Mental Health & Social Media: Home Alone Downloading While Everyone Else is Uploading

I was lying in bed on a Thursday night recently in my apartment while my five roommates were out at the bar. I had been invited, encouraged even, to go out with them, but I was in a low, and wasn’t in the frame of mind to socialize and make small talk. As the hours went by I found myself scrolling through the same three social media apps, and I could feel the little energy I had being consumed from me even more. I was filling my negative space with the seemingly positive lives of others, comparing myself to those who were having a much better time than I was.

I often like to think of myself as having an acute sense of self awareness. Through running a website about mental health, I am constantly learning about new things to be aware of with my depression and incorporating them to better myself and improve my lifestyle.

But the truth is I still fall for some tricks that my depression plays on me. Tricks that make me question concrete parts of my life, engage in negative coping mechanisms, and make a few poor decisions every once in awhile.

Recently I realized that the way I use social media is one of those poor decisions I make regarding my mental health.

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Now I’m not saying that social media caused my depression that night my friends all went out to the bar. According to a study conducted on Facebook use and depression, there is no direct relation between social media use and depression. But what I can say, without a doubt, is that the way I was using it while depressed made my symptoms worse.

The study supports this, as the way social media is used can affect how we feel. The main argument in the study is that when Facebook is used as a tool for personal surveillance, envious tendencies can occur, ultimately leading to depressive symptoms.

Envy?

I didn’t feel envious, did I? I was just seeing what other people were doing. I was just scrolling through observing funny tweets and pictures from the bar and reading a conversation between the two love birds while I did…

absolutely nothing.

Wait.

Surveillance is defined as time spent on social media seeing what other people are doing and comparing it back to what you are not doing. While I may have not been consciously comparing myself with friends, I think part of me knows that I was wishing I was capable of having as much fun as they were.

I continued to feel worse, questioning why I wasn’t able to keep it together enough to go out with my friends. Because of these new doubts, I started to think that their lives were always like this – exciting and fun-filled, while inversely thinking mine was dull and bland.

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A recent Huffington Post article tells the story of a woman named Sydney who experienced hardships during her freshman year adjusting to college life with her anxiety disorder. She described how she began to struggle to distinguish between “fact and fiction” and constantly compared herself to others when using different forms of social media, including Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.

“Instagram and Snapchat make me hyper aware of the activities I wasn’t invited to partake in, and less involved in the activities that are actually in front of me,” Sydney writes. “Comparing myself to others is blatantly unhealthy….it makes me question my place in life.”

When social media platforms are used as surveillance and lead us to compare ourselves with others, we start accepting the lives people are uploading as truth. Individuals who consistently use Facebook are more likely to agree that others have better lives. This mindset can be dangerous for our mental health.

When we publish updates and statuses about ourselves, we tend to post only the positive things that happen in our lives, very rarely do we post the negatives that occur. So when someone is fighting something like depression or anxiety, comparing the times they’re struggling to lives seen on online profiles that appear “perfect” can make someone more afraid to speak up.

Because if everyone else is doing okay, we should be good enough to handle this ourselves, right?

But why do we only post the positive things from their lives? This could be based on the way we are “rewarded” for posting. On Instagram, Twitter, and until recently Facebook, posts are awarded with “likes”. Typically, positive and humorous posts get more “likes” than those that are sad or negative.

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We’ve been conditioned to post the positive parts of our lives. We almost do it subconsciously. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that people’s lives are more complicated than their Facebook feeds suggest, especially for people like me who deal with the feelings of inadequacy that come with depression. All it takes is a depressive episode to leave me helplessly scrolling through feeds and concluding that my life is terrible and I’m not doing enough.

Not only is posting positively encouraged, but we need to post enough so that we feel satisfied that people know we are doing something. Apps like Snapchat plant the idea in our head that we need to share our life and every incredible moment in it to have a form of validation. We take videos of the concert we’re attending, post pictures of the food we eat, and make sure we snapchat every funny thing that happens when we’re out with friends. We need to let other people know we do things. We need the validation.

We need to let other people know we’re alive.

But if you have depression, feeling alive can often be a very difficult thing to do. Depression makes us feel like we already aren’t doing enough. It whispers in our ear that we are a failure, that our loved ones don’t love us, and that our existence is meaningless.

But we do matter.

And we don’t need to prove every day that we are happy (whether we are or not) through social media.

Our mental health is important. And the truth is everyone really isn’t as okay as their Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter suggest. While this may seem obvious, it is important to note that our guard can be substantially lowered when dealing with the effects of a mental health condition. Especially those of us who are already fighting a constant battle like I am with depression. Because that’s what happened to me.

I spent so many nights, already in a depressive state, scrolling aimlessly through social media apps and wondering why I couldn’t hold myself together like everyone else. I still do it sometimes. But now I’m constantly trying to remind myself that this is not the whole picture. Social media is often a positive tool to unite us all, but don’t let its representations of only the best parts of our lives convince you that you don’t fit in the reality it has created on the days you feel at your worst.

