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Living With Mental Illness on Social Media

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What if we all told the truth? The truth to the question that Facebook asks you when you open up your page.

What’s on your mind?

The truth to the question that Twitter asks you when you tweet.

What’s happening?

How many times have you started to write something, only to delete it before you post it? How many times have you deleted a post after you hit enter, with your heart racing as you think to yourself, “Oh shit, please God, I hope no one read that! I hope no one read that I am sitting here, tears streaming down my face, feeling completely broken inside at this moment. I hope no one knows I am having anxiety and that I am not perfect. From what I can tell from everyone else’s statuses, I am a complete mess. I need to just get my shit together and find out how all these people on my friends list are living such perfect lives.

How many of you have had those moments? I have had them many times.

I have had them many times.

Sometimes my social media gives the impression that I am the poster child for having my shit together. If you scroll through my newsfeed, you would find lots of cute animal pictures, happy times with my family, some kick-ass baking photos of stuff I whip up, funny posts to make you laugh out loud and even some encouraging positive quotes to help you get through your day. I love to be positive and happy. I am a Transformation Life Coach, an AA sponsor and a meditation coach, but I am not always positive and happy. I have a hunch that through your smiling faces and your beautiful family photos, that you are not either. So why do we do this to each other?

In all fairness, there are many people who live a relatively stress-free, beautiful happy amazing life. I’m not talking about those people. I am talking about the people who strive to be a picture of those people, instead of embracing imperfection, uncertainty and hard times. I am talking about people who live with mental illness that sometimes brings them to a dark place.

The positive quotes I post — I believe in whole heartily. The breathtaking moments I enjoy in nature, along with the silly pics of my cats are all moments that bring me true peace and joy. From an outsider looking in, my social media life is pretty dang amazing; just like a lot of yours are too.

But if you stick around long enough, or scroll far enough into my newsfeed, or have read my blog, you will also find days that I am falling into the abyss of the big black hole of nothingness where anxiety and depression linger. I write about it. I don’t hide it. I don’t anymore. I used to. It is painful trying to live up to social media standards of perfect living, don’t you think?

Opinions about what to share and what not to share on social media are sometimes a set up for those who are living behind the social media mask, trying not to be found out.

Each and every single day, we try to portray our perfect life to others, in this imperfect world, through our perfect filtered selfies. I wrote a blog earlier last year titled “What If They Find Out.”

I totally get what it is like trying to protect yourself from judgment and chatter. The stigma that exists with mental illness is evident through some memes and videos.

I read every day about the difficulty people have being open and honest about their mental health and trying to keep up with the social media frat party when they are falling apart inside. I came across an article today of a woman who talked about this herself. Too many people are feeling inadequate and ashamed of their struggles with mental illness because social media has trained us to show only the happy times, even the fake happy times. It has become a competition of who has the best life.

There will always be people who judge you and fail to understand mental illness. It is up to you to decide how much their opinion matters to you.

I love social media, don’t get me wrong. It might seem like I am a hater but I am not. I love the idea of keeping connected to friends I don’t see often and seeing pictures of family I might never see. I love the recipes and the feel-good stories that do show up in my feed. I love the cool craft ideas and the shopping I probably shouldn’t love so much. I love to joke and have fun with my friends on there.

What I don’t like, is that social media can be part of the problem of why people feel ashamed. You have the happy giggly girls that are so full of life and spirit with all their party pics and new dresses. You have the jocks with their hockey pics and score updates. You have music groups that seem to love being in front of the crowd, singing their heart out with no social anxiety.

Then you have the people who wish they were like those people. The people who think that those people are perfect. And that is the problem. No one has a perfect life. Social media makes you want to challenge that and say, “Really? Are you sure, because from those status updates of how amazing their weekend was, and the pics of their big huge holiday bash, it certainly feels like their lives are perfect in comparison to mine.” And there you sit feeling terminally unique from everyone else.

Those of you that think those “other” people have their shit together and are better than you, I need to tell you, they are not. If you are posting about your heartache, your anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, mania, cutting, eating disorder or anything else you think those other people don’t have experience with and it helps you in some way, don’t stop! If it helps you, don’t stop and don’t be ashamed to wear your heart on your sleeve. I heard a quote long ago that said, “If you don’t like that I wear my heart on my sleeve, stop looking at my sleeve.”

You might one day be a lifeline for one of those “other” people who were not brave enough to be honest until you were.

When I began writing and being published, I had people on my social media that portrayed that perfect world come to me and say, “Hey, I feel this way too, what can I do? I am really falling apart.”

I will not be ashamed of being imperfect.

So, the next time Facebook asks, “What’s on your mind?” or Twitter asks “What’s happening?” decide whether you will be honest. If you don’t want to share your personal struggles on social media that is your prerogative, but please, don’t pretend like you don’t have any.

That’s the difference.

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Lead Image by Thinkstock

Originally published: March 8, 2017
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