‘Just passed my driving test!’ a friend posted on Snapchat. I replied ‘Congratulations bro’ — enviously.
Of course, I was happy that my friend was now a qualified driver – it’s a huge feat for a 17-year-old – but I was jealous that it wasn’t me.
It was the ninth post that I’d seen in the last three months of someone of the same age as me getting their driving licence. And I hadn’t even taken my first lesson.
I read another notification that said ‘I’ve just got a new job!’ At the time, I pretended to be pleased about it, but deep down, it made me feel like a failure because I have not achieved that.
The final straw was when someone I don’t really like declared to her Snapchat followers that she ‘couldn’t be happier with life.’ For me, that post was excruciating – not because I didn’t want her to be content, but because I wasn’t feeling the same.
I could, perhaps, live with one or two occasional posts from people I know about how excellent their lives are. But instead, it feels like a constant wave of sassy teenagers declaring all the amazing things they are achieving.
With every new announcement of success, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are all breaking me bit by bit.
It forces me to wonder: What am I doing? Why do people seem so thrilled with their achievements? Why isn’t that me?
Social media is, in effect, destroying my life.
Throughout the pandemic, the internet has been indispensable: it was my connection with family and loved ones when we couldn’t meet in real life, and kept me informed about what’s happening in the world – arguably, social media’s been more vital than the Government’s abysmal and ambiguous press briefings.
On the corporate side, it can be a tool for networking, finding career opportunities and forging links with people across the globe for business advantages. Yet, despite the virtual world’s positive elements, I cannot help but use it to negatively judge myself against my friends because everything feels like a competition.
Truth be told, I have always compared my weaknesses against other people’s strengths and, in my opinion, it is not necessarily a bad thing.
From spelling tests and sports days in primary school, to my GCSE results in secondary school, I’ve measured my achievements against those of my peers to help boost my dedication and commitment to better myself.
But for the past few months, comparison has done the polar opposite for me because I have been unable to ‘better myself’ due to the pandemic and government guidelines. Each time that I have ranked myself against my friends’ wins, it has dealt a blow to my confidence, each one more brutal than the last.
This habit of negative comparison started around March, when a friend posted how he ‘loved the pandemic’ and how it made him a ‘better person’. This post upset me greatly because unlike him, I wasn’t loving the situation.
A survey conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health asked 14-24 year olds in the UK how social media platforms impacted their health and wellbeing. The results found that these apps and sites led to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness.
Is it any wonder why I find the endless updates so toxic?
Some of my school friends have even had children and got married — at 17 and 18. They have already achieved amazing things, and appear to have their entire life set out, there is only one word for how I am feeling: covetous.
Even though I don’t want kids right now, I cannot help feeling disheartened when I see people my age starting families. I often ask myself: ‘Am I doing something wrong in life?’
If you have not achieved something by the time seemingly everyone you know has, then it can make you question your worth.
Ironically enough, I discovered the term ‘impostor syndrome’ on Twitter. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it is the frequent feeling of not deserving one’s success and feeling like a failure.
In a way, I am thankful for social media for helping me realise that other people struggle with these feelings too.
Imposter syndrome affects me for three reasons: I’m a person of colour, I am a Muslim and I am from Bradford, a place previously cited in the press as a ‘No-Go Area for White People’ and is outwardly perceived as one of the UK’s ‘most dangerous places to live’. These factors statistically put me at a disadvantage and make me feel as if I’m not good enough.
As a result of the educational, social and economic climate brought during austerity, there is a considerable amount of pressure on young people to achieve more and more. I fear others like me will eventually burn out.
It feels as if everyone is living idyllic lives, except for me
According to the Mental Health Foundation, 60% of young people (aged 18 to 24) have felt so stressed by the pressure to succeed that they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
I’ve told my parents about how social media makes me feel, and they always come out with well-meaning, but predictable responses like: ‘It only shows half of what is real’.
To some extent, I see what they mean. However, when I’m scrolling through my phone, it still feels as if everyone is living idyllic lives, except for me.
Yet I am guilty of sharing my successes and happiness online. I was on holiday this summer in Glasgow and Surrey, and I spammed my accounts with photos. We all show off our ‘wonderful’ lives without realising.
Sharing my pictures on Instagram felt like a trivial thing to do at the time because everyone else does it. In all honesty, I didn’t consider how other people may feel about me posting about how much of an amazing time I was having away. On reflection, I regret that I could have made people feel down as a result of seeing my holiday snaps.
In the summer, I did something I’d never expected from myself: I decided to limit my social media usage to a maximum of an hour a day, for both Instagram and Snapchat. My decision was fuelled from a combination of how I was feeling and the fact that I needed to take a break.
So far, I do not regret my decision one single bit. Of course, I am constantly tempted to break my rule but I know if I do, I will be in the same plight as before. It has made me feel much better – giving me time to focus on other things.
I believe social media companies should be putting more emphasis on how not all photos are ‘real’, even if they appear so, and reinforce that people exaggerate their happiness. I used to make the mistake of not remembering this when I spent hours scrolling on my phone.
It is very easy to get lured into believing that everyone’s life is as perfect as they make it come across.
Using and surviving on social media is not easy, but I urge you: don’t be fooled. Those with a seemingly ideal existence struggle just as much as anyone else.
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