Before I start, I’ve redesigned this blog, so if you’re reading in an email or some kind of RSS Feed (I still don’t actually know what those are), it would be great if you could pop over and tell me what you think of it, as well as if there are any problems. I’m not entirely sure I’m going to stick with this colour scheme, but to tell you the truth, I haven’t figured out how to change it yet. And I do like the layout.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about how I present myself online. There are a whole bunch of questions associated with having an online presence: how much of my personal life am I going to share, what name should I use, do I want to risk people I know reading this, can I use real names when talking about people? And those are just a few of them. Whenever I write something vaguely personal, I read it over half a million times before posting it.
I’ve been active on the internet since I was fairly young. In primary school I had a Piczo website with a couple of friends (do you remember Piczo? Those were the days) and was a regular Runescape user; when I was thirteen I started posting my writing and also started my first blog, that kind of thing. So of course I have some regrets about decisions I’ve made.
One of the main ones would be choosing to use the name Miriam Joy for my writing. It’s my first name and my middle name: I made the choice to drop my surname when I was fifteen and my first short story was appearing in a Kindle collection. Now I regret this choice, because ‘Miriam Joy’ doesn’t reflect the kind of vibe I’m going for, and I wish I’d had a chance to choose something else. With years of blogging and vlogging under this name, it’s too late to change it — not least because I bought a set of business cards with that on it! (I wrote a blog post about this a while ago.)
Because this blog, as well as my Twitter profile, Facebook page, Tumblr etc, represent my public self, I try to put my best self out there. But I know that I’m much more honest about the bad days than some of my friends. I have friends whose feeds are unendingly positive even when they’re feeling horrendous, and while I salute them for their perseverance, it’s not something I can do.
If I feel awful, I’ll say something. I might not tell the whole story, or I might not tell everyone, but I regularly mention (here and elsewhere) struggles with my physical and mental health. If I didn’t, you’d have a very incomplete picture of my life and who I am as a person.
The problem is that, because not everyone takes that approach, it’s easy to think everyone else has it better. People curate their social media presence so carefully. Facebook is a parade of photos of social events, holidays, and successes — not an online record of all the days those same people didn’t get out of bed because they didn’t feel well. It was something I encountered when I went to university; seeing other people’s Freshers’ Week posts made me think I should have been having a much better time than I was.
Later in the year, I found out that a lot of those same people hated their Freshers’ Week. Not all of them, but a lot of them. A lot of people were overwhelmed, homesick, nervous, lonely… their first week, or month, or term, or year, was difficult. They just didn’t post it on Facebook.
And because part of me was expecting them to, I began to feel like I was the only one.
Yet I’m not actually as honest as I like to think I am. I’ve noticed this whenever I look at Timehop. Recently, it was the two-year anniversary of when I hurt my hands, but I didn’t mention that on social media until much, much later. I guess that’s partly because I didn’t know how major it would be until later, but I also didn’t want to talk about the bad things and my weaknesses.
Last night, when I was trying to sleep, I had a panic attack. Today, I’ve been feeling anxious and depressed, unwilling to do anything but sit around staring into space. But does my Twitter profile reflect that? No: it’s all about my main character, and the two thousand words I wrote before lunch. Because I’m putting my best face out there. Because I considered mentioning it, and then thought, “Better they don’t know that about me.”
And if even I’m doing that, when I tend to massively overshare about my problems given that I have a complete lack of shame about those things, then no wonder so many people feel inferior when they look on social media. It’s so easy to forget that what people post isn’t necessarily what’s going on behind the scenes. People are giving you the highlights reel, and even if occasionally they tell you something bad, that doesn’t mean you have the full story.
Our inside selves are so different from our outside selves, from our online presence, and you can’t compare your own everyday to other people’s highlights reels. This year, as I try and work on my dissertation or try and settle into another term at uni, or whatever I do that other people are doing, I’m going to try and remember that.
My everyday isn’t going to be as good as other people’s highlights reels, and that’s okay. Because it doesn’t have to be.
But if real life is getting you down, just remember that this exists: