Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat… There’s a new popular social media site every year, it seems. People use them to share life updates with friends and family, to discuss the shows they’re watching, watch funny videos and read articles. Different people use these sites differently. Maybe you only post every now and then or it’s possible you post every day. Do you use it to share happy news and positive posts or possibly to vent about your crap day or seek comfort and help from others? Maybe you do both. Either way, it’s up to you how you use your account.
But who hasn’t shared something that’s irritated someone else? A status that someone has deemed ‘sharing too much’, a political post, ‘yet another moany post’ or even ‘another selfie’. The chances are, at some point, we’ve all shared or posted something online that another social media user has complained about, whether to our faces or not. Perhaps they responded with an ironic, hypocritical post, moaning about the people who moan online.
I’ve had a back and forth relationship with social media and my mental and physical health. I’ve had times of struggle but also times of successes. In the struggles, I’ve gone through phases of retracting from social media altogether, because, quite frankly, it’s not something at the top of my thoughts when I’m thinking about how much I wish I wasn’t here or that I can’t cope, but then other times, I’ve used social media to let people know that I can’t cope. It’s been a cry for support and an easier way to say to people “Hey! I’m really struggling!” rather than picking up the phone and telling them. Other times, I’ve felt like no one cares anyway, so why bother irritating them with my depressing posts? But isn’t that part of the problem? If I’m worrying that people will see my posts and roll their eyes, then they aren’t the kind of people I should have in my life anyway. I mean, they clearly don’t care about my well-being. I’m not saying they should shower each post in love and overwhelming support, but they shouldn’t be irritated by the fact that I’m literally crumbling and close to having a breakdown. That’s not compassionate.
For some, social media is their only form of contact with the outside world. When you live with a chronic illness, such as thyroid disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia etc. you may well not be able to work and leave the house very much, if at all. Think about all the interactions a healthier person has on a daily basis; the people at the bus stop, work colleagues, customers or clients, the shop assistant when you pick up milk on the way home, if you pass a friend or neighbour in the street… Someone with a chronic illness can go days or weeks without outside contact from anyone else. And that can be incredibly lonely, of course. Sharing the trivial things they may therefore share on Facebook, substitutes the conversations about trivial things they may have with a neighbour, work colleague or shop assistant. Maybe they need to vent online, as they would vent to a friend. It’s healthy to get these things out, after all. For many, social media is a lifeline. It’s support. It replaces what their mental or physical health condition has taken away from them.
But how many times have you, as someone with a health condition, started to write something, only to delete it before you post? Or have you deleted a post after you hit enter, with your heart racing as you think to yourself “I hope no one saw that. Why did I post it?!” Perhaps you just needed to vent it out and put it on to a page, before deleting it and feeling a sense of relief. I’ve done it several times. I do it every week, even.
For those sharing their successes, such as myself, even these posts can annoy and irritate. Just take a second to think about that – sharing when I’m at my lowest, fed up or in need of help, irritates people. Yet when I post about making some recovery, progress or a little bit of happiness where my health is concerned, this also seems to nark some people. I believe that these people are just soulless or have a mental condition or learning disability that renders them unable to interpret these posts in the socially accepted way. It’s possible. But there are some people who you just can’t please no matter what and you shouldn’t be trying to. They’re just nasty. The type of person who thinks that whatever you post is inappropriate, perhaps over the top and oversharing, is also the sort who rarely posts to social media at all, I’ve found, or only posts non-personal things. Such as YouTube videos, political articles or dog memes. Let’s not get too fixated on what someone who doesn’t even use social media to keep in touch with and update friends and family, thinks about how you use it to do so. It’s the main purpose of social media!
And selfies. Where do I even start with those? Many think selfies are a product of the self obsessed culture these days, when, in reality, what do selfies mean? Why do people post them? People post photos of themselves perhaps because they feel it’s a good photo of them. They feel confident and comfortable enough about how they look, to share that with others. Perhaps they took a bit more time to get ready this morning and are proud of what they achieved by doing so. Perhaps they tried something new with their hair or make up. Perhaps they treated themselves to a new top. So why are people moaning about this, complaining that someone is vain or self obsessed for sharing a photo they like of themselves, instead of thinking ‘Hey, __ feels good about themselves today. That’s great.’
Why are we not happy that they’re happy, or even happy about this one aspect of their day?
For a spoonie who perhaps doesn’t often have the energy to put a brush through their hair, struggles with their weight or often doesn’t see the point in make up, being able to share a photo where they’ve perhaps accomplished or embraced one or more of those things, should be celebrated. If they’ve shared a photo lying in bed and feeling like they look like rubbish, but they’ve decided to share that, they’ve shared an intimate part of their life with you.
At times, I’ve told myself I’m not to post anything about my health, mental or physical, on my personal social media pages. “Keep it all to the blog” I tell myself. The people who care will follow my blog. The truth is, I shouldn’t just be reaching the people who care. I should especially be reaching the ones who don’t, and convince them why they should care. I should be raising awareness of thyroid disease and everything that comes with it. But what if people find me annoying for it? What if they think I’m self righteous, vain or over the top? Honestly, people don’t have to read what I post. They can scroll on by. They don’t need to moan about me to someone else, they don’t have to be so dismissive and mean. They can choose to educate themselves and show a little compassion. Instead, they think to themselves ‘Here Rachel goes again’, before scrolling on without much of a thought and then comments on some other post about the Kardashian’s. Priorities.
If they can ignore it, maybe it’ll go away and we’ll stop burdening their life with our troubles?
Whereas others may like filling up their social media profile with photos of their baby, their dog, food, memes, football posts, music, whatever, we spoonies are entitled to use ours just as we like, too. If we never want to mention our struggles, that’s fine. If we want to talk about them sometimes or leave subtle hints online, that’s fine. If we want to talk about it often and share articles and try to educate others, then that’s just fine, too. Why? Because we’re entitled to do so, but people aren’t welcome to make us feel like crap about it.
People are quick to jump to assumptions and judge, but they aren’t quick enough to ask if we need help or how we’re doing.
They’re feeding into this stigma that it isn’t OK to talk openly about mental and physical health and that we really ought to keep it to ourselves, battle on and feel ashamed about it. But we have nothing to feel ashamed about and we all cope with things differently. If you think dog memes filling up your newsfeed is better than people raising awareness and looking for support with their struggles, then you seriously need to reevaluate your beliefs. Closing your eyes and covering up circumstances of mental health issues and people struggling with physical health conditions doesn’t eradicate them. It just makes it worse.
It’s really not hard to be a more compassionate person. Negativity and nastiness feeds more negativity and nastiness, and what good has that ever done to the world?
There will always be people who judge you and fail to understand what you’re going through. It is up to you to decide how much their opinion matters to you and if they deserve to remain a part of your life.
This post was originally written for The Mighty.
Rachel, The Invisible Hypothyroidism
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