest and more idealised? Or more fearless?

Whatever social media does, it certainly makes understanding my own character a more complicated process. When these questions are bought into the remit of the theology of social media in a church context we are entering a whole new realm of confusion. I therefore will stop my pondering and musings here. Congratulations if you have made it to the end. If you have any clues on who I might be off the back of this, you are doing better than me!

20 Comments

  • Hey KW – when I started my blog ramblings http://judedalton.wordpress.com the intention was that it would be like the overflow on a sink; whatever was in my mind, serious, comical, boring could just spill out onto the blog so my brain no longer had to deal with it.
    I think it is fine that posts can vary, just as we do – sometimes I am funny (so I have been told), sometimes serious (not often), but mostly I suspect mundane to the vast majority. Such is my blog – I have written about ducks, cigars and even the nephilim!
    Looking back at my posts, it is possible to catch a glimpse of who I am and what is important to me. Maybe the same will be true for you…

  • I used to find that the more depressed I was the more fearful I was of the ‘virtual world’. Yet I also found it freeing as I had time to think through a response and somehow felt freeer to speak than in real life, but then over time I found I was more able to express myself in real life, too.

    For me addressing the issues that made me depressed has made the world of difference, but it was very difficult at the time. One book I read, ‘Creating True Peace’ by Thich Nhat Hanh also made a huge difference, although I find all of his books both positive and calming, there’s something about the way he writes. His idea of mindfulness, just observing thoughts and maybe briefly considering why they have arisen, without judgement, was also very helpful. It may not be what you need, but some of it might. It lifts such a load to be able to stop judging every little thing about what you do and say, and maybe even think, or so I found.

  • What a pity we couldn’t have had the baking blog. That would have been really useful. I love lemon cake but it seems quite complicated, so instead I have recently been making lemon cup cakes. Based on standard Victoria sponge mixture:

    – cream 4oz butter with 4oz caster sugar
    – add zest of one large lemon plus the juice of half said lemon
    – beat in 2 eggs gradually so they don’t curdle (except they always bloody curdle!)
    – fold in 4oz of sifted self-raising flour
    – because of added lemon juice, need to add in just a bit more flour at the end
    – dollop into 12 baking cases
    – gas mark 3 for 25 minutes, then onto cooling rack

    For the icing, use the juice of the other half of the lemon. Stir in icing sugar until a smooth thick paste is achieved. Should cover 12 cakes. It’s not lemon cake but it’s good enough. Still haven’t found the perfect topping which in my imagination would be a small piece of crystallised lemon from a jar.

    • Laurence, Could I ask you a question? What exactly do you get out of posting flippant recipe suggestions on the blog of a Christian who is suffering from depression, and who derives some comfort from their faith (which I accept you do no share)? Can I ask if you know anything about depression at all? If you did, you would surely realise that having a nice meal is not going to cheer someone up who is struggling with depression. I find it more charitable to assume you know nothing about the nature of depression; the alternative is to believe that your posts are malicious, and the act of what is known as a “troll”. Which is it? If by you’re suggestions you are genuinely trying to help, then I suggest you read up a bit more about depression.

      • Thanks Iain. Just to rattle through your points: I know a lot about depression. This time I didn’t even mention God (still doesn’t exist). Comments are for everyone who reads them. The “lemon cakes” are nice. I tried them with orange the other day. Not so good. To be honest, I think it’s your comment which is slightly bullying here.

        • Can I ask if you have suffered from depression yourself, and if so, was/is your method of coping with it to cook nice food? I am prepared to believe that this may have worked for you – I once heard of someone who cured themselves of depression by watching Marx brothers films and literally laughing themselves out of it. But clearly it’s not for everyone, and nor is baking a cake going to work for everyone.

          You have my sympathies if you have suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts, and perhaps you thought that posting recipes you found helped might help anyone else here.

          But you don’t get any brownie points for disparaging others’ methods of coping (e.g. faith). You are, of course entitled to your opinion that God doesn’t exist, but even if the faith aspect is nothing more than a placebo effect, surely the same could be argued about baking cakes, cooking chicken, watching the Marx brothers, and so on.

          Scientifically, the placebo effect is very strong. I read an article in Wired magazine a while back that argued that it in fact seems to be getting stronger (based on peoples’ beliefs in the efficacy of any kind of treatment). As a consequence, it is becoming harder to get anti-depressants to the market because in randomised clinical trials they fail to outperform the placebo by a significant margin. Now suppose someone was on the placebo wing of a double blind trial, and they were getting much better & told you so. Suppose by some unscrupulous means you found out that they were in fact on the placebo. Suppose then you told them “your pill has no effect because it’s the placebo”. Do you think that would be a considerate, compassionate thing to do? And if you do not, then do you not think the same applies to repeatedly telling Katharine that God doesn’t exist? [And additionally, of course you have no way of knowing for certain that God doesn’t exist – so what you say is simply an assertion].

        • Such a pity – I had thought I could interest you in having a reasoned discussion to the points I raised. If you know a lot about depression, I’m sure we could all benefit from your wisdom. But if all you do when challenged is to complain of bullying, and say I’m “having a go”, then I’d say that was an opportunity missed.

      • Iain Strachan, you may or may not have a point, but have you considered how Katherine might feel about you and Laurence arguing on her blog? I can’t imagine it will make her feel more positive about posting her thoughts on the internet. I hope it doesn’t put her off entirely.

