Social media makes us mad

It was my birthday this week, over a stretch of about five days I had a wonderful time, I saw friends and family and was showered with gifts and cards and messages of love. I had 40+ messages on Facebook, a dozen texts and a handful of phone calls all because yesterday 28 years ago I entered the world as a ball of life and energy; and today I have stayed in bed. In fact yesterday I knew that I was having a dip, but I had plans and it was my actual birthday so I pulled myself through the mud and I put my best dress on and ploughed into my day determined to have a great and memorable day.

Today, when I woke up I should have got up and tidied the flat (we’ve been away for a few days and missed the weekend rituals), I should have gone with my husband to take my beloved pet to her vet check up, I should have but I didn’t, I decided today I didn’t have my waders and so bed was it for me.

I am genuinely blessed, I realise how terribly cheesy that sounds but I am, I have colleagues, family and friends who all went out of their way to ensure I felt special, that I was given beautiful things and things that they spent time and money thinking about how much I would love these things. I am a material person, sometimes I wish I wasn’t but it’s one of my underlying traits and it doesn’t define me over all so it’s a battle I don’t (currently) wish to face. So those things and the effort put into choosing them made me tremendously happy and grateful. I wouldn’t even hesitate to do the same for any one of the aforementioned groups of people, their happiness is my (mostly) number one priority, and it’s taken a long time to really value the group of people I have around me.

Five or so years ago, for me it was all about organising a party or a gathering and feeling special because a large group of people I never bothered to get to know properly turned up, those people deserved better from me, and by pretending that I had the capacity to genuinely care enough for them I was hurting them and damaging myself. It is absolutely OK to know and be friendly with a large number of people, but to say for example that the 223 people I have on my Facebook account are as they are titled by the site my friends, is not entirely genuine or faithful to their lives they are so passionately living. And so when 40+ wish me happy birthday (and I really do mean it when I say thank you for your kind wishes) it actually makes me feel fairly conflicted. Especially in times of celebration it is so easy to wish a person best wishes, but if you think about how many people you congratulate on their new baby and will never have cause to meet said baby, wish them a happy birthday but never be invited to their birthday celebrations, how many times are you best wishes and thoughts diluted? So that when it comes to your best friend, how genuine are your wishes? Very, I am certain, but how do we differentiate between the generic message of love and joy and the deep and meaningful one? Do you actually write anything unique on their wall?

I have been lying in my bed all day, feeling like I am being pinned down by a heavy fog, not thinking and barely feeling, is it because yesterday I received a steady steam of messages and today there is silence? Sadly it could be, because for every little red 1 that told me that a single person was in that moment thinking about me and about my life, my brain receive a chemical rush that slowly but surely pulled me up and up on a high and today in the silence I have come crashing back down. In fact I am certain some of you may have read 223 Facebook friends and thought ‘wow that’s not many, I have…’400 or 700 or maybe more?

Nearly four years ago I made a conscious decision when I decided that acting wasn’t the life for me (thus removing the need to keep ‘contacts’ on my friends list) and that was that I would commit my loyalty and time to a small group of true friends hiding in the masses of people I had met once and wish well, but who would never need me to sustain a mental or emotional connection with them.
Even now, an old school friend will add me, knowing I don’t really care I will feel guilt and accept the request, but no as soon as I am learning about their beautiful child I start to feel uncomfortable, this person is now a stranger and I emphatically do not care about them or their child – I am not being cruel, I am being honest; and so I delete them. (Then I feel guilty all over again!)

Social media is just a more recent incarnation of the many and varied media forms that contribute to the comparison culture “she’s got lots of friends”, “she looks like a really fun person”, “she looks so clever” the possibilities of how we present ourselves is endless, but for the most part it’s fake. I do it, you do it, we all do it. That picture of me smiling and drinking my tea in the British Library, that took four or five attempts, when I was on the precipice of anxiety (for no good reason at that point I might add) because god forbid I let my 224 Facebook friends see me looking any less than what I consider my best, my outfit was chosen for two purposes to make me feel good (that is important number one) and to look good, and seeing as I spend a minimal amount of time a day looking at myself, it was because I care so much about what other people will think when then look at me. And I am addicted, I cannot tear myself away from social media, which although not a cause for my particular anxieties, it is most certainly a daily poison that I willingly ingest.

My point dear friends and people that I vaguely know is this, let’s try to be ourselves, and more than that let’s try to present ourselves as we truly are. Most of all let’s stop spreading ourselves so thinly and disingenuously by being Facebook friends with every person who adds us and then wish them the love and happiness that your best friend has worked tirelessly to deserve and where this ‘friend’ has done very little.

So when I don’t say happy birthday or congratulations to you the next time you are celebrating, I absolutely wish you well, but my love and my thoughts and my energy are reserved for the people who I am loyal to and who are loyal to me. They are my life and my world, and despite spending a whole day in bed accompanied by a dark shadow, it’s them who get me through, and when they need me I have reserved my energy to get them through also.

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