I’ve been told by more than one person that the relationships I made online on Instagram we’re not real. I’ve been told that I need to focus on cultivating my relationships with people, flesh and blood people, in my real world. Although I agree that I do need to work on letting people in to my life in my face-to-face world, I don’t believe that the relationships in the virtual world are meaningless or fake. We all wear masks everywhere we go. The people who stand next to me at dismissal outside my sons school gate don’t really know me. They see me, they know about me, we might even make small talk, but they don’t know me. Even the people that know the deepest darkest things about me like my therapists and my husband don’t know everything, in fact I’m still learning so much about myself.
In the virtual world we put on masks we protect ourselves, but we also express ourselves those parts of ourselves that maybe were afraid to share in our real world or maybe we just can’t share with the people around us. In the virtual world we can connect with people, real people that we never would have met or encountered, or even been willing to acknowledge had we seen them face-to-face.
I’m grateful for the gifts that my brief experience in the virtual world gave me. When I started using Instagram I was deeply entrenched in my church culture, which pretty much took up all of my time and consumed my life. I had also chosen to shut out negative outside influences because they were upsetting and frustrating to me. I had stopped watching the news and stopped listening to NPR and literally just lived in my bubble that consisted of my family, my friends and whatever other people I needed to associate with as part of day-to-day living. I was clueless about what was happening around me in the world because I didn’t want to know. I felt so powerless to do anything about it that I figured ignorance is bliss.
Through Instagram I came face-to-face with the reality of so much hurt and the pain happening in the world around me. This was the pain that I could feel intuitively on an emotional level even though I didn’t know the facts I knew things were very very broken.
My brief experiences on social media taught me so much about myself. I learned that I needed to get help with my mental health. I learned that I needed to make changes in my marriage immediately or I was going to lose it or throw it away. I learned that there were other people out there who thought like me and felt like me, at least on some level. We may not have agreed on everything, we may not even have agreed on most things, but those small connections made me feel less alone. I also learned that there were many people in my real face-to-face world that were open and willing to make connections with me if I would only open myself up to them.
But, given the challenges that I’ve had with social media, the logical choice seems to be for me to avoid Instagram, public blogging and the social media world all together, but my heart tells me something else.
So, I’m moving forward, listening to my heart and the guidance of my support network which includes my psychologist, my psychiatrist, my trusted mentors and my husband.