So, as part of a recent assignment on my writing course, I had to write an article as if I was pitching it to a magazine. As I don’t have any writing experiences to rave about yet and the magazine I wrote this for have stated that they prefer to accept articles from people with some background. I’ve decided to publish it here instead. So here it is, the lessons I learnt about social media and the effects it has on my mental health…
It was another sleepless night in my room, as I lay there staring at the dark ceiling in deep frustration and insomnia. I then did the most common thing anyone can do – I went on my phone. Despite reading countless documentaries over the years, about how addictive social media has become in our lives, and even purchasing a book earlier this year called ‘How to Break Up with your phone’ which had a whole first section that blew my mind about scary addictive facts, I still did not think I had any sort of problem.
Then a couple of months ago, I tuned into the Netflix documentary ‘The Social Experiment’. This documentary opened my eyes to how much I scrolled through my phone and had a serious addiction problem. My morning routine was always the same. The first thing I would do when I got up: scroll through Instagram and Twitter. It wasn’t even for anything specific, just a general nosey window into the world. Into what strangers I would probably never meet think about current events, the latest gorgeous selfie my friend might have posted, the usual social media expectancies.
Initially I believed that I had broken my social media addiction a year ago – when I made the decision to permanently delete Facebook. It is a fact that Facebook is not the community it used to be, and I always found Facebook an extremely negative environment, constant negative comments on each other’s posts, people sharing group posts that they had not even fact-checked, it was awful. So, I made the decision to remove that area of social media from my life in November 2019 and never look back. I always thought Instagram and Twitter were better platforms, in some ways they are, but over the last few months I noticed that I really had a problem with how much time I spent on them.
The Comparison Thief
Over the last few months where the pandemic has been keeping us locked away to keep each other safe, social media has pretty much been the only place many of us can keep in touch. It has also been the window we all need to fake major parts of our lives for the world to see and get the attention we crave.
Again, I never thought I had an issue with social media. I believed I was perfectly fine with who I was and how I looked. But the pandemic opened my eyes in lots of ways. With less time spent socialising with other people or being out, I had more time to spend aimlessly scrolling through my two social media platforms and acknowledge just how negatively it made me feel. As someone who spent much of their life being bullied for how she looks, and her irritating hyperactivity (which was later diagnosed as ADHD in my 20s), I had spent every waking moment of my life caring what other people think: How people perceive me. Whether I’m pretty enough, or likeable. It also does not help when you socialise with some of the most beautiful looking women with great personalities!
The problem was that I cared so much about how I was perceived that I had become over the years, a very bitter and cynical person. I held hatred and grudges against people for way too long, I always saw the negative in things. Made negative comments about people I was envious of. You know how they always say ‘people who speak badly of you are just compensating for their own insecurities’? Well, I was those people.
It took me a long time to see it, but that was me. I acknowledged that this was who I was, and this enabled me to grow as a person. However, I found myself still having bitter envious thoughts while using social media. To the point it was becoming a natural obsession. I would post a picture on Instagram and obsessively keep checking back every four minutes to see if it had any new likes, it did not matter that Iliked the picture and that is why I posted it. If there’s not enough likes then it means absolutely nothing. I was craving validation from everyone on social media, even complete strangers. I would post a nice selfie that got on average 40 likes, but then a day later I would see a post from my more popular, beautiful friend, and see that all the friends we mutually know that didn’t like my posts always liked hers, and I would have this bitter twinge in my stomach, this complete bitter notion of ‘why is she better than me?’.
The thing is, when you have been battling low self-esteem your whole life, these thoughts will always come naturally to you. I know I am not the only person here who has felt like this either, I think the issue we have with social media now is that this is a lot more common. There are memes everywhere on a regular basis being shared about how likes should not validate you and you should stop comparing your dark days to another person’s highlight reel, but we still do. It was on this sleepless night while scrolling through these app’s at 2am that I decided to remove social media from my phone for a month and see what I could learn.
Real Life Lessons
The first few days of the 4.5-week experiment were hard. I realised just how much I had been addicted to the use of these apps. One morning, about three days in, I had put my facemask on to walk to the station because it was freezing, realised that it was a handy tool to have to keep you warm in the winter and my first initial thought was ‘If I had twitter, I could have tweeted that’. I recognised this thought straight away and re-addressed to myself that I didn’t need to post everything on social media.
But the first week and a half was more difficult than I suspected. I then decided to set myself some goals to pre-occupy my time from social media. Being a bookworm and someone who is always dreaming of being a writer, I used to moan about not having time to read all my books or have time to write. But what I learnt when I didn’t have social media to fall back on was that I had plenty of time available to me, I just chose to use it on something pointless. In the few weeks without those two apps, I read six books. Before I started this break, I think I had read around five books in total since January! It amazed me how much time I had to read, and the limits were endless. It just goes to show how much we can use social media as an unnecessary escapism from real-life.
One of the most important things I had learnt from my break from social media, was that I had cared so much about the opinions of others, that I had slipped away from my own identity.
I wanted to be liked so badly and ‘fit in’ that in the last couple of years I started to try and be more ‘girly’, but not in the girly sense I was used to. I started buying more feminine patterns and the kind of clothes you see in boutique stores that all the girls are wearing. Let me tell you, a lot of that stuff doesn’t particularly go well with someone who has half of their porcelain skin covered in gothic and nerdy tattoos.
The more other people noticed my posts with more girly appearances, the more I tried to fit in to it. In my time away from social media I realised how much I depressed myself when I looked in the mirror. I was the opposite of everything that I liked. I am the girl who always likes eyelash extensions and bold colour lipsticks, my clothes were always red and black – my favourite colours.
But I was starting to pose around in floral jumpsuits and cream knitted dresses and all I learnt from that was that it was not me, and I was unhappy. So, I did a clear out of all the stuff that was not me and went back to my ‘gothic’ roots. What I learnt as well was when I looked in the mirror and thought I looked good, because I wasn’t posting a picture on Instagram for validation, I felt good throughout the day. It is amazing what not seeking validation can do for your mental health.
My social media break taught me a lot, and of course, I do still use it and post a selfie or a tweet. But what I do differently now is remind myself to be kind and that likes don’t make you more attractive. Of course, there is still the odd moment where I get that jealous twang when I feel like I can’t look as good as someone else or be as popular, but when I have that twang, I just take a breath and move on.
It is okay to be jealous time to time, it is a natural feeling, but what we need to do is acknowledge that we should not have to feel that way and move on. I also find that complimenting other people’s posts and achievements makes me feel better about myself also. It is true what they say, being kind can do wonders for your mental health.
So, when I use social media now, I make sure that I remember that I am posting things because I like them, and it does not matter what other people think. Being true to yourself on social media is the best thing you can do.