I was late to the internet. In the 90’s I was against the idea of interacting online, it didn’t make sense to me. I thought that interacting with people eye to eye was important. I had a pretty ambitious, idealistic, and to be honest, a very naive and one sided opinion of how the world should be. I used to say things like “I don’t read books, I write them” and “why buy a treadmill when you have the whole world to walk through” I believed in road trips and camping and coffee shops. Not a computer screen and a desk chair.
I was also a teenager.
Fast forward to 2009. Life punched me in the face really hard several times. I was now a stay at home mother, divorcee, ex food service worker, and in the height of agoraphobia. I was terrified of leaving my house, being around people, talking on the phone. But I still had that teenage girl inside me seeking for connection with the world outside. I had gone through the era of MySpace and transitioned onto Facebook. But until I started selling my artwork on Etsy in 2010, I never thought much about social media. I participated, posted pictures, commented on Facebook and all. But until I had a business that needed promoting, I didn’t realize all of the different social venues available to me.
I started off with a Facebook business page and Twitter. I started interacting with people on Twitter, and the forums and in private teams on Etsy. I started building an online persona of an artist/stay at home mom. I never talked about being agoraphobic, I never admitted that I didn’t leave my house. Not even my real friends knew that I was having problems. Some suspected it, others just thought I was busy, or always “out of town” when they’d come into town to visit. Not until December of 2011 did I finally come out in the open to my personal friends on Facebook admitting the truth about my situation.
Folks, this is how powerful an online persona can warp people’s views of you and your life. Using Social media I was able to continue the facade to people online that I was living a normal life. I was building friendships on Etsy teams and forums, on Twitter, Facebook, while never once mentioning that in my real life I hadn’t gone to the grocery store in 3 years, or that I was suffering from panic and anxiety to the extent that even a simple conversation with my own fiancé could overwhelm and freeze me up.
This isn’t a self shaming post. No one outside of my personal circle of real life friends and family had any reason to be privy to my personal struggles. I believe I had every right to keep that information to myself. And so do you. But it is a testament to how Jekyll and Hyde your online persona can differ from the person you are in real life.
My situation was extreme. Thanks to therapy, my doctor, medication, and a hypnotist, I have overcome my agoraphobia. I still get a random panic attack here and there, but manageable compared to before. But I presented myself to the world using social media as if I was still that busy, ambitious teenage girl I once was, for so long, that when I actually did start getting back into real life I feared that my my online persona would clash with the real life me. And to be honest I still do sometimes.
Even now my online persona is a kind of airbrushed version of the real me. I pick and choose what information I present to the world. I post about the good things in my life, jokes, cute things my kids say or do. I tend to filter and crop my photos. You won’t ever see a sink full of dirty dishes, or me in my yoga pants and coffee stained tank top laying on the couch, drained of energy, watching my 4th episode of Bob’s Burgers on Netflix, with a bowl of ice cream on the coffee table.
This is my right, to pick and choose what parts of my life to showcase. But I think it interesting and somewhat important to point out that this online persona vs real life is not wholly the same. Not everyone may go to the lengths that I do to nip and tuck what information is available online. But believe me when I say: everyone struggles with something, nobody’s perfect. That girl always posting selfies with full face make up, has to wash her face at some point. And that guy always posting photos of himself shirtless in the bathroom mirror, has to put a shirt on if he wants to buy a beer at the grocery store. Don’t be fooled.
And with that, I think it best to leave you with the 1993 classic by R.E.M. ‘Everybody Hurts’