How Anxiety and Depression Affect Me on Social Media

The internet is a wild place. Everything you could possibly want to know is at your fingertips, and anyone you could imagine connecting with is just a click away. From old high school friends, to celebrities, to interesting strangers. It’s magical.

As I scroll through Twitter, catching up on the newest scientific articles, political posts and cat pictures, I see all manner of brave people commenting on and replying to the posts of complete strangers — sometimes it’s their favorite celeb, podcast host or political figure. They just voice their opinion, thought, admiration, and then they move on, feeling amazing that they got to connect with someone who matters to them. And, as far as I can tell from the outside, it ends there. It’s beautiful, it’s simple, it’s natural — and I’m incredibly jealous.

I am a very friendly person. I’ll talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime. I give presentations on a regular basis to groups large and small. Communicating is a big part of how I make my living. And it’s pretty easy for me in professional contexts. But as someone with anxiety (generalized anxiety disorder), relating on a personal level is much different.

At the end of one obscenely long day, when I was experiencing some dramatic fibro fog, one of my favorite baristas asked me what exactly I do for a living. I stumbled through an explanation of the complexities of my field and practice, interrupted six times by customers coming in. It was fine. I got my point across, albeit disjointedly. For the next three days, I was physically ill, couldn’t focus, and made six separate trips to the shop trying to catch him on shift to clarify my explanation, because I was so upset with my inability to clearly and concisely verbalize my thoughts. (By the time of this conversation, we had already established something of a friendship, and even so, I struggled. I got through it, but it was a rough few days.)

I have a very dry sense of humor and am deeply facetious (which causes me to be often misunderstood, but I usually find it deeply amusing) and thanks to the cognitive difficulties provided me by my fibromyalgia (FMS), I often struggle to find the words I’m looking for. But at least in person my cheery smile, tone of voice, and extremely expressive face and hand motions can help fill the gaps. It also grants me the ability to read the person I’m talking to. Do they understand? Are they irritated? Have I piqued their interest? It’s reassuring. The internet takes all that away. No tone or expressions to read in either direction. Emojis, sometimes. But even so.

About a year ago, I started using Twitter. I love it; it’s full of scientists and clever people and none of the drama from people I actually know. But I’m absolute rubbish at Twitter, and the 150 or whatever character limit is so stressful. How can I say a thing and proceed to over-clarify it so no one stands a chance of misunderstanding me in just 150 characters? Here’s a secret — I have deleted more tweets than I currently have on my timeline. I’ve started writing and then deleted more comments than I’ve gone through with. Because I panic. It’s a bad feeling.

Sometimes I get ballsy and post something honest and meaningful, or comment on the post of someone whose opinion I care about. I write something from the heart, something that means something to me, and then feel so scared (for unknown or irrational reasons) I actually cry, then delete it. It’s ridiculous. I’m an almost 30-year-old woman who is irrationally terrified of what people she admires think of her on the internet.

Most of my life, I thought I was just a loser with some serious shit wrong with her brain-pan. And that may be the case (there could be 1,000 posts about this), but additionally, it wasn’t until my mid-20s that I was diagnosed with anxiety. It explained all the things, especially when you couple it with the depression. Putting myself out there, only to be rewarded with silence or trolls is… painful. It makes me feel small, invisible, and my brain takes that minuscule feeling and magnifies it a million times.

It’s stupid. I know that. Logically, I 100 percent understand that. So I rationalize it all away and move on with my life, being a fucking awesome bespectacled badass (after I have a good cry). I keep trying to be brave and connecting with people. Putting myself out there, even when I am convinced I don’t have anything of value to share. And you know what? It pays off. Maybe not often, but when it does, it’s magic.

Thanks to the internet, my favorite human sent me a song. My hero followed me on Twitter (this was a disproportionately exciting and beautiful moment in my life). I’ve grown my businesses beyond my wildest dreams. I made a friend who has quickly become one of my closest companions. None of these things would have happened if I hadn’t sucked it up and put myself out there. I remind myself of that every day. My partner reminds me of that when I get especially down. When I think about all the beautiful experiences I’ve had, it encourages me to be brave. To keep reaching out.

I may not be a celebrity, or someone with a prestigious job, or someone with a lot of worthwhile, deeply meaningful, intellectually stimulating things to share (though I do try), but if life isn’t about connecting with others, what the fuck is it about? So, sorry internet, I’m here to stay. Loud and proud (and sweary).

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

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Thinkstock photo via NemanjaMiscevic

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