I’ve read lots recently and heard a lot of people speak IRL about the dangers and ills of social media. People tell me that Instagram is bad for your sense of self-worth because everyone poses as their best possible self; people tell me that Twitter is bad because any user can so easily go ignored or abused; and people tell me that Facebook is bad because seeing how “stable” your friends are can make you feel – if, like me, you’re recovering from a major psychological collapse – that you’re really far from stable and that’s likely to make things worse.
These people – for me – are wrong. Social media has been one of the most useful tools I’ve had in helping me learn the difference between how I see myself as a result of depression and how other people see me.
In my head, I am unlikeable, inarticulate, dull and offensive. In my head, I make people feel uncomfortable and I then feel uncomfortable around other people in response, spinning a cycle of social anxiety. For a long time, after every party, meeting or casual interaction, I’d come away feeling terrible, like I’d embarrassed myself and hurt people’s feelings. I felt there was nothing I could do to stop leaving behind a wake of bored, annoyed and unhappy people. This was a thought rooted in depression and anxiety, rather than reality.
Social media – specifically Facebook and Twitter – has made it very clear that the way I see myself isn’t the way other people see me. It has – through the warmth, compassion and empathy shown to me by huge amounts of people (many of whom I had presumed utterly hated me) has proven that the narratives I tell about myself are patently untrue.
It might sound arrogant to say (and I’m sure there’ll be plenty of jowly men who don’t “believe” in mental illness in the comments who disagree) but people like me. As I‘ve written about in other posts, I had a serious breakdown in the spring and, to be honest, I thought I’d receive no sympathy whatsoever. I was expecting old colleagues and school friends and friends of friends to jeer at me. I was expecting people to roll their eyes at my self-indulgence for daring to discuss my mental health issues in public, and I was imagining people would be mean to me, laugh at me, point at me and tell me I got everything I deserved for being such a f*cking piece of sh*t f*cking d*ckhead. But that didn’t happen. In fact, the opposite did.
I started being open about my mental health about a month after I found myself sitting in a hospital A&E at four in the morning while multiple friends stood around me, terrified I’d try and kill myself should anyone give me the chance. Things are better now, but the process has been gradual, slow and hard. In the past month, on top of the issues I was dealing with anyway, I’ve had a family death and then a huge, unexpected, piece of bad luck that may have financial repercussions for years to come. I’m coping with problems better than before, though, as I have somewhere positive and warm to retreat to when necessary: the internet.
I think the reason I’ve found social media to be helpful is because of my honesty. I think avoiding social media when depressed is only a good idea if you’re attempting to hide the problems you’re facing. Most people are kind. Most people, when they see someone in trouble, their urge is to help. However, had I been the man my depression told me I was, no one would have wanted to be nice. But no one jeered at me (at least not publicly), people did the opposite. People reached out and did what they could to help.
People who I hadn’t seen for years contacted me, old school friends make a point of checking in regularly, former colleagues, friends of friends who I’d met once or twice, distant family members… People who had met me, who didn’t hate me, getting in touch, concerned, when I admitted feeling low. If I’d kept my problems to myself, these people wouldn’t have done that. If I hadn’t been open and honest about the way I was feeling, I wouldn’t have been shown such overwhelming evidence that the negative way I thought about myself was wrong. I do not go around boring, irritating or upsetting people, far from it. It has been hard for me to accept this, but my presence has value to other people. I am not the man my depression told me to feel like I was. And social media has really, truly, proved that.