The pit of despair was cold and drafty, and it wasn’t much fun. It’s been a while since I was stuck there, and I’d forgotten how unproductive and self-defeating it is to get stuck there.
Even at the bottom of a well, if I keep looking up, I see light.
So, I got down to work, did something constructive with all my energy, and just took it one hour at a time.
And I remembered, for all my difficulties, there are many people in the world who would love to have my problems. Because they happen in the process of me living what’s overall a really good life. And all my worry and distress really makes me more aware of how others feel and how they, too, struggle with things — whether those things are “hard” or “easy” for others.
Compassion. That’s what came of it. For myself and for everybody else.
The first order of the day is to get your blog properly setup and configured. This is not nearly as difficult as it sounds, and what you do here, can really help you in the long run.
The first I’ll discuss is the basics of setting up your blog to make your life easier. With technology, it’s easier than ever to complicate everything — to the point where you just don’t want to do it, anymore. I’ll keep things simple here. I also won’t cover every single topic I can think of — just the basics you should consider.
There are a lot of great books and websites out there that can offer you in-depth tips and tricks. Use them as much as you can. There are lots of smart people who share really useful info with the world.
In this guide, I’ll talk about using WordPress, because after years of blogging and using different systems like Blogger and Typepad (and some others I can’t recall the names of), WordPress is my favorite for a number of reasons.
It’s stable and well-supported. It’s not just a side project of some folks who needed to do something fun and fulfilling on the weekends (that happens more often than you think). It’s managed by real people who do it for a living. And it’s actively supported. Sometimes they make changes to the interface that drive me nuts, but overall, it’s worth the hassle. There’s a ton of help and documentation about how to different things, but you can do a lot with just a little bit of information. There are many, many themes (designs) that give you a lot of different options, and they are also well supported.
You can do a lot with a little — for free. You can sign up for a free blog and be publishing your work in a matter of minutes. There are a lot of different customizations you can do, but you don’t have to do many at all, to get a functioning blog that looks good. Simplicity is important, if you just want to focus on your writing, instead of configuring your “technical platform”. And it doesn’t need to cost you anything other than your time and attention.
It has a lot of SEO stuff already built in – like “human-readable” urls, correct html, consistent page designs, and the ability to optimize your images so search engines love you. That is so important — I think one of the reasons I rank pretty high in Google, is precisely because I am on WordPress.
You’re automatically connected with a wider community. WordPress has a ton of bloggers on it, and they’re all connected via the Reader feature. You can easily find others on WP who write about the stuff you’re interested in, and they will show you the tags that people are using, so you not only find out who’s writing, but what they’re writing about the most.
They make it really, really easy. Signing up is easy. Setting up is easy. Blogging is easy – and you can also password protect and schedule your posts, if you like. Promoting is easy, too. For example, if you want to tell the world whenever you post to your blog, you can hook up Publicize to post to FB and tweet automatically whenever you publish. That’s important for your wider community.
I could list many, many more reasons why WordPress is my blog platform of choice, but the five above should be enough to convince you to give them a try.
In this section, I’ll talk in some detail about the basic things you want to do for proper setup.
Picking the right theme (design)
Setting up your blog with the most important elements – sidebars, widgets, sharing, and pages
Making your blog readable
Managing publishing, comments, and ongoing discussions
Making sure search engines can find you
You can read the tips and tricks in order, or you can take them piece by piece in whatever order you like. You can skip around and do what you please, and any one of these changes can make a positive difference. We don’t need to “boil the ocean” here – dealing with chronic health conditions is a big enough challenge, let alone adding a regular writing practice to the mix. You can make it as simple or as complicated as you like, but even in its simplest form, a blog can make a positive difference in others’ lives.
Dear blogger – I want to help you become better at what you do.
Especially if you blog about chronic health conditions (spanning mental health to physical conditions), you’re in a great position to help others who share your same situation and concerns. Many folks with chronic health issues are housebound and don’t have a lot of contact with the outside world. Some are isolated by their conditions, and many have lost their social support network because their one-time friends just couldn’t deal with their problems.
You know first-hand what it’s like to be hampered by chronic conditions, so your voice can help others to better understand their world, as well as feel less isolated.
When they first started picking up steam, about 15 years ago, blogs were a novelty. They were something only egomaniacs bothered writing, and only voyeurs bothered reading. They were dismissed by “serious readers”, partly because the medium had not had a chance to mature. But over time, the depth and breadth of blogs written by genuinely good writers, has won over countless readers. And some bloggers share the same regard and influence as well-known journalists – some of them enjoy even more.
I’ve been “chronic blogging” about my ongoing recovery from repeat mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI/concussion) since around 2008, and it has been a long, slow process developing both the blog and a readership. I started out wanting to just help others with information I gathered, as well as sharing my experiences. And there were times when I just didn’t write very much at all. Also, at the start, I was very verbose… rambling… overly emotional… kind of a mess. But some of my readers complained, and I stopped whining constantly.
I wanted to do something really useful, not just vent all the time. And so I changed things up, tried different approaches, and I learned from my mistakes and successes alike. As of this reading, my blog Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind (brokenbrilliant.wordpress.com) has had 433,743 views from 192 different countries. That’s a result of posting nearly every day for the past several years – 2,615 different posts since 2007.
