Thursday, 3 September 2015

Social Media and Mental Illness

This is a subject I've wanted to talk about for a long time, in fact I made several videos on it which never got uploaded for fear of sounding patronising, hypocritical or just the general everyday 'looking like ugly baby giraffe hybrid troll who's raided its mums make up bag'
When my eating disorder first developed we'd only just gotten the Internet, it was a new and exciting thing we mainly used for online shopping.  My first memory of using it for myself was I wanted to enter a competition I'd seen on TV but for that you needed an email address and I didn't even have one of my own, we only had the family one.  It never even entered my head to look up anything about anorexia, images of thin women, or more importantly communicate with people in my situation.

Nowadays it's more common to be using Instagram as a source of recovery than it is to have the proper and correct therapy from professionals.  Is this because of NHS funding, availability, waiting times, fear?  Is this because it's easier to talk on a social media site than it is to open up to a real life person?  Is it because it's easier to embellish your problems, because for some reason some people think it's cool to have a mental illness and if trying to recover you might be accepted into a community when maybe in your own (real) life you're not as accepted? Although there's the other side of the spectrum with people who fool themselves (or let themselves be fooled by their ED) with the aid of comments such as "OMG food porn" by posting artfully lit and delicately chopped plates of Vegetables with edible flowers on top. "well if my Instagram followers say I 'm doing well by eating a plate of vegetables...." thus meaning they put don't feel the need to seek out help until it's too late and we all know early intervention is vital.

 There are some very worrying things that I saw whilst on my time on Instagram

For a community that is supposed to aid recovery, it seemed more reminiscent of  'Mean Girls' than the supportive and beneficial community that it made itself out to be.  It's eye opening really considering that the majority of people (note said majority, not everyone) suffered from a mental illness.  The phrase wolf in sheep's clothing springs to mind.  Someone can become very 'popular' in a very short space of time by making progress, even if they start to become a bully in the process. With a legion of followers behind them, god help the people that call them up on their behaviour.
 One instance, I saw a girl with a few thousand followers who started posting extremely angry and nasty posts because a girl happened to have the same cup as her.  She was furious that this girl was 'copying her' 'eating the same as her' and 'it was so unfair' etc.... shit turned nasty.  Obviously as this girl had so many followers they worked out who the copycat was and started bombarding her with messages calling her names, telling her she would never be as good as this other girl, telling her to kill herself, to fuck off, that she'd never be as good as 'the queen'....  Now yes I understand that this is all very teenage  drama-ish, but we also have to understand that these are people with mental illnesses and this is being promoted as a 'recovery community'.  If you go around calling yourself the queen of recovery and are bullying people like that you need a reality check and to remove yourself from this 'community', for the sake of these other innocent people and get some more help yourself, as whilst your ED may be in check your ego is not.  The girl accused of copying?  She could have been so devastated that she committed suicide.  In actual fact, she bowed down to the queen and apologised, she was mortified and said she didn't want to offend her she hadn't meant to copy her she wouldn't use the cup again.

How I did Instagram....
My name's Charlotte I'm
half human half turtle
Obviously the photos are the main focus on Instagram. Now am I the only person who thinks that posting half naked body shots as either validation for their eating disorder (omg you look so tiny) or so called progress shots, is not only inappropriate in itself for both the person posting them and the people seeing them.
But it's also incredibly dangerous as you don't know who is seeing them. Posting pictures of yourself in your underwear where it can be viewed by 40 your old men to wank over, all so you can get validation that you do in fact look anorexic.
Which brings me to another point.  I have never, would never and could never conceive the idea of putting a photo of the thing I despise the most out there for the world to see.  Nine times out of 10 the caption on the photos of these near naked photos were about how much they despise their bodies.  And yet there they were plastering photos of their bodies all over the Internet.  Insert puzzled face emoji....

I had one follower who frightened and saddened me. Her username was anorexic monster but with lots of rs and ts. I hated pros with a passion and when I saw her like a picture of mine one day I clicked on her profile. She was 11 and posting photos of herself in her underwear. I was sickened and shocked. She was writing with the ferocity of someone older, but there was an innocence in her non anorexic pictures, posting pictures with friends one minute the next posting in her underwear talking about how she was fasting for X hours. Maybe she was copying what she was seeing on Instagram, I don't know, but it made me ultra aware of what I wrote on my pictures captions. I did try and leave a message urging her to get help, but she insisted she was fine and just got excited I'd replied to her.

With an open profile whilst someone searching hashtags such as anorexia or recovery, things that can be said in all innocence can actually be perceived as giving tips on how to conceal an ED, suppress your appetite, purge, self harm. So someone who may be young and vulnerable can search any of the content on an open profile, even if it wasn't meant in the context of being a How to guide. Whenever I spoke about my long fasts, I only ever mentioned them in the context of my feet, I never spoke about how I coped, I talked about what it did to me and only then I bought it up if I had to as I wanted to raise awareness of the dangers but I was aware that people might A think if she can go for that long without eating then I'm allowed to, and B not believe me, therefore question the validity of the awareness I was trying to raise. Not what I wanted.

