I haven’t blogged in what feels like ages, and then I realised I never shared what I wrote for a friend’s blog a month or so ago about the positive sides to social media. Enjoy!
I’ve written about it before because it’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine. I have a very love-hate relationship with it. Quite often, the image we put across on our many social media accounts can give one story whilst what’s really going on in our normal, daily lives is anything but the artfully filtered image many of us put across. We put emphasis on the number of likes a photo or status gets and feel bad when it doesn’t reach the level we want. I wrote about how many of the pictures I’d put on Facebook over the past two years had been ‘lies’ to an extent, and that the happy little smile I put on in many of them was hiding the reality of my being in the midst of quite severe depression and PTSD. I was always reluctant to post things on Facebook, for fear of being judged by my ‘friends.’ But then I removed over 300 or them, people who I didn’t really know, who I hadn’t spoken to in years, who I wouldn’t be comfortable sharing certain things with. It made me feel a lot better, and it was after doing this the I started to see the positive side of social media.
I’ll also maintain in part that social media has its bad sides – it can heighten the anxiety many of us have about our lives, increase the worry that we don’t quite fit in and make us think we’re the only ones experiencing the bad side of things. But there’s also this other side to it that’s really rather wonderful.
People being honest. That’s the positive side. There are some people out here who are wiling to be brutally open about things, show that their lives aren’t that peachy perfect and that it can really suck at times. This side is so, so important when it comes to talking about mental health. People being willing to talk about their depression, their anxiety, their mental health issues and how they’re fighting them – they’re the reason why I was able to start blogging and why I’ve begun to be able to recover and fight back against my depression.
But this wouldn’t haven been possible if it weren’t for social media, because that’s how many people are able to share their stories nowadays. Back in the day when my parents were at university, there wouldn’t have been a way to share what we’re going through so quickly and instantly. Now there is, and I think it’s the reason we’re managing to make so many steps towards being able to talk about mental health so openly. Because mental health problems aren’t new. The way we now talk about them is.
One of the things which affected me when I was still in the grips of depression was the feeling that I wasn’t being honest about things. Very few people knew that I had had an anxiety problem for a decade (I wasn’t even aware of it until I began to learn about mental health over the past few years thanks to, you guessed it, people talking about it and sharing stories on social media. I’d thought feeling worried and scared all the time was normal…turns out I didn’t have to feel that way), only a small handful of people knew that I was taking anti-depressants (and even then I struggled to be able to say “I’m depressed”), and an even smaller number of people knew that someone had tried to sexual assault me at university and that I had had a number of breakdowns and anxiety attacks due to stress in my second and third year. But blogging about it and subsequently sharing it on Facebook meant that I could be honest with all the people who I didn’t know how to tell and with people who I don’t get to see as much any more and who I want to be able to have fun with when I see them rather than to have to constantly keep re-telling people what’s been going on.
There’s also been another positive of sharing my mental health on social media. It sounds quite vein of me to say if I’m honest, and it feels quite self-gratifying and indulgent to acknowledge that by sharing my little mental health journey on social media, I think I’ve helped people. When I shared it for the first time, I expected to receive messages from my close friends (again, not because I thought that I deserved them or that telling my story warranted a reaction, but because I knew I had really lovely friends out there who would be supportive of me). I didn’t expect to get messages from people who I didn’t know particularly well (but who I was willing to let read what I’d been writing because by the time I decided to share my blog I’d removed the people who I didn’t want to read it). The thing that struck me was that people were willing to share their mental health stories with me, that some people said that my blog had helped them, my dad even told me what a positive impact it had had on our family life. Yet again, this effect, this impact, whilst only small when we look at the bigger picture of the fight against mental health stigma, wouldn’t really have been possible if it weren’t for, let’s say it all together, “social media”.
I think the thing I’ve come to realise is that there are good and bad things about social media. It can be full of things that aren’t quite as real as they seem which can in turn add to our insecurities, but there’s also this amazingly positive side to it too. Without social media, I wouldn’t have started to blog. I wouldn’t have known that I’m not alone in all of this. I wouldn’t have met people who know how I feel, who’ve been through similar things, had conversations which have helped so much in my recovery. I wouldn’t have rediscovered something which I love doing – writing. With all the academic pressures over the years I haven’t written anything that I’m genuinely passionate and enthusiastic about for well over 6 years (and according to some very lovely people out there I’m not half bad at it). I’ve never had that motivation to write and share, but now I do. Writing has allowed me to try and be honest about things, one of the most important things I think that’s needed when it comes to recovering from mental health issues and also fighting the stigma that still seeps through and stops people talking about their issues, that makes people scared.
Without social media, I wouldn’t be writing. Without it, I wouldn’t have the huge weight off of my shoulder which is my wanting to be able to tell people what’s going on in my head, but not being able to find the words to do it face to face.
Without it, I wouldn’t be getting better.