(Post written last week, and dedicated to all fellow over worriers and people pleasers who feel the pressure of of 24/7 social media!)
I saw someone on Facebook the other day complaining that someone she knew had ‘seen’ a message, and not replied, putting up a sarcastic picture that said ‘sorry to bother you with my friendship.’ It’s that trumped up feeling of self importance that people have that drives me mad about social media. Recently, I’ve been crap at getting back to people, really crap. I’ve got lots of missed calls and unanswered messages. Not because I hate my friends and family but because the 24/7 access that the Internet provides leaves us with no space to be private. I’m writing a blog and some people may say ‘well if you can write a blog you’ve got time to reply to text messages’, and to those people I say, “f£&ok off!” Let me explain, I find this blog extremely cathartic, and I express things I’m feeling in a way I can’t out loud. Therefore although it goes online, it’s a private outlet in the time I’m writing it, an emotional release. I haven’t replied to friends who’ve asked when I’m next free because I don’t know. I don’t want to worry them or make any kind of comment that I then may have to change because I guessed wrong. (As background info, my kidneys are playing up again as in he first trimester and I’m currently waiting to see if it’s something that can be managed at home or if I need to stay in hospital today and/or longer. I’m hoping to go home but even then won’t know how quickly I’ll be feeling better). I haven’t called my family this morning because if I did I would cry and they would worry when there’s no need to and I don’t really want to cry on them unnecessarily.
In the past week or so I have; avoided picking up my phone after being told I may not be able to have the natural birth we had planned because I wanted to deal with that. I have ignored a friendly but non urgent Facebook message because I threw up after reading it (not because of it!) and then instead of jumping straight back to the computer I had a lie down. Sometimes I forget to go back to a message I mean to reply to. None of which because I hate that person or people, but because sometimes there are other things going on, and I think it’s terrible when people can’t appreciate that. We all have friends that aren’t great at keeping in touch, they’re not bad people. Pre internet and mobile phone, we didn’t expect to hear from people within 15 seconds, if you’d had a bad day, you could run yourself a bath and deal with it privately without knowing that there were 5/6 people annoyed at you for not being in touch that day.
When I was at Primary school, I remember being teased for being short, and aged 8, that was heartbreaking! When I would get home I’d be in a safe bubble away from anyone who was going to be mean. In secondary school I remember a boy drawing a horrible picture of me focusing on my bad skin that was a really embarrassing and personal issue for me. I saw it, and the three people he was sat with saw it, and I went home and cried and then most likely cheered up watching a programme I liked on TV feeling slightly better about it the next day. But that was then… These days, that picture could have been uploaded and me tagged in it and after leaving school, there is no ‘safety’ at home because even if I detagged myself, it’s still out there for a much wider audience, and no doubt my mobile phone would buzz as well meaning friends would ask if I’m ok, or mean kids would tag me in comments or post on my FB wall. My point is, whatever’s happening in your life is now something you can’t control or switch off from. I know you can turn your phone off but you know the rest of the world is still there, and that when you switch it back on, those notifications will still be waiting for you, now with the added pressure that any unanswered messages are now overdue and someone’s annoyed at you for having not replied straight away!
I really feel for teenagers these days. Bullying is so much worse when it can be so constant and so thorough. It’s no surprise that mental health issues are on the rise and a much bigger problem; technology has forced a massive shift in how life can work and it wasn’t easy before we could be scrutinised at every moment of the day!
My way of dealing with a somewhat overwhelming personal circumstance is to attempt to go off radar. I’ve always been someone to deal with things more internally. Although ironically to do so without hassle, I should probably post a Facebook status to state that I’m taking some time out. And even then some may then see a picture of me somewhere (at a theatre event for work or out for dinner with family) and decide that if I’ve got time to do that, I should surely have time to get back to their Facebook event invite.
What is not socially agreed on (although I feel it should be!) is that, it’s often not about having the time to do it. If I’m having coffee with a friend, I won’t reply to a non urgent text to someone else because I’m committing that short space of time to my friend I’m with in real life. Social media does not give you an all access pass to somebody’s time. If I’m sad, or even the opposite, if something amazing has just happened, I’m not going to answer my phone because I’m busy experiencing something else or I may not be in the right frame of mind to talk. Likewise, like today, while in a hospital waiting room anxious to get some test results, I may idly scroll Facebook to keep my mind distracted; and despite the fact that means FB will show me as ‘active’, (an annoying iPhone app feature you can’t switch off) with all due respect, I’m not.
Ones private life has become something that others can make themselves a part of very easily, and I’m reclaiming more privacy. We should all be entitled to some space and time when we need it. And we should all also give each other a break. We have no idea what’s really going on in people’s lives or behind closed doors. I will often post pictures on FB, and occasionally, especially with work stuff, it’ll look like I’m spending loads of time gallivanting off having fun with no obvious reason to not be getting back to people. It’s the pitfall of showing your highlights reel! I may post a picture of a group of us smiling with swords in a morning at a class at work, I won’t then post a picture of the blood test I had later that day or write the caption ‘I’m smiling here but I’m actually really tired and worried about my test results’. No-one appreciates a constant moaner because we’re all going through things, we’re all fighting personal battles. Sadly we sometimes forget that we don’t have that backstage pass and it leads to people getting upright over being ignored or mistreated when they are not.
A close friend of mine recently lost her Mum. She got the call halfway through a party. Pictures of that party were uploaded onto Facebook. She looked like she was having a whale of a time, because any pictures she was in were before she got the call that totally changed her life. She didn’t go on Facebook for a while because she couldn’t. Notifications told her that she’d been tagged in some pictures and so she clicked through and numbly ‘liked’ a couple, almost out of habit. Later that day, someone who obviously hasn’t heard the news commented on one picture saying ‘oh so you’ve got time to go out with other friends and time to like the pictures on Facebook but not to take two seconds to reply to my message, thanks.’ The comment was deleted about an hour later. I’d like to imagine that it’s because she was informed and felt instantly ashamed of making assumptions without any awareness of what was going on behind closed doors. For my friend, whilst trying to deal with her grief, she then felt obligated to put up a status to explain why she’d been offline. Something which then prompted several messages of support which she appreciated but wasn’t ready to deal with at that time…which then led to another status to say thanks for the messages but she wasn’t ready to reply yet. It’s a seemingly never ending vicious circle. In such times, you should just be able to deal with your situation without having to frequently update people on where you are or why you might not be available.
I am not in that sad position. In comparison I’m going through nothing. But I am not getting any sleep, I’m in a lot of pain, I’m a bit worried about upcoming tests and results. All while with a lot of work on. And I’m trying to make sure my toddler and husband (who has been an unending source of support and deserves my remaining attention) get any energy I have left. Even my poor parents have been left just getting one word answers or the briefest of updates so they know all is well.
We all deserve a private life and we all deserve to deal with personal things before public things. As I get older I’m more and more nervous about the pressures social media puts on, especially young people. It causes people to make judgements and assumptions in a way that was never possible before.
So there are inevitably a few people at the moment who look at my Facebook profile and see the public view; we had a lovely Christmas and New Year and have just celebrated the end of a successful theatre tour whilst already starting work on the next one. And while all that is true, it’s not been easy and there’s a lot more going on than that.
But I reserve the right to be a bit crap getting back to people at the moment. I’m hugely pregnant and am focusing on getting my kidneys sorted, getting sleep while I can and making sure my daughter is happy and well. Life is a bit more of a struggle at the moment and so regardless of how things may appear on social media, I am dealing with that stuff, truly and firmly, offline!