I have a social media problem. Primarily instagram. I’m not afraid to admit it. What I AM afraid of, however, is the damage it is doing to me as a young woman and a human being. And while I am in this inbetween season of my life wherein I am trying to get a better and healthier grasp of my mental health, preparing for funeral board exams, and eventually finding a place in the funeral industry, I have promised to come clean and honest with every mental and emotional problem that I endure or suffer, in the event that me spilling my guts could possibly help someone else. There isn’t much that I can do right now, other than wait for life to open the next door. So here goes.
When I first started with Facebook, and then, a few years later, with Instagram, it was fun, something to periodically check in on. I really liked having a place to keep in touch with friends who lived in various spots across the country/overseas, I liked making my pictures look better with cool insta-filters, and, inevitably, as Instagram became bigger and I sorta made that my full time social media home, I loved that by using hashtags, I was able to find people that were like-minded and shared similar interests to me. The fact that you are able to make real, true blue friends through social media platforms is nothing short of a technological miracle, and I’m eternally grateful to have that be a real part of my life.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years being ill, physically and mentally, and Facebook and Instagram were ways for my brain to talk when my body didn’t want to. When I had an HIV scare in 2012, I couldn’t physically talk about that, because that was a fear too real to face – but I COULD post a picture or a status that was unrelated and quiet my quaking mind for a minute or two. It was fun. It was effortless. It did what it was supposed to do – it connected me to users who came across my content and got me out of my own head.
Not long after Instagram took off like a rocket shooting into the sky, I gained a tiny bit of instagram popularity because I resembled a famous plus-sized instagram user, and that was flattering and awesome. It still is! I felt really proud every time I was compared to her, because she was (what I am saying, WAS, she IS) absolutely gorgeous. I still never felt pressure to post a certain way or be anything that I wasn’t, but when strangers started to come out of the woodworks to tell me that I was beautiful, I started to believe it. Instagram, more than facebook, was a place where I felt celebrated. Wearing too much makeup? Not on instagram. On instagram, people loved my makeup, and I wasn’t made fun of for it – only encouraged. Hair too bright red? Not on instagram! The redder the better, mermaid style. My point being – I felt at home there, and when people started recognizing me in real life from instagram, I have to admit, it felt really cool.
I don’t really know when, at least for me, it became a numbers game, but if I had to really pinpoint a time that seems logical, it was probably when I started to go to Disney World a lot. I follow a LOT of Disney accounts because a lot of these people seem to be getting things right, and hell, I’m STILL a Disney n00b – I’ve been less than 15 times in my life, and I can mess up a fast pass or a character meet faster than you can spell M-I-C-K-E-Y. So I started out with a natural interest in frequent park goers because that was the material that I wanted to see – and I started wanting to share the experiences those users were having. So that definitely was when the first tickle of jealousy came in.
Fashion, and how the world started to slowly (still slowly, on that front) include us plus sized folks, started to evolve around this time, too – and I suddenly became an interesting person to look at, now including clothes! Clothes that people wanted! I was allowed, celebrated even, for wearing a SWIMSUIT. Not one time have I ever been called fat on instagram, if you can believe it. It felt like a safe haven. A boring mirror photo of me would garner 20 comments about a t-shirt I had on or a lipstick color I was wearing – no one had ever looked at me in my LIFE, and I guess I just started to become aware that instagram had the ability to be something a lot bigger than pictures of my cats and crappily filtered selfies, it was a way to feel sorta rad about yourself. So yes, I became aware that having a lot of followers was good and getting a lot of likes was ideal, but it still didn’t consume me or rattle my cage the way that it does now.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and severe depression when I was 17, and in a totally unrelated story, I cold turkey-ed myself off of my medication for a great deal of my mid-20s like an absolute fool, and went completely untreated. It wasn’t until I started having massive emotional breakdowns, suicidal episodes, extreme manic ups and downs, anger issues, and, in a new twist, was rendered suddenly incapable of doing things that I had done with ease before, like going to the store or answering the telephone, that I accepted the reality that I have mental problems, I NEED psychological and medicinal treatment, and oh yeah, I’ve also somehow acquired crippling anxiety. Cool.
That’s when shit started to dial up to 11.
During this time, I gained nearly 100 lbs in roughly a year and a half. Yup, sure did. Because I was SO checked out of my life and so in denial of any and everything that was wrong with me, I didn’t even notice that I had literally ballooned up to a new and impressively girthy all-time high. I gained weight because I wasn’t medicated and I started to binge eat again. I gained weight as a result of medications I started taking for my mental health. I gained weight because (and this was the only reason that I slowed down and allowed myself to undergo treatment in the first place), I developed a neurological disorder where my arms literally quit working for a period of time, and I had to go on disability – where all I did was sleep, eat, sleep, eat.
I watched the world spin on through my screen while I tried to hide the way I didn’t fit in blue jeans anymore, when I tried to hide the sallow pallor of my face when I was, shortly after the neurological condition arrived, diagnosed with PCOS and bled buckets for months, when I would make myself get up just to put makeup on and take a picture like I was really there somewhere so that I could keep spinning, too –
And the numbers started to change.
If I’m honest? They haven’t changed that much. Also, if I’m honest – that doesn’t really matter. When you feel a certain way about yourself mentally, it doesn’t matter what the truth is, it only matters what you think and what you see. It matters that once I looked a certain way, and now I don’t look that way anymore, and if a photo gets 70 likes versus 100, I blame myself for not being good enough to look at anymore, because I gained weight, because my face shape is soft and saggy, because I’m not a cool girl anymore.
There are several of you who have mentioned how good I look at Disney World, and I can’t tell you what that means to me, because what you don’t know is the truth: the people in my life are too afraid to take pictures of me, because a bad angle will send me into a panic attack and a shame spiral that has me heaving in the Rapunzel toilets. I have broken down into sobbing fits at Disney World because I was convinced I was too ugly and fat to even BE there – that my prominent cheekbones looked like tumors, that my face doesn’t even look like the shape of a human being’s face. I went to a pumpkin patch yesterday and cried, childlike, into the pumpkins – because a picture of me from the side, my slopping jowls, my flat, ugly forehead, shocked me so badly – when did I become such a horror? Why did I do this to myself? I am 31 years old crying because I can’t be pretty like the other girls on instagram, and it sounds stupid, but it FEELS REAL. When minimal likes came in from the pumpkin patch photos, it only confirmed what I already knew. I’ve lost any spark I ever had. I’m old, obese, tumor-cheeked, balding, hawk-nosed, on and on and on.
This cannot be healthy behavior, I know this. I’ve tried taking social media breaks, I’ve tried not looking at numbers, I’ve read articles about how social media is a blight on many young men and women’s self esteem & how I’m not the only person in the world to have this happen to them – but what’s the solution? I LOVE taking and sharing photos, I come from a family of photographers! But what do I do to detach my self esteem from my social media? This is a totally open-ended question, all suggestions are welcome.
I’ve always just wanted to be seen as pretty and funny and cool. I’m still living life through my screen, when times get tough – and they’ve been tough a lot lately. I just want to be there and be good enough, like everyone else. But honestly, it sorta feels like chasing a high I’ll never top again. Or, if I’m being real, never got to in the first place.