Fads and Trends
What started as a small recovery community on Instagram has turned into a Toxic popularity contest where you feel pressured into joining in with the latest the trend and if you're not a fan of the latest Ed fad then you're not deemed worthy of being welcomed to sit at the lunch table with the popular kids of the 'recovery community'. Quest bars are one big example of this. I was very vocal in my time on Instagram about my opinion on them. I'm not averse to protein bars in general. Protein bars that taste nice are good. I am averse to protein bars that taste like artificially sweetened sawdust with of chunks dog crap in them. I am more averse to people with eating disorders proclaiming that they taste better than cookies despite the fact that they had to nuke them to even make them palatable. I'm EVER MORE AVERSE to 12 year olds wasting all of their money on these fucking bars (asking their parents for them for Christmas?) when they should have been eating real cookies and using that money to go out, reclaiming their lives with their friends away from taking photos of artificial crappy bars to post on Instagram. Their eating disorder fools them into thinking they actually do taste like cookies and that's all they need in life. Quest bars and a fucking social network site #chunkporn

It was toxic for me seeing pictures and comparisons as I'm older and I'm never going to have the same body or frame as a 16 year old. I'm also never going to have the metabolism as someone who's only had an eating disorder for a few months or a year. Reading that someone could be eating thousands of calories and lose weight was like a dagger to my heart because I only lose weight if I stop eating altogether. That's what 16 years of starvation does to your body. I can only imagine what young and vulnerable teenagers would take from it all.

Just as I was leaving there started to be a trend of giveaways. A nice gesture you might think to give a gift to the people who are following you. But the thing that struck me was the things in the picture all seemed to be the 'fear foods' that the people themselves posted about and rarely ate. They were from multipacks which chances are were food their parents had bought. So they'd post pictures of their intake with a 70 calorie cereal bar but their giveaway would be chocolate, sweets and the food they were afraid of, trying to palm off on people. There was already such a pressurised atmosphere without feeling the need to 'buy' followers. I spent the time I had at school giving people my lunch money or buying people things in exchange for being able to sit with them, so you can imagine why I would feel strongly about this.
I haven't even touched on the whole I'll eat this when I get 100/1500/2476 followers. No. You shouldn't be using Instagram as a way of bribing people to follow you and justifying food to yourself.
Food is necessary for yourself, not for the followers you're unlikely to ever meet and won't remember the usernames of in 6 monthes time

 It sounds odd but with things like Instagram mental illnesses, especially eating disorders can become more 'accessible'. By that, what I mean is if there is someone who is perhaps lonely or vulnerable in another area of their life you don't need to actually have an ED to take photos of food and become a recovery account and gain followers who believe your every word as hey, who would lie about having an ED. A 40 year old man could become a 12 year old girl recovering from anorexia who just uses her account to document her food, I don't know I'm cynical partly because the first account  (lonelyjaguar) I had on Instagram, the most popular girl on there at the time, had almost 20k sweetpeas followers, was a compulsive liar, she photoshopped all of her pictures, she got people to send her money for therapy then lie about it and she asked me via email to lie to back up one of her lies, which is one of the reasons I left as I realised what a pile of crap it all was and I had enough problems of my own to be dealing with that. FYI I kept all the emails for evidence.

Do I think social media has a place in trying to recover from a mental illness? Honestly? I'm not convinced. I used it and it had its uses for me (however toxic) because I had no other options of contacting anyone in the outside world.
 It's currently being used instead of seeking out professional help and speaking to people in the real world and that is DANGEROUS.
 Last week there was a story in the news about a girl who ended her life at the age of 12, she had been posting suicidal intention and photos of self harm on Instagram. When these were found her family tried to get her help and they thought she was getting better after she'd been referred for counselling. They then saw more photos she'd been posting on Instagram and she was found dead shortly after. She was 12 years old. 12. If Instagram hadn't of been there, maybe she would have felt able to voice her distress sooner. Who knows what toxic things she read and saw. You can guarantee she wasn't just viewing pictures of people her own age and I can tell you from experience the older the people get the more graphic and less censored the captions are.
Instagram recently blocked #curvy from being used but if you've ever accidently looked at self harm pictures by mistake and this is coming from someone who herself self harms, there are photos that look like pictures taken mid-surgery, sometimes as their profile picture meaning even if their profile is private you get a graphic and gory photo shoved right in your face with no censorship or age limits.
If people used to like or comment on my pictures with these in their profiles I would usually block them so at least they wouldn't be able to come onto my profile and I have to look at their pictures when they liked my pictures.
This sweet girl was suffering from grief and she should have been surrounding herself with the love and support of her family. Not graphic images with captions that glorify self harm and suicide. Those people are still alive sat on their phone with a camera roll full of pictures of razor blades. A 12 year old girl is not. I hope she's at peace.

Think VERY carefully before you click post. If you have an open profile and you wouldn't be ok with a child seeing it. Don't post it. It may save someone's life down the line

What are your views on the impact social media has had on mental illness? Do you think it's a positive or negative thing?

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