Always remember you are not alone.

You are loved.

PF


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Graduation

Dear Hope started as an assignment, and is now so much more: a community of coping, recovery, addiction, healing, pain, love, loss, transparency, authenticity, doubt, and resilience. Today, I graduate alongside Paul, Amanda, Zach, and so many more souls that have made this community possible. This morning, I reflected on the last four years. The most important lesson I have learned is that there will be people you love that will either water your self-growth to flourish, or stomp on it out of personal pain and insecurity. We all deserve the former, and for when the latter is an unfortunate reality, we are all here for you. This is not a journey to ever be taken alone. Thank you all for growing with us.

i remember how those jeans looked when you put them on one pant leg at a time, and then when both flickered glimmers of future false hope and came together, met with a zipper. you always told me that the mirror was a lot less friendly than reality, but now I’m not so sure that the reflection was an inaccurate piece of diction regarding the color you drain from the world, first in wavelengths smaller than your pinky toe, and then all at once, like a vacuum.

the skies have smiled and cried and wiped up old tears and crusted snot since you left. it seems like i’ve brought every single goddamn cloud to this piece of paper, rain or shine. it’s trite, it’s boring, but it’s the only sick and sad way of coping with losing every drop of precipitation that changed the dry cracks in the ground into sunflowers. i never cared if they were yellow or pink or black and white. they were real.

it’s time to accept that cracked concrete is still concrete and can still grow flowers, even if they are black dahlias or dandelions that the people in my life that have told me that i’ll never be good enough deem to just be common weeds. you can’t drain my life anymore by draining the color from it. your presence is everywhere, but your presence is gone. absence can define, but such a shattered self-perception can’t be cleaned up with only a single pairs of bruised and bleeding hands. i’ve had enough of enclosing the zipper from the hazel-stained, green dream scene on my lips to mute myself.

we survive by love, and today, there is so much love for every memory i’ve ever made. your departure is not my self worth. my departure with those who cared enough to stitch up my infected knees is my self worth. sitting in your Grand Prix before Elm talking about potential and wiping the blood off of blades. listening to Parachutes and smoking enough to forget everyone who ever hurt us. sunshine and werewolves. elevators and Aderall. Canada and Virginia. stone walls, long-distance calls, salvia that looked like fudge, dehydration in Williamsburg, the screen porch at Meadow, and choosing not to print out my suicide notes.

today we evolve because you do not define my evolution anymore. today we evolve because i have a voice that deserves to be heard. we all have stories that deserve to be heard. today we evolve because love will always be the stitches that any of our knees will require, infection or not. we will blossom, in darkness and in light, in color and in absence, in faith and in fear.

no matter how deep the planet decides to cave in, our hands will always be there to help pull you out.

and i’ll never need you for me to be absolutely certain of that
ever again
.

Remember, you are never alone,

and you will always be loved.

DK

Creative Pieces dear hope

Let’s Talk About Death: An Alternative Approach to Mental Health

This community is growing rapidly, and I think the most beautiful aspect of having an eclectic group of folks together in one place is that we all have different stories to tell. Parts of all of our journeys inevitably intertwine in the continuums of triumph and struggle, but we all have our own lens to share. The idiosyncratic blend of colors we each bring to the world is something that ought to be more celebrated in spaces outside of Dear Hope, but until the world takes a turn in a more loving direction, we will always have this space to share those bonds.

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My Journey Accepting Bipolar Disorder: I Don’t Need to Be Medicated

This piece comes as a submission from an anonymous source who wishes to share their journey and experience with bipolar disorder. Find their touching path to acceptance below.


Around the time I was thirteen, I knew something was off.

I didn’t feel like myself; it felt like every problem in my family or my eighth grade friend group was weighing down on my shoulders. I felt the awful pain every time bad news came my way and I spent more time crying that I did laughing.

Could it have been the constant fighting between my parents that struck emotional episodes and tantrums?

Was it the fact that puberty was hitting and I was finally realizing that I wasn’t like the other kids from my small suburban town?

Was it the constant back and forth of my foster cousins living at my Aunt’s house?

Could it have been the teasing and mocking about my bushy eyebrows, stupid hair that never quite fell into place, or bad clothing style?

I still don’t know exactly what started it,

but when I was thirteen I began cutting myself.

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Coping: This is Who We Are Entry 9: Depression & Belonging

“You need to develop a tougher skin,”

“You’re such a cry-baby,”

“You’re too sensitive,”

These are the phrases that come to mind when I look back on my childhood. Everyone-parents, teachers, classmates, cousins, aunts and uncles-told me these things. I’ve heard it spoken maliciously by my peers, exhaustively by my elders, and concernedly by my loved ones. Regardless of intention, every instance in which it has been said to me carried with it a negative connation. “Sensitive” was used to convey a defect in my personality that needed to be fixed. Being told to “toughen up” was a way of signifying that how I felt was somehow my fault. No one ever considered the possibility that this trait was beyond anyone’s control, especially my own.

