When my self-esteem is shaky, which it often is, I have to be careful around social media. On Facebook and Twitter, everything is always wonderful for everyone and all their lives are amazing. Except for the people who deliberately cultivate cynical, snarky social media personas, and to my shaky self-esteem self, even this is something to be envious of; I feel like an insecure middle schooler looking up the tough high school girl with dark eyeliner who smokes outside metal shop and does not care about anything, thinking I could never be that cool.
First of all, when I'm depressed, I don't want my depression seeping out all over Facebook and Twitter. I don't want to tweet, "Despairing and feeling like a failure," and I don't think that, "I'm consumed with existential dread" makes for a good status update.
Faking cheerfulness feels even more painful. A few years ago, I went through a severe depression and was trying in many ways, one of which was via Twitter, to force myself into happiness. Not just regular happiness, but the hyper, amped-up glee that everyone displays on social media.
From this deep depression, I tweeted things like, "It's Monday, a brand new week full of new possibilities!" when the last thing I wanted to do was face another week. I didn't feel like anything was possible and what I really wanted to do was crawl under my covers and never come out. And the disparity between my real-life sadness and my social media cheerfulness made the depression hurt even more. So it's best, when I'm overcome with depression or anxiety, to just lay off social media altogether.
Secondly, my most favorite game in the whole wide world is Compare and Despair, and social media provides a never-ending stream of opportunities to play this game. Some days I'd wake up and go online to see Facebook status updates like, "Just filmed a segment on The Today Show" or "My book hit the New York Times Bestseller list," or "I was quoted in The Wall Street Journal--check it out!" when all I'd done so far that day was brush my teeth and have a cup of coffee. Even if I start out feeling moderately okay about myself, by the time I get off Facebook I feel like I haven't done anything with my life because I'm not "about to send my manuscript to my agent!" or "having the best day ever and sooo grateful for all my many blessings!"
And that's just the professional accomplishments, which come fast and furious. Then there are the declarations of eternal love on anniversaries and spouses' birthdays, pictures of happy couples, giggling babies, joyous families, and exotic, expensive vacations. There are the people checking-in here and hanging out there, tagging each other with inside jokes, and I feel like I'm reading someone else's high school yearbook, and that person is having the best time ever! and I'm still in my pajamas drinking my coffee as life passes me by in tweets and status updates.
And thirdly, social media makes me feel like I can't — and will never be able to — keep up. Who are these people who can post status updates ten times a day and tweet every five seconds? Doesn't anyone else have to work?
I have a full-time job and I can't be composing tweets and status updates all day long, and even if I could, they would be things like, "Just replied to an email," or "Eating SnackWells cookies from the vending machine." And the mobile uploads! How are people taking all these interesting pictures from fascinating places all the time? Where are they? Doesn't anyone else have to work? Am I the only one who would be uploading photos of my to-do list or my lunch break at Starbucks? Why is everyone else's life so much better than mine?
I get into trouble when I take my eyes off my own path and look over at someone else's. I immediately get sucked into comparing and despairing, and lose all sense of groundedness, of being anchored to my life.
Untethered, I float away from my ability to feel good about myself and my accomplishments — even if I don't have an agent, a book deal, an appearance (or several) on The Today Show under my belt, a husband to have conversations with about how deep our love is on Facebook for hundreds of our friends to read, or the most amazing life ever.
On Facebook and Twitter, thousands of other people's paths are constantly in my face all at once. It's way too much information, most of which does not make me feel good about myself.
If I want to have any sense of self-esteem, I have to pull my gaze off the social media streams and place it firmly back on my life. I can't linger on social media; I have to check it quickly, sideways, and with my eyes squinted, and when I see something that triggers thoughts of not measuring up and feelings of being a failure, I have to get off STAT. And then complain about the offending post to whoever is nearby. I have to block out the noise of everyone else's lives flitting by in oppressively cheerful status updates and impossibly witty tweets, and then I can begin to get back on track, change out of my pajamas, and put one foot in front of the other along the winding road of my own path.