        • Karin – fair point. I guess I was thinking the same thing – how might Katherine feel about Laurence’s repeated flippant posts about recipes, which don’t really address the issue, and repeated assertions that there’s no God – something that is important to Katherine, and to me.

          But perhaps the best thing is just to ignore it.

          Katherine – I hope you do continue to post your thoughts, and trust you can see that my attempts to draw Laurence out and explain himself were because I felt supportive of you. I’m glad that you have said you felt closest to God in the times of deepest despair. I mentioned this to a member of my Church house group, who has a daughter about the same age as you, who also suffers from depression & she has said much the same thing – that God seems closest at the most desperate of times.

          I hope also I haven’t given the impression that I think faith is a “placebo” – I was attempting, for the sake of argument, to try and see it from the perspective of a non-believer – to appreciate where they might be coming from and what is an appropriate response when something you don’t believe in is nonetheless helpful to someone else.

  • Thank you for braving those doubts and for writing again. All I can say is that this is your blog, your space to say whatever you feel like needs saying. Whether that be serious, silly, thought provoking, challenging or about cake, if writing about it gives you something (relief, understanding, a challenge or a smile) then really that’s all that matters.
    But I’m rambling, my brain isn’t working so well this week, apologies.
    Best wishes for a weekend of sunshine and cake to enjoy.
    Laura

  • Katherine,

    The best blogs are about the whole and real person, so you should tell us about baking when the time is ripe. Too much intellect is wearing.

  • Fascinating thoughts!

    The thing about any kind of writing is that you can stop, review, edit and refine before hitting the send button – questioning whether you are saying what you want to say is a good process because it forces a decision and helps chrystalise and order our thoughts. In the real world, face to face, we’re responding and reacting instantly and sometimes our responses are influenced by a myriad of pressures that things just don’t come out right! How many times have I wanted to reach out and pull back those words that have just come out of my mouth?

    I have done a bit of writing in the past. For me, there was always an element of hypocrisy in what I was writing because it expressed a bit of a desire of who I wanted to be rather than who I actually was. However, part of anyone’s character is exactly that, the desire for who we want to be. The presence of that desire is a wholly positive thing – I’m guessing that, in our cases, we both want to be more Christ-like plus a whole lot more besides (but I’ve given up on being James Bond a long time ago!).

    It won’t be overnight but I think, in the long run, you will become more like the person you desire to be and a factor contributing to that will be your writing. So keep on writing (even about baking).

  • We are what we are, or rather, what God made us. It was through my own (now controlled, not ‘cured’) depression that I learned that being me, whatever that is, is ok, if God made me. Stay strong, God bless what you do, and if there are times when giving is hard and receiving is what you need, that’s ok too.

  • Hi. As a christian currently wretsling with
    depression and faith issues I greatly value
    your speaking out and am sure it has been
    used by God to support others as well.

    My current journey suggests that perhaps
    our identity constantly changes as we move
    through life. Maybe , I am hopeing, that it
    only really needs to be known by the One
    who stands constantly by our side…. and
    already knows .. Everything about us.
    P.S. liking cake is good!

  • I don’t think that wanting to be like something, but not managing it yet, is being a liar, I’ve found 1 John 1.8-9ish helpful for that, you’re only being a liar if you say you are without sin and we’re none of us perfect, that’s why grace is so, well, amazing. I’m really grappling this lately, accepting that I am sinful/not perfect and yet utterly loved and accepted by God. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning has been helping.
    But also it is ok to have limitations, God knows you and knows what you can manage, and for his loved ones he has ordained rest (Psalm something – oh 127). So try not to beat yourself up for the things you can’t manage, though I say this as one who needs to learn this too and it is very hard to accept that you cannot be the active one helping and doing stuff.
    It’s also hard when other people say stuff about you that doesn’t tally with your own view of yourself, words like “brave”, when you feel anything but inside, it can be confusing. No advice, just sympathy.
    Sorry I didn’t mean to write so much, I shall now go and try to follow some of my own advice and continue to grapple with all these things and God’s love. Remember He adores you.
    P.S. My last blog post was about cake, if that helps? Mine was supposed to be a knitting blog but Jesus frequently makes appearances.

  • I don’t tend to read many blogs, purely because I don’t have the time, but also because It seems to be, “TheThing of the moment” and everyone & their dog is at it. So why I chose to read you blog, who knows? What I can say is I’m so glad I did. I thought it was very close to how I feel, but often don’t know how to put it into words. It was very insightful and really easy to grasp. I’m now really looking forward to your next blog.
    Look after yourself,
    Lee

  • Your honesty and reflexivity is a catylist for our own reflections about our public “reflected sense of self” and our private “true or solid sense of self” in the moment. Your writing helps you to see yourself and us to see ourselves more clearly. I don’t think there is an answer for most of us. I think it takes a lifetime of living and loving on lifes terms to find an answer.

  • I heard someone recently say that we all have to run our own PR machine with the rise of social media. On social media where I am known, I try to only share the nice bits, and depression definately doesn’t figure in the status updates. But in my anonymous persona, on my blog and on ravelry I share much more of myself and I love my ravelry ‘friends’ for all their encouragement in the lows.

    BTW I love the cake recipe above, would love to hear about your baking experiences, have been known to bake myself up from the winter blues and well if it worked for Marian Keyes (who wrote a book about it – Saved by Cake!) then it may help the rest of us. Doesn’t mean God isn’t part of the solution too!

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