Lesson 23: staying connected

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Social media blows my mind. The power it has over people is one of the greatest mysteries of the modern age. It’s addictive; fuelling the insatiable appetite we have to define ourselves, whilst giving us just enough control over the way we wish to be seen. So, what does that tell us about how we interact with each other?

Almost every social-media platform has eerily evolved from a means of communication to a voyeuristic wonderland. People no longer tend to chat on Facebook, they use it to stalk people. We follow people we don’t know, based on the way they look. The newest platforms focus on imagery alone. Everything is visual and photos have to be atheistically pleasing to be worth posting. You could have the best night of your life but the pictures won’t make it onto your profile if you didn’t look cool or attractive. We’ve been bullied out of posting ‘normal’ pictures because everyone else’s fake ones look so much better. Our pictures are all becoming posed, especially the ones we want to look the most natural. I can say all of this because I’m a prime offender.

I’m also a hypocrite. I hate the fact Intagram plays such a big part in how we view the world, but then I use it to advertise my blog, or showcase my day. We’re professionally and emotionally dependent on virtual connections. We’re in a never-ending talent show, liking, liking, liking all day, every day. We’re constantly on show, constantly being judged. Even the people without social media are being judged. How weird…he doesn’t have Facebook.

My relationship with social media fluctuates between completely compulsive to carefully considered. Sometimes I settle down to read or write and immediately start scrolling through Instagram instead. 30 minutes go by and It’s like I’ve been possessed, flicking through picture after picture, barely pausing to focus on a single one. What am I looking for? I have absolutely no idea. Inspiration? Probably. Reassurance? I guess so. In reality, I’ve wasted my time. It’s plain old procrastination. Other times, I use social media in a constructive, useful way, with site statistics and cultural affairs dictating what I write and what I search for.  As if having a real persona and an online persona wasn’t schizophrenic enough, we have so many different uses and agendas for different types of social media – each one demanding a new version of ourselves. Much like we turn to certain people for certain things in real life. Both our real and online personas are subject to same human tendencies, so how can you determine which one is the real you?

Our identities are simultaneously the most fluid and the most controlled they’ve ever been. As a writer, I’m obsessed with the dichotomy between the real and not-real. Everything you read on my blog is ‘me’ through and through. It’s my voice, my opinions, my personality. And yet, I haven’t uttered a single word out loud. It’s all online, created for a purpose. Is this my virtual persona? Or are my posts a snapshot of the real me? If you find reading them a positive experience, it really doesn’t matter either way. So, here’s my advice: learn to recognise when social media leaves you feeling unnecessarily shit about yourself, and then walk away.

Last week, I went for a drink with a few old work colleagues. I was really surprised and grateful when they told me they’d been reading my blog after discovering it on Facebook. I felt instantly connected. This is when social media does the job it’s supposed to do. Similarly, since setting up my blog, I’ve shared uplifting conversations with people online that I haven’t spoken to for years. It’s really humbling to think that amongst all the selfies and filters, we still have a simple desire to connect with each other on an emotional level. As emotional as you can be when you’re just a few words on a screen.

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Lesson 18: feeling normal

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Growing up can be a lonely experience. Gradually, it becomes more and more inappropriate to share our weird and wonderful traits with people the way we might have at school or uni. We become more proper and more private with age. Having touched on mental health issues and with it being Mental Health Awareness week, I’ve been thinking about the things that put us at ease, starting with confession. After I posted about my anxiety, I received so many lovely, reassuring messages from people simply saying ‘hey, I feel like that too sometimes’. So not only was confessing to receiving CBT a way of unloading my issues, it seemed to benefit other people just as much to hear it. One of the most heart-warming things we can experience is a collective emotion. Connecting with people about a negative experience often equates to a positive outcome. For this reason, I’ve decided to list all the ‘abnormal’ things I do but wouldn’t usually talk about. Chances are I’m not alone in doing them, and it might make you feel less lonely too.

  1. Very few people know this about me, but I have trichotillomania. Without meaning to or really realising, I compulsively pull out my own hair when I’m tired or nervous. It’s generally my eyelashes but often my eyebrows and the hairs from my head as well. You know that satisfying feeling of picking off clumpy old mascara? Usually, it’s just that. But when I’m a feeling a bit anxious, it leads to physical pulling. It’s no different to biting your nails or cracking your knuckles, and yet nobody really talks about it. We all have weird bodily impulses from time to time. It’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
  1. I have a tendency to conjure up the worst-case scenario in my head. If someone is knocking at the door, it’s never the postman, it’s a burglar. I catch myself physically hiding from the postman. Which sounds funny now, but it’s not exactly ‘normal’.
  1. I have days where I hate the way I look more than anything else on Earth. I have a strong belief that 99% of people do. Everyone thinks other people are so happy and comfortable with themselves, when really we’re all intimidated by each other. People with straight hair would do anything for natural waves and people with curly hair gaze wistfully at poker-straight locks. We all want what we can’t have and we all choose to see people the way we want to. Just remember, nobody is as critical of you as you. Nobody notices the spots you obsess over, or the fact you’ve worn the same shoes every day for two weeks. People tend to focus on the things you have that they want.
  1. My boyfriend and I practically have a language of our own, speaking in weird voices with even weirder made-up words. If anyone ever overheard us they would probably mistake us for aliens. Or think we’ve been exposed to vast amounts of radiation. We also dance around the kitchen far more than is necessary.
  1. I never, ever wash my duvet cover once a week. Life is too short for that nonsense. However, anything less than once a month is nothing to be proud of. For someone with OCD tendencies, I never obsess over cleanliness. Not showering at a four-day festival is something I welcome with open arms. Gross, I know.
  1. I look back at old photos of myself on Facebook and Instagram and try to imagine them from other people’s point of view. Have I got better or worse with age? Were my eyebrows really that bad? Was I that uncool? Or that drunk? The truth is, of course, nobody cares.
  1. I sometimes convince myself that people are annoyed with me for no apparent reason. They only put one kiss at the end of a text, they forgot my birthday, they didn’t go to an event I organised. In reality, they were in a rush, forgot the date and had 10 other things to do that day.
  1. I feel anxious speaking on the phone. I’ve never really enjoyed ridiculously long phone calls and tend to let my phone go to answer phone when someone rings me out of the blue. I have to be in the right frame of mind for a phone call, whoever it is. I usually tell myself off and ring people back straight away, but my natural reaction is to ignore my phone. God knows why.
  1. I used to have a weird obsession with balancing out food groups. No carb-on-carb or meat-on-meat action for example. Rice in a wrap or a bacon AND sausage bap were literally my worst nightmare. I also know how many calories are in almost everything, even though I don’t calorie count.
  1. I can’t throw things away. My sister once asked why I’d kept one earring after I’d lost the other one, to which I replied ‘I might need it one day’. I’m overly sentimental and have boxes and boxes of ‘memories’. I’m paranoid I’ll forget or lose something import. Joe is the complete opposite. I don’t think he owns a single photograph and that panics me slightly. He says all his memories are in his head. The irony is that I’m incredibly scatty and constantly misplace everything I own. I’ve never had the same phone for longer than a year.

Although it’s important not to let your struggles become your sole identity, I hope my weird confessions encourage you to embrace what makes you you. I would love to know if you can relate to any of the above. Who wants to be normal anyway?