Poor mental health is something I have struggled with for a long time; now in my final year at University and preparing to enter the "real world", I would like to be in a far stronger place than I am. I'm depressed, anxious, and have a difficultly complex relationship with my eating, food and weight. This is nothing new.
But what is new is how dependent my mental health, especially my self-esteem and self-worth, has become on social media. Online life is a rollercoaster ride at the best of times: from viral fame to viral infamy, the Internet and the people on it have the ability to make or break others. In recent years, social media has taken on a life of its own, with people having entire online personas entirely separate to their everyday reality.
"Likes" or "retweets" have become a way of gaining validation, to feel better about yourself and your success. 100 likes or 20 retweets have become the currency in which we can buy our self-esteem and happiness. For someone like me, deep in a mire of anxiety and self-hate, not getting enough likes on an Instagram photo doesn't merely disappoint, but throws me into a panic, with residual feelings of self-hate. I can't be good enough or successful enough if people don't physically press like my post, obviously.
Worse still than validating yourself through online appreciation, it is easier than ever to create an environment supporting your own self-hate. When I am having a bad day with my eating, it takes merely seconds for me to find the most perfect picture of Kendall Jenner in all her tiny, flat-stomached glory to remind me that I should never touch food again. When once you would have to search through magazines to find images of beautiful, skinny girls, they are now merely a click away, and posted every second: when part of your mind is telling you to seek those photos, to see what you should look like, there is nothing there to stop you.
The apps I hate to love, or love to hate... Credit: Jason Howie on Flickr
On perhaps a lesser, but still important scale, comes the comparison to your peers. With the constant sharing on Facebook of happiness and success, it is all too simple to think that you are just not good enough: you aren't doing enough career-wise, school-wise, or family-wise. Your friends are always having more fun than you, always look prettier than you, are more extraordinary than you in every single way. And this can be done with a simple scroll down the timeline - even when you aren't actively seeking to feel bad about yourself, it is such an easy trap to fall into when the best version of everyone's lives are scattered for all to see. And this is what needs to be remembered: it is their best versions. No one is posting all the terrible things they feel about themselves or the bad things that happen to them constantly, they choose the positive snapshots and highlights to reveal to the world; but it is hard to remember this fact when stuck in the social media bubble.
I'm 20 years old, and will soon be graduating with the intention of becoming a journalist, yet I am just as stuck in an entirely destructive relationship with social media as those several years younger than me, whom people are more actively concerned about in regard to this issue. Sure, I probably should be old and wise enough to realise that my own personal worth has absolutely nothing to do with my online life and perception - but this unfortunately isn't the case. And I am not the only one, there is an entire generation placing far too much value into their online lives: a value that could actually cause them serious mental harm, as well as feeding into those issues already present.
I suppose the question is, can I see myself getting out of this cycle? In all honestly, no. I'm a young woman that has become a product of my environment: we are pushed to share more, to be the prettiest, to be the most liked. It is too easy now for me to be reliant on my online life, and is a habit I truly think I will struggle to break out of.