Today is #BellLetsTalk day, a time once annually where a huge media conglomerate encourages social media users to employ its hashtag in online discussions about mental health, in some attempt to end the stigma surrounding psychological issues or illness (and to perpetuate their brand, and to associate it with feel-good do-good stuff…). Aside from the 5 cents to “mental health initiatives” Bell donates per time the hashtag is used, there isn’t much tangible benefit from the project, though I can’t really hate on anything that raises awareness for a good cause; I would argue, though, that there isn’t all that much stigma surrounding mental health issues in this day and age. If anything, people tend to reduce serious, debilitating conditions like depression and anxiety to mere mood swings; terms they drop daily to dramatize things a little. To make them seem a little more damaged and interesting. Still, it’s not something that is as openly, seriously talked about as it could be, so I understand the need to assuage people’s initial apprehension when very real, very scary topics like suicidal thoughts, depression, etc. are breached in casual conversation.
What I find most interesting about this campaign is how counter-intuitive (and thus perfect?) the platform is, given that the undertone inherent in social media compels us to publicize how spectacular and fun and full of success our lives are, often to a level of exaggeration that is discernible to all but the poster. Whether we’re fooling anyone or not with the highlight reel we proffer as our full and real lives, and regardless of the extent to which we partake, the proclivity to feign and embellish is strong and ubiquitous, and yielding is somehow simultaneously overlooked and implicitly acknowledged without event. So I think it’s good to shake up some feeds with some damn dark real talk, so to speak. But I’d also like to real talk about the way everyone is on social media the other 364 days of the year.
Outside today, I find it impossible to be this savvy social media person I encounter on my feeds, and yet feel anxiety about not letting myself be. (Thus my decision to delete my Facebook and Snapchat ages ago, which has been both to my benefit and detriment.) The complex I’ve developed in recent years about my use of these platforms can perhaps be attributed to the overwhelming self-consciousness that dominates my character, or my heightened sensitivity to how others perceive me, or the fact that I have been in ways privileged enough not to have to adopt pretenses, or even my candor and affinity for non-bullshit. I’ve always humbly played myself and my achievements down as I observed those around me strain to play themselves up; to stretch their lives into an unrecognizable, but undoubtedly enviable version of its real form, and then shove it in the faces of often-uninterested parties. A monstrosity of a life’s narrative that compounds itself exponentially as it continues on. This phenomenon started, as I personally recall it, well before the social media age: high school friends loudly issuing torturous explanations of their $400 cheerleading uniform or $500 brand-name shopping spree while I knew their parents’ sole vehicle had been “stolen” (repossessed) just days earlier, their eyes darting around to see what strangers were in attention; university peers inquiring about my grade on a big essay – a number I always felt too awkward to reveal – so they could brag about theirs (which was always much lower than mine, never to their knowledge); the sadly gendered “diet” fads of grade 8 to present, during which those close to me boasted about their unhealthily restrictive eating habits and drastic weight loss under the guise of pitiable struggle and solidarity. Though I never had much to offer in response but a smile and a nod, I was the one to ironically land in an eating disorder program years later.
The advent of social media has, obviously, fostered and fermented this mode of being and method of presenting oneself; it’s become the soapbox everyone seems to think they deserve, and are not at all shy in using, but somehow only for the most inconsequential things. It not only encourages the perpetuation of false representations, but also representations on a superfluously magnified scale. Do I need to watch 24 short video clips of an acquaintance’s awesome Friday night out or read five paragraphs about a hometown friend’s beautiful pregnancy journey at 38 weeks? What comment can I offer about that swanky $30 cocktail they just posted from that swanky bar they’re visiting? Why are they using the flying money symbol in place of words? No, please God, no. Why do we want this for ourselves? I would somehow much rather watch someone dictate their suicide letter, or something else that speaks to the very palpable underbelly lurking beneath this veneer of “my life is so fucking cool, please look”.
I feel afflicted. Crazy, even. Isn’t the one thing that binds us the misery of the human condition? The existential dread we stave off momentarily with distraction and drink and deferral? Where are the people posting about their struggles with depression any other time but #BellLetsTalk day? Their body negativity, the concealed drive behind one’s attempts at body positivity? Why do they oscillate to the opposite extreme the very next day? Where is the solace, the relatability, the you-are-not-alone-in-your-daily-struggle-because-life-is-hard-for-us-all? The truth? Or, better yet, the absence, as it seems many are unaware that not every single thing you do in your life is worth documenting and elucidating.
Life is weird and absurd. The universe can be uncanny with the things it chooses to conjure and highlight to us, the associations that seem virtually inescapable. Socialization is anxiety-inducing at best, filling some of us with unease and self-doubt until we overflow into pint and shot glasses that we pound right back in until we can sigh with relief and welcome a much blurrier vision of a pained reality. Work is mundane and the hours that follow it are spent binge-watching mindless entertainment, but no amount of want can drive us to change into those better people we want to be with jobs and hobbies and lives we want to have. Nights are spent staring at the ceiling and ruminating on the experiences we mentally kick ourselves for missing out on thus far, but also the experiences we’ve had and just plain miss, beleaguered with a growing nostalgia as the hours – and years – progress. Those memories stuck to the walls of our skulls, sad and seemingly forever. Where is the space for this reflection on my Instagram feed? Twitter has it, almost, with a segment of its community seemingly open to self-deprecation and existential contemplation. And I must give Facebook credit for its news-sharing capabilities. And yes, kudos to #BellLetsTalk once a year. But in the majority of my online experience, at least when it comes to people sharing their own stories, I’m inundated with their designer whatevers and party pictures and vaunting posts in such high volume about all the great things, void of balance or context or a break. Life can be good, yes. We can be happy with our successes, yes. But at what point does it become a hyperbole of a one-sided story? And why do we try to obscure and censor the gritty parts of our collective experience? Maybe it’s my depression speaking, but I want to see more of the misery. More realness. And in that, maybe the general expectations to compulsively share some flashy, beautiful lifestyle will be lessened.
I will never post a self-aggrandizing paragraph about the new direction my career is heading when I secretly feel stagnant and inadequate, or a motivational gym selfie as I struggle with late-night binge eating and seeing myself as aesthetically acceptable enough to even live, or a photo album of my super fun birthday celebration that a sad seven acquaintances attended for all of two hours in reality (the latter actually happened to me at my last birthday, and no I did not post one single picture because it was fucking depressing). Even when everyone around me is doing these things and even when that in itself gives me anxiety about whether I should be doing them, too. I hardly ever post at all, because that’s just my nature, and I suppose I’m just fine relegating myself to the role of “satisfactory under-posting average-achiever” on everyone’s timeline. The #BellLetsTalk or the “let’s never talk” 365 days a year. I’m just not comprehending the benefit others garner by pretending otherwise.