Today is the last day of Mental Health Awareness Week, and the message that has been pouring out across the nation during the past 7 days has been wonderful. Radio Stations dedicated the same time slot to talking about it, TV adverts and voiceovers have reminded us that it’s ok, that we can speak out, get help and that the support network for those who are suffering is monumental, and of course, the response has been overwhelming on social media, with the hashtag #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek being used 64,411 times on Instagram alone (at last count).
Now, whilst this campaign has been a great thing and Social Media has played a huge part in raising awareness and getting the message to the masses, there is, of course, the small matter that Social Media in itself is becoming an increasing source of anxiety and trigger for depression. (Seriously, google ‘Social Media and Mental Health’ and it gives you over 5 MILLION hits in less than a third of a second.) It’s time to get real about this people, and as I am inclined to do on this blog, I’m going to approach this from the ‘personal experience’ perspective, but, plot twist, I’m going to back it up with some facts to really hammer the point home.
“Not only has social media been proven to cause unhappiness, but it can also lead to the development of mental health issues such as anxiety or depression when used too much or without caution.”
~ The Independent (1)
During my period of feeling not so great over the past few months, there were a multitude of things that ‘set me off’ – my triggers as it were, and as I recognised each one and understood the reason why it pushed my mental buttons, I either eliminated them from my life, or changed my viewpoint so that I could regain control over my reactions to them.
The stand out one for me? Instagram.
My relationship with Instagram was becoming nothing short of destructive. I felt like because I wasn’t posting professionally taken / digitally altered photos of me and my #Squad sunning myself on a Yacht off the coast of St Tropez, that my life wasn’t interesting, and as such – it wasn’t interesting to other people.
“A study surveyed people across the United Kingdom, Spain, France and Italy and found that over 66% of the people surveyed make posts on social media designed to make it look like their lives are more interesting and adventure-filled than they actually are.”
~ High Snobiety (2)
Now, we’ve all arranged our cocktails under the right light in that hip new bar, we’ve all stood on a chair to get a better angle of our dinner and I know FOR A FACT that each selfie that we post has a whole reel of reject images behind it before the best of the bunch is selected and put through rigorous ‘Filter Inception’ (read: going at least 3 filters deep) before it’s deemed worthy of committing to an upload. But why? Why is how we portray ourselves so goddamn important? Especially if it’s not real.
The first portion of this year saw me go through something of an identity crisis, and when I looked back at my Instagram feed over this time it was apparent to me that I’d lost the sense of who I was. This culminated in me deleting over 2,000 images (seriously – L O N G doesn’t even come close) and almost 300 people that interfered with how I viewed myself.
I was going through a tough time at work, I had realised my purpose in life but was drowning in self-doubt, fear and excuses that prevented me from taking steps to make it happen, I was killing myself in the gym 5 days a week for ‘booty gains’ to please a guy (FFS Shelly) and my anxiety had crept back and not only taken hold, it was choke slamming me into the floor on the daily.
My approach was a little bit of ‘fake it before you make it’, and so I took to Instagram to portray the person I thought the world wanted me to be. First of all, who the hell do I think I am? I have like 900 followers, this hardly constitutes a global following *inserts eye roll emoji*, and secondly, I had completely lost sight of who I was, so how could I possibly project a view of myself that wasn’t full of mixed messages, insecurity, and quite frankly, utter BS? The truth? I couldn’t. I’m not one for being fake and phoney and as I scrolled through my own timeline, I didn’t like what I saw. It wasn’t the me that I wanted to be, and that’s what had to come first.
“Other studies have found that once we set bars for ourselves, we distort our self-images and self-worth until we realise we can’t live up to what we’ve created about ourselves on the Internet.”
~ High Snobiety (2)
I got myself into this mess because I took it all far too seriously (shocker) and had started to look at myself as a brand rather than a person. Now the problem with this lay in the fact that I have a lot of strings to my bow. This isn’t a brag, it’s a truth I’ve had to come to terms with over the past few months and learn to look at as a positive rather than a bad thing.
Am I a Mental Health & Wellness Blogger with the life purpose of helping as many people as possible? Yes.
Am I an artist, illustrator, typographer, graphic designer and all-round creative cat? Yes.
Am I a cat mom? Yes.
Am I a metal head? Yes.
Am I girly AF? Yes.
This list could go on for a while so I’ll stop there, but for me, my mass turnaround in the past few weeks has come from not only accepting everything that I am and all I can do – but OWNING it.
For the longest time, I couldn’t comprehend how to combine everything that I am into one complete whole, and so I created different Instagram accounts to ‘manage’ the different aspects of myself. I was a Social Media Schizophrenic – and instead of managing Shelly 1, 2 and 3 successfully as separate entities, each one sauntered off into oblivion chasing the euphoric hit of a ‘like’.
Hardly beneficial to one’s state of mind is it?
So, I hit reset. I deleted Twitter, 2 Instagram Accounts, a Facebook Page, a LinkedIn Page and Snapchat! How did I have time to breathe, never mind do all the things I was doing?! I was exhausted, worn down and lost, they had to go.
Now, I have one single Instagram Page (shelly_c if you’re interested), and as of last week, that page is the embodiment of my strapline on this site. It is Real | Raw | Rare. No longer do I feel the need to break myself down into sizable chunks so that people get what I’m about – I’m about everything that I’m about! I’m a hugely complex mix of weird and wonderful, and I’m not going to simplify myself by hiding aspects of my personality or worrying about what message I convey about myself. I know that I am awesome – there, I said it. It has taken me a long time to believe it myself, never mind admit it openly, but I am, and if I continue to think otherwise, well I’ll just end up back in the hole I fought for so long to crawl out of, and I’m not about that life.
This Social Media ‘detox’ has made an enormous difference to my well-being, and whilst I’m active on the accounts I still have, I have so much more time and energy to do more important things. My Instagram account was not the source of my anxiety, but it was certainly a catalyst, and once I realised that, I was able to do something about it. I’m all for taking great shots and making things look aesthetically pleasing – hey, first and foremost I’m a creative, and that stuff matters, but if it’s covering up an ugly underlying insecurity, then pretty pictures are about as much use as putting lipstick on a pig – you’re not fooling anyone!
“It’s a reward cycle, you get a squirt of dopamine every time you get a like or a positive response on social media,” explains psychologist Emma Kenny.”
~ Cosmopolitan (3)
We are a society that is addicted to Social Media – it has been designed precisely for this purpose as studies upon studies have proven.
So, the next time you balance precariously on a ledge for that perfect sunset shot, Boomerang that clinking of ‘Champers’ glasses which is really £5.99 Cava or filter yourself until you look like you were drawn for anime, take a second and ask yourself if that picture is serving you or if you’re doing it for the likes. If it’s the latter, maybe it’s time to look at why the approval of people you don’t even know ‘IRL’ means so much to you. It’s really hard to get your head around, believe me, I know, but the best way to start is by looking up from your Smart Phone and into a mirror – because the only opinion about yourself that truly counts, is that of the person looking back at you. You don’t need likes and follows to validate your ability to be a wonderful human being, you have that within yourself already, really, you do. So, accept, appreciate and own who you are for exactly who you are because I promise you, you are more than enough.
(‘Social Media Pills’ Image Credit: https://thoughtcatalog.com/alex-kazemi/2013/11/earnest-guide-to-breaking-your-social-media-addiction/ )