Mental health and wellbeing is very close to our hearts, and while we truly aim to have an always-on approach to covering all aspects of mental health, we have chosen to shine an extra bright light on #WorldMentalHealth today, and for the rest of October.
We bring you The Big Burn Out — a content series made up of honest personal essays, expert advice and practical recommendations.
"I feel so much better about myself!" said no one ever after surfing through social media posts. Instead, carefully curated photos of friends, neighbours, acquaintances, and people with whom I have no real connection — all revelling in some perfect moment — only serve to make me feel less than. Less happy than them. Less successful. Less together. Less. Usually, I'll close Facebook or Instagram and wonder why I bother to surf through the feed at all, if it's only going to amplify my anxiety and self-doubt. Lately, I've been thinking that I can finally control how social media affects me, by simply choosing to take a break from it in 2019.
In the past few months, I've already stopped logging on as frequently. I put an end to sharing my life on social media more than a year ago, when I lost a pregnancy. The few times I did open up, well-meaning comments from people I barely knew always ended up making me feel hurt and alone. "It wasn't meant to be," wrote one friend of a friend. "You are lucky to have a beautiful family already," said a former roommate of a friend I don't even talk to anymore. Why? Why was I allowing these individuals, who admittedly were only trying to help, into my world? I realised I needed to protect myself from comments like these and chose to cease sharing and only look at others' posts.
Except scrolling through posts from "friends" hurt, too. I saw that the sister-in-law of my college friend's brother had her baby on what was supposed to be my due date. Dagger to the heart. A high school acquaintance announced her pregnancy. Another dagger. Even posts that had nothing to do with pregnancies or babies felt difficult, because everyone seemed so happy, while I was sleepwalking through what felt like never-ending grief. Now, the fog has lifted slightly, but I find social media is still an unwelcome distraction from my goal of rebuilding my life in the most positive way I can.
Over the past year, in talking to people offline, in real settings, about loss and pain, I've come to realise that no one has a perfect life, but many seem to online. It's inauthentic and harmful to those who are going through something. Whether the post is about a perfect holiday, a beautifully plated meal, or how another family memory is "in the books," they're only sharing the glossy, shiny parts of their lives, while all the other stuff is happening behind the scenes. These cheerful, bright images only serve to make people like me, who are struggling with depression and anxiety, feel more isolated and different, and less like we'll ever be able to relate to anyone else ever again.
I've come to realise that no one has a perfect life, but many seem to online.
The "no filter" posts in which people open up about their pain can be damageing, too. I'll be having a pretty good day, when there it is: a post about a similar loss, perhaps shared by a stranger who I just happen to follow on Instagram for their interior decorating tips. All my pain comes flooding back, and I'll feel down for hours or longer. Just because I stumbled upon a post on social media. Of course, my heart goes out to the person who bravely shared their story, but I'm still in self-protection mode over here, and I shouldn't be letting a total stranger's social feed steer me off course.
Even if I weren't coping with grief, being on social media is unhealthy for so many other reasons. You're opening yourself up for criticism and unwarranted opinions every time you post. For example, when I shared the name of my newborn son recently, friends of friends — in other words, people I hardly knew — started asking where in the world we came up with it. I immediately deleted my post. But simply not sharing anymore isn't enough, because I'll inevitably compare myself to others. And someone else is always going to be thinner; have better hair, a better complexion, more money, a cleaner home, a bigger home, a better car, or a boat; lose the baby weight faster; be healthier, younger, less stressed, more grateful, or more mindful; and on and on.
We are bombarded with enough opportunities to compare ourselves to others online, on TV, and in our everyday lives. Which is why I am committed to shutting off the ultimate "keeping up with the Joneses" influence in 2019. It feels freeing to know I can focus on living my life in reality, which holds enough challenges. If I want to connect with people who live far away, there's always calling or texting. Anyone who needs to know what I'm up to can find me that way, and if we don't have one another's numbers, we probably didn't need to connect anyway.