The black dog has been snapping at my heels for a few days and during that time, my main company has been my smartphone.
A constant companion whether on the nightstand, in my hand or lost somewhere just beneath the covers.
When I wasn’t sleeping, I was clicking and scrolling, repeatedly refreshing feeds for the latest updates.
When there was nothing new to be found, I’d berate myself for trying to pass the time so mindlessly, holding my phone responsible for my malaise.
But I wasn’t depressed because of obsessively browsing social media; I was obsessively browsing social media because I was depressed – wasn’t I?
Undoubtedly there are negative aspects to social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. Barely a week seems to go by without a new report detailing the detrimental effects that these apps have, particularly on the wellbeing of children and young people.
At one end of the scale, there are serious issues surrounding online bullying, with cases of suicide following harassment on the internet.
At the other, there are concerns about the amount of time people, particularly teenagers, spend on their phones, with some sacrificing sleep in order to stay connected.
Social media and self-esteem
For all users of social media, regardless of age, there are questions about its impact on our self-esteem.
‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ takes on a new dimension when you’re exposed to the activities of hundreds if not thousands of friends, acquaintances and even strangers.
The Joneses are no longer just your peer group but can extend to everyone from a girl you went to primary school with to the MD at your last job.
Undoubtedly there will be a celebrity or twenty in that mix too.
With all this potential for detailed knowledge of others’ lives, only the most resilient will avoid even occasional negative comparison.
Who hasn’t spent a bored evening wondering why someone else is out drinking cocktails when you’ve been in their pyjamas since 5.30pm?
We may rationalise and tell ourselves that we only see the edited highlights on others’ feeds. Knowing this, understanding it, doesn’t stop pangs of dissatisfaction creeping into our minds.
Whether we struggle with our mental health or not, such thoughts have a detrimental effect.
Perhaps even more damaging are the posts that we share when we are at a low ebb. Although reaching out can be beneficial, the danger is that soliciting feedback to boost our mood relies on other people and their responses, both of which are beyond our control.
We may not get the reactions that we hope for or even any reaction at all.
Yet although this negative portrayal is widespread, it tells only part of the story. Checking our feeds and even posting can boost our wellbeing as well as diminish it.
Continuing to contribute daily photographs to the #augustbreak2017 community challenge on Instagram felt like a lighthouse during the darkness of my bed bound days, giving me one small thing positive to focus upon. Likewise seeing the activities of friends and followers bought moments of respite and gentle reminders that the world does indeed still turn.
I could also connect with others from behind the safety of the screen, not having to share how I was feeling as I would on the phone or face-to-face (the latter of which I’d inevitably have cancelled anyway).
This wasn’t about hiding my situation; rather it was choosing to present how I want to feel, a technique that can loosen the grip of many difficult emotions.
We’re quick to label social media platforms as good or bad but they aren’t simply one or the other. Our state of mind influences how we perceive the information that we consume. A post that niggles us one day may not even catch our attention if we’re feeling good about ourselves.
As users, we must be alert to this. For those of us navigating mental health issues, this is both more difficult and more necessary. We may be more sensitive to the negative effects of comparison yet we are also in greater need of connection.
Social media can provide a simple, accessible and unthreatening route towards this when even getting out of bed feels impossible.