Is everything ok? No, it’s both great and confusing.
I have been troubled by the disturbing distortion that social media puts upon our realities, our experience of life, our opinions of others and ultimately ourselves. It was never meant to be a highlights reel of lives lived, it was meant to be something that keeps us connected and informed. Yet here we are living in the shadow of our own ‘Best Of’ and trying to keep up with impossible standards we subconsciously set for ourselves. What if we actually want to reach out and talk with others but can’t face leaving our rooms or know how to verbally articulate our inner states? Surely social media is the place, at least with friends or even in an over-share status? Either way, these are my thoughts.
In May 2018 (this year, at time of writing) I experienced a nervous breakdown from which I am still working my way back from. I have given full disclosure to a small number of individuals (partner, close friends, parents and some colleagues/collaborators). How these have chosen to use this information is their business but it has resulted in a strong support network that has enabled me to live through the past few months with greater ease than I could have imagined.
Define ease: resisting the impulse to jump under a train on the Victoria line as my brain won’t stop telling me I am shit (for non local readers that is London’s closest underground line to me, and due to the angling of the tunnels both in and out of the stations, it’s fastest moving). Is this sentence for shock value, shoring up sympathy, playing with the emotions of those closest to me? NO. I would not do that as I am not someone who thinks toying with the hearts and minds of others is an acceptable way to behave inwardly or outwardly. Even if we think ‘oh what would X,Y,Z feel if I did this’, you need to have a word with yourself. The ease part comes in here, I live with something that is a result of prolonged abuse and neglect both from family and two previous partners. The initial period was between the ages of 14–19, then again around the age of 30/31. Do I wish to name the condition? Sure! ‘CPTSD’ (Complex post traumatic stress disorder), this is from a ‘dripping tap’ effect of cumulative experiences. The result has been that sometimes, it all gets a bit too much and I am unable to perceive my positive contributions to life, the world and those around me. I perceive myself as a malignant presence and then everything urges me to remove that presence from this reality, as that will somehow make everyone happier and me stop hurting/replaying the traumatic events in my mind’s eye and also, my body’s responses. Which is quite frankly, exhausting at best. The breakdown steadily opened the door to a lot of these old fears, traumatic memories and unfounded concerns. Inviting them back to the table when they’d been gone for a while. As I’m now older with more to lose, not giving into the unhealthy previous coping mechanisms has been the primary goal. They were never conducive to healing or progress.
The ease manifests itself in the fact that when I take myself out of myself and look at everything, things are pretty damn good and I have a lot of silly fun. I have people of deep value, all of whom are quietly (on the outside) but inwardly furiously waving my flag. I know it because I feel it and see it in their actions, interactions and expressions towards me.
The ease comes in knowing that if I were to do that, it would leave a hole for others. Not because my identity or ego needs that knowledge, not because it gives me power (it actually liberates me from the power of the CPTSD). The ease of knowing makes the decision for me, sometimes more vigorously than others, sometimes painful, sometimes peaceful. Either way, it keeps me from swinging my bodyweight a little too far towards the edge of the platform. Part of the incentive to not do it was to remember that in all those moments leading up to it, I never gave into that darkness but chose the light every time, just not the lights of an oncoming train. The ease comes in that I am still here because I am reminded to view the world beyond the confines of my own self. That makes it all a little easier.
Where does this fit within the highlight reel narrative?
It doesn’t does it, it challenges that faux-veneer that everything is always ok for everyone and if it isn’t we are totally mental and to be avoided at all costs, right? I’m concerned that for men under the age of 35, suicide is our biggest killer. I am now 34 so statistically I’m nearly out of the woods… (That comment was brought to you by Irony industries sponsored by Ironic Inc.) The point I am making or seeking to make is why is it we are now supposedly so connected but more divided than ever? Instagram is polarising me from people I care about. They are becoming strangers to me, I used to be a prolific aspiring shutterbug, sharing my exploits and things I found interesting on there, now I find myself scrolling through saying ‘wtf’ to myself at the ‘content’ (yes that’s right, we are all curators of our own content *is a little bit sick in my own mouth*). Why are we sharing these things? Why aren’t we picking up the phone anymore? ARE WE KEEPING FRIENDSHIPS ALIVE BECAUSE THEY BUILD OUR OWN DIGITAL NARRATIVES BEYOND THAT OF OUR PROFESSIONAL PEERS? Ask yourself that, honestly. I bet some of you are. Is there shame in that? Totally.
All we are doing is building moats around ourselves and filling them with crocodiles in the shape of blinkered beliefs, angst, a ferocity that begets further ferocious acts, the view that any form of disagreement or questioning of our actions results in the person being deleted from our lives. It is in a word: crap.
I do still care about everyone, I care about the people I’ve not seen since school, I hope they are alright, Facebook tells me so but is it the truth? I care about my friends from music college, they are all doing really interesting things but is it real? I care about my friends from all of the different places I’ve lived but are they living their own authentic lives? Social media tells me so!
Am I bothered that this seems to be harming people? Massively. We are in danger of becoming a mass of insecure, approval seeking wrecks that cannot talk to each other about anything of any substance or true value to the advancement of our society. The sad thing is social media or not, we have been conditioned to seek the approval of others since the dawn of (our own) times. Consider how we used to always have to check with parents, then teachers, then employers etc. It’s as if we couldn’t make choices for ourselves and now with the added gravitas of social media, the circle closes ever more fiercely in on us. We are scared, divided, anxious and unsure, therefore easy to be controlled and having our lives played out for us as we try to keep up with things that truly mean nothing.
Equally, maybe we should stop asking each other how we are if we don’t have time to hear the full answer. It’s ok to not be ok because that is not a defining factor of who and what you are, the reasons can be far reaching and not stop your enjoyment of life. Because I have been in recovery does not also mean that I am having positive experiences every day and able to savour joy in moments. Yes it fuels over thinking, yes I find myself having to check in with my own anxieties about not functioning at full capacity and the fear I am being left behind. However as my partner said to me “You’ve had a breakdown, it’s ok to take some time to devote your energy into feeling better.” As much as I hate the feeling of running on half a tank, she is right.
If we can do one thing, let’s be a bit more real with each other, let’s ask each other the big questions and find new, deeper understanding within those answers. You never know, it might just change your life.