I was feeling sorry for myself recently and subsequently found myself in a social media loop, grimly checking Facebook, then Twitter, then Instagram and back to Facebook again. I was meant to have been running a half marathon, but a back spasm had scuppered my plans.
Not only was I torturing myself with excited updates from organisers and participants; but I was, by default, regaled with images of people younger than me living their best lives around the world; infinitely happier, healthier and seemingly better than I was at their age.
Than I am now, in fact. And the magic word here is, of course, seemingly. It’s the social media effect. It’s poison. Since the dawn of reality TV, social media has fed into our constant need to see what others are doing and compare our own lives to what those others choose to display.
I don’t mean all social media is poison, as it has positive applications. Just look at our Facebook Group, where 98.2% of its community said they feel happier as a result of being a group member, and 90% feel less anxious. But from a mental health point of view, social media can be, to the emotionally bruised or delicate, the virtual equivalent of self-flagellation with burning birch branches. Possibly with thorns.
My mental health has its ups and downs. I am susceptible to depression but can mostly manage it and stay positive. I often describe myself as “equally cursed and blessed”. When viewed with clear eyes, I can see that my lot on this planet is all shiny and good. I have a pretty great life, despite the continual roller coaster that I all too easily forget everyone is white-knuckling on a daily basis.
That said, the last few weeks have been testing, to say the least and have brought the black dog barking at my door. In between working for PoetsIN, I ‘do’ marketing for other companies. I recently lost one decent part time job in a cost-cutting exercise, only to secure a similar role at a PR company I’d previously worked with. A month in, I was let go due to very late paying clients. Last in, first out.
I’ve had an adult life filled with this and it’s something that I’ve learned to (mostly) control the spikes of emotion over. Drama simply doesn’t help situations outside of a theatre. I’ll spend a couple of days licking my wounds then get to work backfilling what I’ve lost – sorting shit out. It seems I’ve successfully done this already with some freelance clients, including bits and bobs for the PR company; but I’m always aware they all could drop at any time.
As a man that is approaching his mid-century next year, this constant state of flux troubles me in my dark 4am moments of reflection. For me, this period of the day is the most detached from reality and logic. The tiniest of issues expand exponentially the more they are dwelled upon.
The worst thing I could possibly do when lacking clarity is pick up my phone and look at Facebook or Instagram. The former, where people I know mask their problems and shortfalls by reporting just how great the world is with humble bragging and pictures of perfect houses I can no longer get back to owning; and the latter, where mostly people I don’t know post pretend lives they live, filled with vacuous possessions that many will rack up debts to purchase. And all for what? Image.
I truly understand this now. At least I do at the times when the sun is shining and I’m rational. That picture of the married couple I know beaming into the camera in perfect settings would have been preceded by arguments, stress and ten or twenty similar pictures trying to frame a false memory.
I’ve watched it in person, then observe, agog, as it appears on my timeline with #blessed attached. Whilst I remain hooked, it galvanises within me a dislike for the falsity of social media.
The showroom houses and sports cars, the robot butlers and snazzy sun house in the garden: all unnecessary fluff meaning nothing. Trinkets and baubles, that once in our greedy hands, will be superseded by new things slightly better that will cost more; and so we must have them immediately.
The evil side of Social Media perpetuates a need to constantly do better and buy better; and with it, it brings an undercurrent of anxiety, stress and poor mental health – all whilst harming the planet. Mostly I recognise this which makes managing my lack of a 9 to 5, five days a week, much easier.
But when that black dog starts barking, I make sure I back away from the veneer of falsity online and write, cook, share time with real loved ones; and above all, get into nature somewhere. I bought a kayak at the start of this year and my partner bought a stand-up paddle board, and once we’re on the water, surrounded by nature; I’m back in the flow of the world. What counts is there, and we get to reset. I travel regularly in Europe, something made possible by my newly frugal needs and tastes. I’d recommend it. Get as tight as you can with your money and have loads more holidays. Breaking up the year means regular rebooting, and winter sun is ideal to combat S.A.D.
And yes, we’ll probably post our adventures on Instagram and Facebook. But they’ll be real, they’ll be (mostly) unfiltered, and all in the hope that people will catch on, shun the likes of the Kardashians and follow us into nature. It’s a better place to be and it’s great for your mental and physical health.
We’re all prone to comparing our lives to those of others.The highest rate of suicide in the UK is by men in their forties. Modern society plays a large part in this, in my opinion. My next blog piece, which will be by far my most difficult, will be cataloguing my own mental health experiences as a man entering his forties, comparing my life to those of my peers.