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Why is it easier to share your mental health struggles online with strangers rather than to call someone you truly know and share your feelings?
How many of you began your New Year’s Day on a cranky mood? Why wouldn’t we? There’s so much pressure to make our last day of the year and the first day of the new year absolutely perfect!
Or pressure to show how perfectly we are saying goodbye to the outgoing year and ringing in the New Year on Instagram.
Even when that means you have to begin your day on a cranky note.
We have to go to that trendy cafe on January 1st even when we know it will be jam-packed and the food will be overpriced. You will take pictures and glorify the place, hoping that they notice you. The capitalist economy has benefited the most from people going crazy over documenting their every minute on Instagram stories — you no longer need celebrities to endorse things if you have a social media influencer.
A few months ago, I read an article about travel bloggers literally losing their sleep over documenting every detail of their journey. They couldn’t really be in the moment, even when they wanted to. They had to do it because their survival depended on it. (There are people like me whose livelihood depends on social media). There was no other way, except taking up a more conventional full time job, maybe.
Mental health has been the buzzword of the last year. Every year we have scores of celebrities talking about depression. Life, as such, is not easy and never will be. But, admit it or not, social media is making it harder. A lot harder. Our mental health is going for a toss.
A Bollywood actor recently admitted how many talented strugglers are let go from projects because they do not have ‘enough followers’ on Instagram — something casting agents call having an ‘Instagram game’. Since Twitter became a difficult platform, people moved to Instagram. A photo-sharing app is safer than getting in trouble for 280 characters.
When a well-known blogger friend of mine opened up about his mental health struggles, of dealing with social media stress and how he had been struggling with the thoughts of quitting it all and getting back offline 100%, I experienced such mixed emotions — happy that he shared it with me at a time when I was logging in and out of Instagram frequently to maintain my sanity, but also sad that so many of us experience this and have to deal with it every effing day, yet none of us have anybody in our contacts to call up and talk to.
In my case, I don’t even know how to. My best friend asks me to share things with him, the guy I like who also happens to be my friend tells me the same. But I’m unable to. There’s this feeling of exposing yourself, that slipping of vulnerability.
Yet I don’t think twice before doing the same on social media. Even when I know those followers are not friends. They are people who revel in other people’s misery and vulnerability. Why is it easier to do so in a place where you don’t even keep track of who gets to see your details everyday, but harder to pick up that phone, call someone and share what you feel?
Social media did not revolutionize communication; it destroyed communication.
For a lot of people out there, the number of followers determines their self worth, so much so that they’d let real people go. A friend of mine asked me why I had only a little over 500 followers. I never really kept a tab on it. My food blogging handle on Instagram has been in existence since August 2018. When a close friend’s food blogging handle scored over 1000 followers in two months, I was aghast. When I told him I’m planning to shut down my page, he said he opened his because I inspired him to. He then helped me get followers. My mind is still sane in that space because I do not spend more time scrolling my food blogging page. I do that with my personal handle though and the result was for me to see.
The number of fights, disruptions, broken friendships over social media has increased to such levels that people do not know what to say when they meet offline. There is no confrontation, no talking. When I had a misunderstanding with a friend, I hoped we would get a chance to sit and talk about it. I do not think twice before hitting that follow/unfollow button online. It’s not important to me. I post stuff online but cannot fuss over how many likes or RTs or shares or whatever. It is too exhausting.
And that is why when my food blogger friend shared his agony with me, I couldn’t help but wonder how far our assumptions about other people’s perfect lives takes us. I experienced intense jealousy too. But who can you talk about it? With fellow bloggers? No. For all I saw, bloggers are not a community but people who want to outdo each other. Every event I attend, I see people networking about work, but backbiting a lot too. They are not people who can sit with you and talk about the pitfalls of earning from social media, maintaining that image, being that consistent so as to find it hard to not work when on vacation and most importantly, dealing with the negative emotions that come with being online all the time.
Detoxing, as many discovered, is not the answer. You will be going back to the same rut after all. It’s like we are stuck here. We all talk about limited usage of social media. But what can be done when your paycheck depends on it?
I quit Twitter sometime in February 2019. I had to get back to it when cyclone Fani ravaged my home. I logged out of Instagram for a week in November. Had to get back to it because someone was trying to reach me there via DMs for a feature in my e-magazine. My work involves being in social media. And that is why, like my friend, I feel helpless, stuck. Only if it were possible to delete it all and leave. But where? You’ll be pulled back to it. Believe me, I tried.
Maybe 2020 should be about revamping communication. Face-to-face confrontations. I love those people who do not care about recording things or taking pictures when they meet me. I like to talk. Communicate, express, see if I can be vulnerable with the person in front of me. See if I can fall in love. Let the other person fall in love. Let myself love myself. Something I did hurt you? Tell me. Talk to me. Try doing that once.
I wish we could have more people going back to 1995, for once. Nobody is gonna remember us via our online posts when we are gone. It’s the memories you make. And store it in your mind.
My friend and I have thought of having such close meet-ups with people who can share their burdens and agonies about being online all the time. Where there is no competition over the number of followers, likes and shares. Where people discuss mental health through conversations and not captions.
First published here.
Image via Canva
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I watched a Tamil movie Kadaisi Vivasayi (The Last Farmer), recommended by my dad, on SonlyLiv, and many times over again since my first watch. If not for him, I’d have had no idea what I would have missed. What a piece of relevant and much needed art this movie is!
It is about an old farmer in a village (the only indigenous farmer left), who walks the path of trouble, quite unexpectedly, and tries to come out of it. I have tried my best to refrain from leaving spoilers, for I want the readers to certainly catch up on this masterpiece of director Manikandan (of Kakka Muttai fame).
The movie revolves around the farmer who goes about doing his everyday chores, sweeping his mud-house first thing in the morning, grazing the cows, etc and living a simple but contented life. He is happy doing his thing, until he invites trouble for himself out of the blue, primarily because he is illiterate and ignorant.