By far, though, the most gratifying thing has been the feedback I’ve received from others. There are a lot of people like me out there, who feel isolated and alone and without access to support. Their feedback has been so welcome, so fantastic, so heart-warming. It’s not always easy to hear people’s accounts of their own difficulties, but knowing I’ve helped ease their pain – even just a little – makes all the effort worthwhile.
It’s still an occasional challenge to keep from whining – and sometimes I don’t manage to suppress it very well. But I’ve found a lot of satisfaction from researching my own health issues and sharing what I find with others, as well as publicizing the work of other brain injury and chronic health challenge bloggers. There really are a lot of great folks doing fantastic work out there – and we can always use another strong voice.
If you’ve ever thought about starting your own blog, or you’ve got one going and you’re looking for ways to increase your exposure and grow your readership, I may be able to help. I have been working with this “web stuff” for 20 years, now, so it’s second nature to me. But it’s not obvious to most folks. SEO, in particular, is shrouded in unnecessary mystery (probably to keep consultants employed), however you’ll probably find that common sense trumps gimmicks every day.
Ultimately, it’s really about building community – reaching out to others who need your help or could use a friendly voice – and making us all stronger in the process. I’ll do my best to provide truly useful tips and tricks, without overwhelming you.
Try doing some of this a little bit at a time, and really give a lot of thought to each piece of the puzzle. It’s a discovery process, and it may take months for things to turn around for you, but I believe that these changes can really help you a lot in your blogging.
If you’ve got something to say about managing a chronic health condition, and you want to help others, by all means, join us with your blog. It’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of dedication and discipline, but it’s also incredibly rewarding.
“My name is Daniel Ilabaca. I used to have nightmares. I used to be angry. I used to try to run through walls. I used to battle with my obstacles. I used to try to fight with my fears. It used to make me tired. But I found a better way. I knew there would always be another wall and another place to fall. I learned to use my obstacles. I learned to go over them. And around them. Now I am free of my fears. Now I am awake. Now I am happy. My name is Daniel Ilabaca. And I live what I dream.”
You should watch it, too. Don’t try it at home (unless you’ve been training like a beast for a very long time), but watch it.
I’m a little sore today. Changed up my workouts. Pushing myself harder, doing the kinds of movements that actually have something to do with my life.
It’s more than about getting in decent physical condition, losing the winter weight, getting rid of the extra pounds. It’s about stamina. Strength. Being able to go higher and do more and not getting worn out in the process.
I’ve noticed that I do much better, overall, when I am in good physical condition. TBI can screw up your metabolic system — how your body creates and manages energy. It can also make you tired more quickly, and tiredness can lead to agitation as well as a host of cognitive and behavioral issues. I find that when I’m tired, I get angry quicker, I do stupid things more, I say things I don’t mean to say. Things fall apart more, and I react more strongly to them.
Things rapidly fall out of perspective, when I am tired.
So, I’m working on my stamina, which really depends on my strength. Physical strength. The ability to sustain physical activity without running out of steam. If I have more physical strength — and flexibility — I have more reserves to draw from. I can do the simple things for longer, without getting thrashed. And that means I can postpone the meltdown — or avoid it entirely — better than when I am out of shape and do not have the energy and strength to go on.
Make no mistake — brain injury, even mild, does a number on you. And the mild stuff is even more pernicious, because it’s not obvious, but it takes an internal toll that over the long term can be VERY difficult to navigate and negotiate.
So, if I build up my strength and flexibility — take good care of my body overall — it gives me the ability to do things more easily in my everyday life. And I feel better about myself, being in decent condition. Able to lift myself up. Better able to support myself, literally as well as figuratively. And balance. It lets me balance.
Oh yes — BALANCE — that’s gotten a whole hell of a lot better. I used to have to hold onto the handle of the oven in the kitchen, when I did my leg lifts. Now I can stand and balance without needing to hold on. And I can even stand on one leg, arms outstretched, and do my leg lifts — front, back, and side — and not fall over.
This is big. Because balance has been such a challenge for me over the years, and few things set me off more than being off balance. It’s exhausting. But with more strength, more core strength, especially, I can balance and I have more of a foundation to rely on, so even when I am having trouble with my ears, my legs and core can compensate for it. And I don’t need to fall over.
See, here’s the thing – no matter what, there will always be walls. There will always be obstacles. There will always be something getting in the way. Whether it’s TBI or mTBI or concussion or constant pain or vertigo or tactile defensiveness or headaches or mental fogginess… there will always be something that gets in the way. But I don’t have to let that stop me.
Watch parkour on YouTube for a few hours, and then tell me the usual obstacles need to always get in the way. The point of watching this is NOT to go out and do it. I don’t have anywhere near the physical strength to pull this stuff off, and I really can’t take the chance of more concussions, from jumping from high places and climbing up walls. The point of watching this IS to see how others negotiate obstacles in their own individual ways and truly defy common “wisdom” saying that such things are not possible.
It is possible, and with the proper training and dedication and mindset, it IS possible. They even make it look easy.
In much the same sense, I see no reason why those of us who battle these complications of concussion and TBI shouldn’t find our own way of overcoming the obstacles that get in our way. The obstacles could be as mundane as going to the grocery store, or as overwhelming as taking on a new job or a new career, or navigating the hazardous waters of human relationship.
With the proper training, consistent discipline and practice, and true commitment to living the best life possible, who knows what else could happen in your own life? I’m still working on figuring out what else can happen in my own.