It has been a month since I left social media, deleting my Facebook and Twitter accounts without much fanfare and little regret. Although I have abandoned social media for stretches at a time in the past, this time I intend on leaving for good.*
In a year, I have aged maybe ten, and I feel like I have lied in more ways than I can count. For so long, in fact, it has seemed that anything anyone has known about me is untrue. My Facebook profile and my Twitter, once appendages of my thoughts, had come to represent me in a way that I could no longer stand by and idly accept.
I have been fortunate in many ways that my social media accounts have documented well. Since marrying my husband last March, I graduated from college and began medical school. My photos and friendships, old and new, stood on display, while my published writing took center stage. These experiences excited me and brought me joy, but they also served as a facade.
You see, in addition to all these moments of inexplicable happiness, I also suffered and struggled and wept -- human experiences that social media does not display or receive with ease.
There is a certain expectation and decorum with respect to our online personas that seems to require we share only our best moments. The worst are relegated to private corners where we reflect on them alone. I have witnessed the disdain we (myself included) cast on statuses about another person’s bad day. I have heard (and said) something along the lines of “This isn’t his/her diary!” or “Too much information!” Yet statuses that exude joy and enthusiasm seem acceptable time and again, no matter how personal they may be.
I have wondered why we allow ourselves to become the critics of others, why we feel at ease judging each other behind the anonymity of screens, and I have felt ashamed. Social media (particularly Facebook) has become an inadvertent means of measuring success by comparison. Knowing this, we carefully monitor what we share, hoping to exude the success we aspire to.
Although I recognized the dichotomy between my life and my social media accounts, I could not bring myself to break the cycle and share the reality of my personal hardships over the course of this year. Instead, I continued to hide behind my online persona. What I didn't share was and remains far more significant than any elaborate meal or outing with friends that made its way to my profile.
In stark contrast to what my social media presented, I struggled in more ways than I could have predicted, and nearly lost my life. It began with a twinge, a subtle discomfort after running, and in the month that would follow, my uterine tube would rupture and hemorrhage into my abdomen. I would have emergency surgery to remove the tube along with the embryo that had implanted within it, and eventually take a medical leave of absence from school.
For months afterward, I felt a deep sense of shame, sorrow, and loneliness. I let it engulf me, and before I knew it, I had spiraled into anxiety and depression, struggling to care about the things that mattered most to me -- family, school, friends, writing, reading. I could do nothing but sleep and count all my worries as the days passed.
I fell into a vicious cycle where I perceived that any life was better than my own. I would gaze at profile after profile and wonder how my life had become something I resented. I was stressed by the pressure of being a perfect student, wife, daughter… a perfect person. I felt that I was not enough. It was neither healthy nor fair to myself.
At the same time, I kept everyone but my husband at bay with the promise of positivity I spread through my social media accounts, saying nothing in person or online about my worries and fears, pretending that my aspirations for perfection had been met, if not surpassed.
My social media accounts overshadowed my reality, allowing me to pretend that what I faced was less significant, less memorable, and less worthy of my personal narrative. I lived a double life online, one that encouraged me to believe my pain was insignificant and irrelevant because it did not meet the guidelines for perfection as dictated by the images shimmering on my screen.
Perhaps what is most daunting about having an online persona is that everything is not what it seems. That had been okay with me, but it doesn’t sit well with me anymore.
I recently read Amy Poehler’s memoir, Yes Please, and was struck by her humor, but also her wisdom when it comes to being a woman in a world full of pressure to “have it all” and be it all. Since reading Yes Please, I have opted for Poehler’s approach on self-awareness and fulfillment by recognizing that some things are “Good for her! Not for me.” A motto she says “women should constantly repeat over and over again.” I have taken this to heart.
Since leaving the online world, the stress of perfection has dissipated into something bearable. I am at peace with myself. I spend my hours tinkering away at projects that spark my interest and curiosity, or on everyday adventures with my husband. With time and energy, I have finally learned what it means to grieve and to heal. When it comes time for me to restart medical school in the fall, I will be ready with the knowledge I’ve gained from this trial.
I have given myself permission to simply be, without judgment or comparison, and I surrender myself to what lies ahead, for it is said that with hardship comes ease (Quran 94:6).
* However, you can still follow me on Instagram @margo6392 , the only social media account I have kept because beautiful photos inspire me and bring me pleasure.