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#24 - Instagram

Bipolar and Surviving

Health & Fitness

I run an Instagram account for another blog of mine.  I sometimes get emails asking me to sign up for this or that service, or have someone re-post my images, so that I can get more followers.  Apparently my images could get more views, or so they want me to think.  The Instagram account is for fun; it is mostly pictures of my cats anyways and doesn’t drive a whole lot of traffic to the blog, so it’s rather lighthearted and really is enjoyable. These emails telling me that I should have so many more followers has made me realize just how insidious this culture is.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy posting pictures of my cats and laughing at funny things, but I don’t do it for the likes or comments.  I feel, though, that so many people lead a curated life to show only their best moments, that they put up a facade and don’t show their true selves.  And, that causes them a lot of suffering beyond what they are experiencing already behind the facade. What I am really getting at is, Instagram culture is really bad for our mental health.  So, don’t stay on that platform, or any social media platform with images, too long. You’ve probably heard this before--that social media is bad for mental health.  But why am I singling out Instagram right now?  For one, it is the latest craze to be enduring.  There’s a reason Facebook bought Instagram; Facebook knew that eventually Instagram was going to take over a huge amount of its market share and user base.  And why is it doing so? Images play a central role in our lives.  After all, seeing is believing.  We put up images on our walls, along our highways, on our bodies, and most advertisements that one remembers have images or video in them.  Face it, podcast ads don’t usually make the memorability cut as compared to image or video ads. And there is the mental “image”--the “mind’s eye”.  There is the image of perfection, the images on our news channels, and the image of good and the image of evil.  There is also the “self image”.  And this sense of self can cause a lot of hurt and suffering. Instagram feeds on our need to fantasize about our self image.  Whether it is a selfie of us looking our best, our cute dog, a cuddly baby, some tantalizing food, the latest exotic vacation, or the coolest drawing, we portray a self image that is really a fantasy.  It isn’t really about who we actually are; rather, it is a projection of how we want others to see us. There are many consequences to this.  A particular consequence happens when we fool others into thinking we really are as stunningly gorgeous, masterful at cooking, or filthy rich as we want them to think.  Even if the picture is awesome, we are hoping to project that onto someone else.  We do not want them to see the bad and the ugly--just the good.  So when we fool others into thinking that we are just as we portray ourselves, others compare themselves to us.   We all do this to each other.  You have a cute dog.  Man, I wish I had a cute dog.  Or, you have a smart child.  Damn, I wish my child got grades like that.  Or you have a wonderful husband.  Crap, I’m a terrible husband compared to him.  OR--I have crazy cats.  I bet you don’t have as crazy and funny a life as me, I mean, right?! See, we trick the other person into feeling less about themself by trying to feel better about our own self.  And that is called a zero-sum game.  Let me give you a tip: Life is not a zero-sum game.  What I mean is, if I am doing well, that does not mean you are doing badly.  Instead, I do well because you do well.  You do well because I do well.  There doesn’t have to be a winner and a loser.  We all move forward together. So, in the name of protecting our own mental health, in the name of weakening our depression, the name of calming our anxiety, just stop.  Please stop.  Stop putting up a false image.  Stop fantasizing about who you wish you were, about who you wish others would see you as.  I’m not saying stop posting to Instagram, or stop reading it.  Just be aware that when you read other people’s posts, your mental health is in jeopardy unless you realize that they are either trying to put on a show, or have decided to stop themselves.  For now, do your part by stopping to put up a false image.  Be yourself, not your curated self.  No need to pretend.  Have fun, be careful, but don’t make yourself out to be someone you’re not.  Not only are you making yourself insecure, but you could be making someone else’s mental health worse. Be aware of who posts what, why they post it, and to whom they intend it to be seen.  If they post it to get attention, especially from a certain group of people, take that into consideration.  I’m not saying don’t look at it; just know that this could hurt your mental health if you take it seriously. If they post it in an honest, genuine way (which is extremely hard to determine, but be wise and use your best judgment in determining this), then enjoy it!  You have found someone who you might want to interact with. And, be that person posting in an honest, genuine way.  Be a mental health activist in that sense.  Everyone deserves peace of mind, and the closer you can help someone get to peace of mind by being judicious with the self-image you put online, the better. Be tactful, skillful, and kind.  You may make someone’s day brighter by being the most honest version of you you can be.  And someone else’s honesty could give you a mental health boost, too. As always, keep on surviving.

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