A lot of readers with bipolar disorder and autoimmune diseases have told me how depressed they feel seeing Facebook pictures—it seems like everyone else has it together and we’re just treading water. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not bashing social media. Through it, I’ve met so many warriors fighting a variety of illnesses. Fashionably ill is on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But there is a social media pitfall we have to avoid: Comparing ourselves on our worst days to other people on their best days.
Facebook Isn’t Always Real
I liken Facebook to “The Greatest Hits” of a person’s life. Even the best artist has recorded duds. But you don’t see them on greatest hits albums. Similarly, people usually post pictures of their engagement rings, baby sonograms, and weddings. While people post status updates that say, “Hey, I got the promotion,” they typically don’t post things like, “I lost my job today. Lying in bed eating potato chips.” Sometimes people tell me they’re depressed because they feel like “everyone has someone” except for them. I tell them that their friends have also had breakups—they just don’t post pictures of themselves drowning in Ben & Jerry’s post-breakups. It’s important to keep perspective and regulate our use of social media when we’re not feeling well—whether pain is caused by stress, mental illness, or flare ups of fatigue and physical pain (or all of the above).
When Social Media Amplifies Pain
A few days ago I was really depressed. I spent 80% of the day in bed. It happened to be Valentine’s Day although that wasn’t the cause of my depression. I had been struggling with tremendous stress for a few days. Of course having a mental illness does not help. I realized how harmful it was for me to be on Facebook while I was not doing well. It’s like, “Yay! Another wedding ring. Is everyone getting engaged? WTH? Who else landed their ‘dream job’ this week?”
I applied a lot of the tools I’ve blogged about to manage my depression like praying, music, laughter, exercise, talking to my therapist, and adhering to my prescribed medication (SSRI). For weeks I’d been looking forward to this Valentine’s Day Masquerade Ball. I was determined to go despite my depression. As I was getting dressed, I decided to take before and after pictures so I could demonstrate how primer and setting spray make my makeup last 16 hours. (I hate retouching my makeup.) While taking my pictures, I noticed two things: 1) Whoa! My “depressed face” is identical to my “PCOS face.” That’s the face I get when Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome has left me screaming in pain until 3 am. My picture is further proof that mental illnesses are “real illnesses”—as real as physical pain! 2) The second picture is my “best face.” It’s the kind of picture people post on Facebook. People don’t usually share pictures like my depressed face. However, at some point, everyone feels lonely, endures a breakup, gets laid off, or bombs the interview. We may not see pictures of those moments but they do exist!
Going to the dance made me feel better—not “fine and dandy”—but better. I liked spending time with friends. And dancing releases endorphins—those “feel good hormones” that help us fight depression.
4 Tips for Avoiding Social Media Depression
1. If you’re in a bad place, consider getting off of Facebook temporarily: Try calling your friend instead of looking at his pictures. You can also call your therapist.
2. Use social media support groups: If you can get past your newsfeed, find community in groups. I’m in over a dozen closed support groups on Facebook for bipolar disorder, PCOS, Myasthenia Gravis (MG), and a wide variety of autoimmune diseases. Through Facebook, I’ve learned so much about managing MG. Honestly, I wouldn’t know anyone with this rare illness if it were not for the Internet.
3. Go out with people: Actually talking to someone face to face (as opposed to gchat) is powerful. We can’t do this alone.
4. Find an activity that releases endorphins: In our online society, we’re not as physically active as we should be. But endorphins, whether they come from exercise or laughter, help us fight depression.