Managing your mental health: Our misleading online personas

Mental health blogger Fiona Kennedy says we can't compare our lives to what we see on social media

Managing your mental health: Our misleading online personas

Pic by magicatwork (Flickr Creative Commons)

When you think of your Facebook account, or any other online persona you have, what is the image you portray? 

I want you to really think about that question. Are you smiling in all your photos? Do you share about the exciting places you go, the fun things you do, your achievements? Do you have hundreds of friends? Are you honest? Or do you present an airbrushed version of your life?

Social media, presented as it is from behind the safety of a screen, allows us to portray absolutely any aspect of ourselves that we like, while at the same time subtly glossing over those aspects that we don’t.

We’ve all posted photos of an event that show smiling, happy faces, but don’t even hint at the tantrum that erupted 30 seconds after the photo was taken.

Why do we do that? Why are we so scared of being seen fully, warts and all? What is so bad about saying, ‘Actually, that was a rubbish day. The weather was shocking, the kids were cranky as feck, and myself and himself had a blazing row about who forgot to pack the raingear’. Why do we only present one aspect of the day?

Curating our lives

This whole concept links back very much to my last article for this series, on how we tend to identify ourselves by what we do, rather than who we are. We treat social media in much the same way, albeit with a different slant.

In work, we like to look successful. Online, we like to look happy, popular, interesting, funny. 

 

I wonder if it’s something to do with how we choose to remember an event - and maybe that’s ok. The kind of day I described above can become a funny story, the ice-cream for lunch can turn into the highlight.

But wouldn’t it be refreshing to actually hear the whole story in someone’s post, rather than just see the smiley, happy moment? Wouldn’t it be so much more relatable?

Maybe I’m being naïve, but honesty makes us so much more human. It’s ok to show weakness and vulnerability, because it’s part of life. 

Of course, we don’t want to dwell on the bad times, but ignoring them completely deprives us of a valuable learning experience. How did we cope when everything went pear-shaped? Did we get stressed beyond belief and let it ruin the entire day? Or were we able to laugh it off (eventually) and move on?

Nobody’s life is all sunshine and roses, no matter what Facebook or Snapchat or any other platform might tell you. Everyone struggles. Everyone has moments of self-doubt and uncertainty. Everyone cries. Everyone has their own pressures to contend with.

We are all flawed

Imagine if we could share that with as much ease as we do the good times. Imagine the support we could offer each other. Even more, think of how much perspective it would give us!

One of the most damaging things we can do to our mental health is to compare our reality with someone else’s timeline. We know our own reality intimately; their timeline is the briefest and most tightly controlled of glimpses into their world.

I’m not suggesting for a second that we instead focus on the hardship, the difficulties, the bad times, but rather that we bring balance into what we portray. 

I know for sure that a huge part of why I became so depressed was hiding - not talking, not even admitting to myself, never mind other people, what was causing problems for me. How much angst could I have spared myself and my family if I had felt able to be honest? 

Had I not been comparing myself to an impossible standard - the good, the success, the fun that we so freely share – how different could things have been?

We need to talk. We need to be open with each other. We need to have friendships that are real and honest, that allow for failure and upset as well as success and good times. We need to acknowledge that life has its challenges, but that those challenges don’t need to define us any more than the successes do. 

We need to accept, and even more, embrace, everything that we are, in all our flawed and complicated and wonderful glory.