I have suffered from depression and anxiety since as early as I can remember. Feelings of hopelessness, despair, and guilt plagued my childhood. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t happy like other kids, or why there was seemingly no one who understood where I was coming from. I desperately wanted to fit in and yet, it felt like the harder that I tried the less I was accepted. Even amongst my family I struggled to find support. I was excluded from activities, stolen from, yelled at, and told that I was ugly by my cousins. My aunts and uncles did nothing to alleviate my situation instead choosing to further bully, wrongfully blame, punish, and exclude me. These people-the ones I was most frequently surrounded by-only exacerbated my illness, leading to deep-rooted complexes and insecurities that I continue to struggle with.

By the summer of my thirteenth year I was officially diagnosed with anxiety and major depressive disorder. I’d gotten to the point where all I could physically handle was laying on the couch to watch television. Thankfully, my mother realized the severity of my state and sought psychiatric and therapeutic help for me. Things got better slowly: my shyness receded somewhat and I gained a better control of my sobbing episodes. But even then, it took me several years to truly understand exactly what it was I was suffering from.

As I moved onto middle and high school, I had realized that being “popular” (both in and out of school) was out of the question for me, so I opted for a new solution: romance. Romantic T.V. shows, movies, and books had all led me to believe that having a boyfriend would somehow fix me. I vividly remember daydreaming during class about what it would be like to be in love. I saw it as a means of proving that there was hope for me, that I wasn’t completely undesirable. So during my sophomore year when I discovered that a boy (that I hardly knew) liked me, I made it a mission to be with him.

At first, our relationship was everything I’d ever dreamed of. Kissing in the rain, holding hands, cuddling…it was a fairy tale come to life. However, deep down I knew from the start that we weren’t good for each other. I’d imagined his identity before actually meeting him in person and I think he knew that. He tried to keep up with me for a long while but, he couldn’t do it forever.  Eventually, he began lying to me, neglecting me, and using drugs*. Deep down, I knew these things were happening but I was in denial. I continued taking the blame for his poor behavior because I believed that I didn’t deserve better. I’d spent so much time seeking validation from him that I’d lost any sense of my own value.

* I’m not saying using drugs/being a drug addict makes someone a bad person, but rather that his drug use affected his mental health negatively.

Eventually, I went away to college and our relationship completely fell apart. It was already rocky before I left but, I simply figured that we’d get through it because we loved each other. Once I was actually gone however, he began feeding me preposterous lies to cover up what he was doing behind my back. Many nights I’d stay up late fighting with him on the phone until he eventually stopped contacting me. He was ignoring me because he wanted to leave me and I couldn’t handle it.

In retrospect, it’s funny how my break-down coincided with a hurricane-also sharing my nickname-as if the weather was predicting my inevitable downfall. The week prior to the storm I hardly ate, spoke to anyone, or slept. I would spend countless hours in my dorm room alone, yelling at the ceiling as I sobbed my heart out. During the day I walked around campus like a zombie, feeling as if there was nothing left to live for. I had experienced low points before but, never like this. I was quickly withering away and I needed help.

The following eight months involved dropping out of college, a short stay at a psych ward, and another desperate attempt at mending my broken relationship. If it weren’t for my parents and my dad’s side of the family, I don’t know how I would have survived. They encouraged me to get a job, take my medications, be open and honest about my feelings, and to leave the toxic relationship I was in. Their patience and empathy taught me that I was deserving of loyalty, honesty, and genuine love. Without them I might not have made it and I can never repay them for my life.

Despite all my progress since then, I would be lying if I said I was no longer suffering from depression and anxiety. I continue to make mistakes, relapse into old habits, and learn about my illness. Mental illness is a life-long struggle and every day is a new challenge to rise above my disease. I have found that the best way to achieve stability is also the most painful, difficult way: I had to step out of my comfort zone. By working in retail, going back to school, and trying new things (like exercise, hanging out with coworkers, volunteering, etc.) I have healed immensely. Of course, some days are great and some are unbearable. But, coping in this way is what helps me to live a relatively normal, healthy life. It is only in overcoming my fears that I have begun to heal from the damage my illness has caused me.

Three and a half years have gone by since I crashed and burned that fall semester at college. My anger with my ex has mostly turned into sympathy for him and his struggles; my resentment of my mom’s side of the family remains but, I’m slowly learning to forgive them. In doing so I have blossomed into a much stronger person who has been able to succeed in both work and school. I no longer allow others to belittle me or my feelings; I have successfully surrounded myself with an amazing support system of coworkers, family, and friends.  And although not everything is okay-in fact, a lot of my life isn’t-I know that I will be. I now see the value in myself that has always been there. I am worthy of goodness, love, and happiness regardless of others opinions or treatment of me

I urge everyone who struggles with mental illness to reach out for help like I have. It will change your life in incredible ways. It won’t be easy but it’s truly worth it.

Always remember you are not alone.

You are loved.

Want to submit to this site and share your story, art, or article related to mental health or mental illness? Email wemustbebroken@gmail.com

Coping: This Is Who We Are dear hope