“Embrace the glorious mess that you are.”

– Elizabeth Gilbert

There is a well documented link between social media and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, insomnia and low self-esteem. This link is particularly strong among adolescents. There are multiple reasons for this connection, but one cause recently came into my personal awareness and made think more closely about my own social media presence.

I discovered that some people had been viewing my social media posts and concluding certain things about my life, which were very far from the truth. There was a perception of me living a relatively easy life with few struggles and plenty of spare time. I went through my social media posts and can understand how that inaccurate perception could happen. I am guilty of doing something that many other people tend to do as well. I don’t show my ugly.

I’ve realized that I am more likely to post the photo of the perfectly healthy and gorgeous breakfast that I made (like I did yesterday morning) and not the photo of the fast food that I stuffed down my throat as I was changing a poopy diaper. I post quotes about all of the beautiful and kind things that I have thought and said and not the nasty, mean and judgmental thoughts that pop into my mind or out of my mouth sometimes. I post photos of my two children smiling together in their sparkly and clean outfits and not ones of them naked and covered in their own poo (yeah that happens a lot). I post photos of me enjoying nature with my children with flowers and blue skies in the background and not a photo of me losing my sh*t at my kids when they are fighting non-stop.

The human brain is a funny thing. We see pieces of a puzzle and then our brains automatically fill in the rest. It’s easy to scroll through a social media feed and assume that someone’s life is nothing but rainbows and sunshine, when it’s frequently quite the opposite. Up until now, I realize that I just assumed that people “knew” that my life wasn’t perfect. I assumed that this was just a given. However, this is probably because of my biased perspective on life. As a psychiatrist, I am constantly hearing the about how difficult people’s lives are. In addition, patients frequently tell me that despite their shiny exteriors, they are struggling desperately inside and in life. I can easily understand and appreciate that humans are multidimensional beings and that social media conveys a less than one dimensional reality. I know that just because someone is posting a lot of photos of themselves happy and enjoying life, that definitely doesn’t mean that they aren’t struggling. I also realize the dangers of making assumptions about someone’s life with very little information (especially the biased sample of what’s on display on social media). We are complex beings and most people don’t use social media in a way that conveys the complexities of our lives.

There is also complexity in how people react to viewing a stream of happy and seemingly flawless social media posts. Everyone reacts differently and their reaction also depends on their own mood at the time, their relationship with the person and many other variables. Sometimes people feel inadequate and like their lives are far inferior. Sometimes people get jealous and envious and want to have all the same things. Sometimes people are simply happy and inspired. And other times people are judgmental and look down upon their perception of how someone is living their life. How someone responds to different social media posts will also play into the effect that social media has on their outlook on life and their mental health.  Someone’s mental state is a factor in how social media is interpreted and consequently their mental health outcome as well.

Social media can portray a very filtered and false picture of our lives. The “ugly” is hidden away from public view. However, every single one of us has an “ugly” and a very messy side of our lives. I wonder how different the world would be if this is what we posted on our social media feeds. Perhaps I need to post more photos of my fast food binges, poop covered children and “ugly” parenting moments. I am certainly going to be more cognizant of this in the future. I wonder if we could all change the narrative if we were more open and honest about our personal struggles and challenges. I say we all try to “show our ugly” more so that we can know how truly beautiful we all are.