Unseen at 12:48

A journal about anxiety and social media.

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Perhaps it’s because I’m one of those millennials who won’t get off their phone to have a “human interaction”, or maybe it’s because I just watched the “Nosedive” episode of Black Mirror. Regardless, today is a “let’s talk about social media” kind of day.

If you haven’t seen “Nosedive”, the general concept of the episode is that everyone has a rating. Think of it like Yelp! for people. Every single interaction you have with someone can be rated, and the higher the rating the more perks you get. Are you a 4.5? You can get discounts on rent, a better job, a better rental car, special airplane seats, and more! are you lower, like a 3.2? Good luck. And with this sort of system, the higher your number, the more rating power you have. Make a mistake, break up with someone who has a higher rating than you? Well, their friends are going to rate you lower until your rating is too low to keep your job.

The implications of this sort of system are not entirely foreign to how the real world works. Those with more connections are going to have an easier time getting jobs, apartments, friends. Luckily, unless you’re in a very strict social group, or a celebrity, you’re probably not getting rated on every single interaction you have. How exhausting it would be to fake your personality every day, every second of your life for people to like you.

Well, some people do feel like that. Except, instead of having exact ratings, it’s a never-ending guessing game that feels impossible to win. The score is added together by the inconvenienced look in people’s eyes, the awkward touching of the back of the neck, the bored tone of voice. Every little thing a person does combines to make our brains think that every conversation we have is a 0.2 (even if the other person felt it was a 4.7). And it’s always completely our fault. Conversations that other people won’t remember play in our head 24/7, and implications other people never even consider feel life-threatening. That’s how anxiety feels to me, anyway.

For many people, this feeling has spread to their online interactions as well.

There are a million reasons that someone on Facebook could leave a message at “Seen”. Maybe they were busy and wanted to give it a proper response later, maybe they didn’t know what to say at the time, maybe they just didn’t feel like it. Anxiety, unfortunately, doesn’t care about the reason as much as the overall feeling. They saw it, but didn’t reply– they must hate us. Being seen and ignored might even be worse than being unseen at all. Respecting our own individuality and independence in an increasingly community based world is a fine line to walk, but absolutely necessary.

In our society, always being jacked-in to social media is what’s expected. Don’t get me wrong, I am not someone who thinks social media is ruining our lives or the way we communicate. I have amazing friends that I never would have met if I didn’t have the internet, and keeping in touch with people I have met in real life would have been much harder without Facebook.

But there is a point to logging off occasionally, and getting in tune with yourself. It’s easy to become addicted to the likes, reblogs, retweets, etc. of the present, because they all mean something. Even if it’s a second out of someone’s day, they still chose to spend that second acknowledging something you did, and that’s great. External validation for those who cannot provide any for themselves is a godsend for many of us. But when you start to obsess over the numbers of it, over people who you haven’t spoken to since fifth grade, it can easily become a demoralizing chore.

So, how do we fix this? How can we traverse social media through anxiety? Honestly, if I knew the answer to that, I don’t think I’d be writing this to begin with. In my experience, even if well-meaning, the people who say “just don’t worry about what others think!” really mean “I don’t want to or know how to help with this and don’t want to put in the effort to listen. This works for me so it should automatically work for you.” It’s human nature to be curious about what others think of you, and unless you’re in a position of power, kind of necessary.

A good beginning to the fight is to start the conversation about mental health. It takes a lot of vulnerability and self-awareness, but it is possible. Talk to a friend, colleague, teacher, parent, mentor, counselor, or anyone you can trust. Starting to answer your emotional questions with rational, positive responses will help you start to trust your own perceptions, and the more often you do it, the easier it gets. Being in a place where you are comfortable with yourself, where you have a support system, is vital in every matter of life. You deserve people that will support you and accept you as who you are.

“Social media has given us this idea that we should all have a posse of friends when in reality, if we have one or two really good friends, we are lucky.” – Brene Brown

 

P.S. A tad ironically after this post, I’d like to thank the people that liked or followed after my post yesterday. I wasn’t expecting it so that was really nice to wake up to! Also, if you haven’t seen Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on vulnerability yet, I highly recommend it. To summarize, it’s about the fight of being open to others in a culture where privacy is so valued.

Mental Illness and Capability

A quick journal on mental illness and feeling capable.

“Capable” is a word I’ve often struggled with over the years. What does it mean, to be capable of something? Perhaps more importantly, does being capable have any core value?

As humans, we are all capable of great feats and wrongdoings. Consciously or not, we make choices every day that have great impact on each other. We persevere through our pasts to forge our own futures, to plant our seeds and nurture them, watching under determined, protective, and careful eyes. We don’t just leave the seeds alone to wither and die, we shield them from the sun, water them as often as needed, and sometimes we even transfer the seeds to a different garden, someone else’s garden, when the soil was wrong at our own.

Or at least, that’s what some people can do. Living with mental illness feels like a constant pull and push of negative emotions and behaviors that are out to cut away any sprout of new growth. For those of us who struggle to feel capable getting out of bed in the morning, it can feel nearly impossible to put energy in to growth. When you’re entirely focused on survival, personal pleasures and growth aren’t even kept in mind.

For every drop of water, there’s a flood, or a drought that must be dealt with and lived through. The sun often feels too hot or too cold and the people we need to shield us are standing at the wrong angle and we don’t know how to tell them to move. There are times where our leaves and stems are gorgeous but root rot is spreading under the surface. Our seeds reject being in others’ gardens for too long, even if the soil is better than anything we’ve known before. Sometimes it’s easier to stay in a harsh place where the process is known rather than go to a potentially better place, through a new process, where it’s all… unknown.

What I urge people to understand is that this is an everyday reality that millions of people around the world struggle with. We do not need pity, and we do not always need “help”. What we do need is understanding, patience, accountability, and more awareness. We need those who understand that we can’t always control these things, but who will still hold us accountable for any poor behavior. We need those who will stand up for us when we’re not in earshot. We need the knowledge that someone will be there for us when we pull through a particularly hard time. We need people to lend an open mind and listening ear instead of immediate judgement. These things help get us on the right path and provide us tools to begin down the rocky road of recovery. The goal isn’t necessarily to completely recover, because frankly, that’s just not always possible. Instead, we seek the same thing anyone else does: personal growth, safety, good relationships, and peace of mind.

(Disclaimer: I cannot speak for everyone with a mental illness, as we have just as much diversity and individuality as those without. I am a young, white adult living in North America, and do not wish to speak over those who have very different experiences.)

Separating what one is capable of doing from what one feels capable of doing can mean all the difference for those who struggle with mental illness. It’s the people who fight their feelings of being incapable, who rise above and do their best to heal and take control, that end up being the most capable. It’s not just having the ability to do things, but the follow through and discipline to do them. One of my favorite quotes from Jimmy Dean describes this fight:

“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”