I was going shopping with a friend of mine one day when she told me she had what she called an invisible friend online. Claire (not her real name) was going through a tough time. She just broke up with her fiancé – caught him cheating. She was devastated. She would call me up in the middle of the night because she couldn’t sleep. I would give her my time, of course. She was one of my best friends, and she was there for me during my lowest moments. I know how difficult it was.
It was a month since that fateful day and I noticed that Claire had been looking much better – she wore that nice smile of hers again. I told her I was happy that she was finally moving on. And she told me that it was also because of this anonymous chat service she saw in an online community. She had been confiding with some stranger online and she said it was really helping her a lot.
Don’t get me wrong. I was happy for her. The last thing I want is to see my friend sulking and crying over someone who doesn’t deserve her. But I just didn’t like the idea of her having online conversations with people she didn’t know. So I asked her to help me understand the mechanics of anonymous chats, and how it helped her and apparently hundreds of people around the world. This is what she had to say.
She was comfortable discussing what happened because she didn’t see who she was chatting with.
When you’re down and low, you just feel lighter when you ‘take it out’ on someone. And she found that she was more generous in her confessions because her ‘chat mate’ didn’t know who she was as well. She felt free to express how she really felt, and it felt good.
Nobody judges you.
Sometimes when we talk to friends or family, we tend to hold negative emotions that we feel, such as jealousy, grudges, or remorse, for fear that we will be judged. That’s how Claire felt. When she joined the online chat rooms, she eventually spilled everything out without having to be afraid if someone might condemn her or make her feel bad about herself.
She learned to be more creative and generous with her ideas.
According to Simon Rego, PsyD, “Many people mistakenly believe that if you can’t see it like you can a broken bone, it must be less significant and therefore can be overcome by simply using willpower. If not, they mistakenly believe that people who suffer from depression are weak. However, dispelling her depression to a stranger did not only help her move on but it also encouraged her to find more creative ways to help herself move forward. She became more open to sharing her insight on other issues.
Her secrets are safe in the chat room
“A stressful change in life patterns can trigger a depressive episode. Such stressful events may include a serious loss, a difficult relationship, trauma, or financial problems.” Ben Martin, Psy.D. says. Anything she divulged stayed there, in the chat room, with that stranger. She found it a little odd at first, sharing her secrets and expressing the hurt and depression that were weighing her down. However, she later realized that the anonymity itself was what kept her glued to regularly visiting the chat room because she trusted the place she was in.
She was free to chat when she wanted and free to leave when she wanted.
Unlike doctor’s appointments where you were obliged to get to the bottom of why you went there in the first place, you are not at all forced to finish what you started right then and there. If you feel like you can’t tell your chat mate what really happened, then you can always leave and come again another time.
Anonymous chat rooms are just a great option for people who are suffering from mental illness and who are scared of being judged. The stigma of going to therapy may not be that rampant but it still exists. My friend is only one of the many people who can benefit from these resources. Learning how to cope and move on with the help of a stranger just might be your answer.