Vie's Inn of Wonders' Awards

Interview CSOTY 2009-winner

Content Site of the Year 2009: Living Manic Depressive (opens in new window)Content Site of the Year 2009-award

We are very pleased to have with us Jinnah Mohammed, Webmaster of Living Manic Depressive, that won our Content Site of the Year-award 2009...

Jinnah, can you tell me a bit on how the site came into existence?

Jinnah Mohammed: After I was diagnosed as manic depressive back in 1997, I tried to find information on the internet to help me out. There were a lot of medical sites - but they all had exactly the same information taken from the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Not very useful. The personal websites helped me to realise that I wasn't the only one struggling, which was comforting, but...
But what was missing was the practical daily advice - what can you do to make sure you get out of the house every morning, or how do you make sure you don't act like an impolite, insufferable, idiot when you go out with friends. And there are hundreds of little things that trip you up, because being manic depressive affects every nook and cranny of your life.
I don't think I made a conscious decision to have a website on being manic depressive. When the first page was written, I was in the middle of a major depression episode that lasted weeks and I was refusing to leave my house for any reason. I started writing one day to express my feelings, and after a few days I started dating the writings that eventually became the Diary section of my website. Around that time, I had been helping students of my old high school create the school's website, so the knowledge was there on how to turn my writings into a website and to get it on the internet. So I did.
We take publishing on the internet for granted now, but in 1997 it wasn't like that. In my country, my old high school was the first one to have a website and I was probably one of the first to have a personal website. Google didn't exist yet, Netscape was the browser to have, and HTML tables were the hot thing in web design. I was a nerd back then (and still am), so apart from writing about being manic depressive, I felt I was on the cutting edge of the internet. Of course, I've been left behind now.
For me, the writing and the website design were intertwined, and I often spent as much time on designing my site as I did on writing for the site. And the mood swings are great for website creation - there is a point in coming out of depression where your mental faculties and capabilities return fully, but you aren't able to deal with the real world yet. I'd be home with my thoughts buzzing, and no desire to see anyone, and an internet connection. A lot of writing got done this way.

And such great writing too *smiles*... How do you collect the abundance of information you post on the site?

Jinnah: The original website of my immediate day to day experiences and feelings - the Diary - were the words spoken directly from my heart as they happened.
The parts of the website that deal with practical advice and with a reflection of the big picture of being manic depressive, well, that's all from personal observation and experience. As long as I am awake, I have to monitor my moods and actions to try to maintain a stable mood. The constant checking on myself has given me reams of data and some themes and patterns keep on showing up in my life. This is the stuff that makes it onto the website.
Well, it is not quite so easy. I've found it time consuming to translate everyday experiences into words that other people will want to read and which they will relate to personally. And trying to offer practical advice is like writing a how-to manual or leading a training session. Many of those pages have been written and rewritten until they sound right.
Similarly, trying to generalise on the daily experiences of one person requires an awful lot of processing. I have enough of a science and statistical background that I usually avoid the major flaws that enter into a project like this, and there are many experiences that have not written simply because I thought the elements were too unique to me to be applicable to anyone else. I'm hoping that the website content reads simply and effortlessly. If it does, then I'm doing my job as a writer - hiding the drudgery and the clutter so that the story and the themes and the ideas shine through clearly.

I see... Now what is the main objective the site wants to achieve?

Jinnah: Two objectives.
The first is to describe what being manic depressive is like, so that people who read the site can identify themselves. It is extremely difficult to find information on the internet which allows you to determine if you are manic depressive or that explains what being manic depressive is really like. Especially in uncomplicated English that doesn't sound like a medical journal. A lot of the e-mails I receive say something like "you've described exactly how I'm feeling, but I couldn't say it for myself" or "can I print out your website to show to my family." The ability to identify, to understand, to not feel alone, is one of the earliest steps in learning to heal ourselves.
The second objective is to provide pointers on how to deal with day to day problems. The mood swings affect every part of our lives, and the idea of seeing a doctor and taking medication is too simplistic. We need detailed information for all the little crises, yet most doctors don't deal with even the most basic practical issues like "have someone else make sure that you take your medication, because you often won't do it for yourself."
I stopped writing in my Diary years ago to concentrate on compiling a set of handy "how to" manuals that make it easier to cope with day to day life, pointing out not only what to do, but what can go wrong, and how to recover gracefully when things do go wrong. As they will. In the end, the doctors and medication don't fix us. We heal ourselves, using a combination of drugs, therapy, habits, faith, and support from other people. Getting advice how to weave all these pieces together is definitely handy.
I figured a lot of the things that work by trial and error. In describing my experiences, I'm hoping others can avoid the errors I made, or understand more clearly what is happening to them, so they can fast track their own healing process.
And actually, there's a third objective. As a writer / web designer, I'm a bit annoyed by the tendency towards flash rather than substance on the internet. There has been a very deliberate desire to make my website information dense. It is hard to make complex information easy to find on a website and easy to read, and I'm hoping that my website will stand with those that do this well.

All great objectives... Are there any future goals or projects you definitely want to accomplish?

Jinnah: A few.
The most urgent is perhaps a new section on how to recover gracefully from a depression episode, which is likely to be the most useful thing that I will ever add to the website. I've been delaying the start because while I have the information, it is such a big task that I feel overwhelmed just looking at it.
I need to work on the display of content. Ease of reading and ease in finding specific information rank high on my list.
In the bigger picture, I would like to connect with the medical establishment. I suspect that the current direction of research on bipolar disorder and depression is slightly off direction. Not wrong, but not quite correctly targeted. My website and the many similar websites and blogs, written by people with the best knowledge of the disease, can and should be used to fine tune the research.

Quite right... Now how important is recognition (like awards) for you?

Jinnah: The website would be written and maintained without the awards, I think. But perhaps not without the thank you e-mails that I frequently get.
The recognition, the awards, the thank you e-mails matter a lot. The e-mails let me know that I am offering something valuable to others. The awards do that too, and in addition provide a constant reminder that I need to continue working to retain the right to the awards - a gentle prod to continue writing whenever I stop for a while. A carrot and a stick, if you wish.

Well, I for sure am very proud to have been your carrot... With this I'd like to thank you, Jinnah Mohammed, for this interview and I wish you and your wonderful site all the best in the future...

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