On Dealing With Social Media Shaming (A Story)
Please don’t take every word I’ve written here (especially the ‘never minds’) as truth. Some of what I’ve written has been exaggerated for effect, and all of it is in the past – in that terrible time in May when everyone was either infected or had a loved one who had COVID. Most of it is true, though.
On to the Story!
I see a story rant about the latest controversy.
“I see you ignoring the issue!!” it screams. “If you’re not talking about this, you’re the oppressor!”
“Alright,” I think. “One human thinks like that. That’s…okay.”
I swipe to the next person’s story.
“You say you’re taking care of your mental health, but the people suffering so-and-so don’t have that luxury. You’re too privileged to care but they are dying! The least you can do is speak out,” it says, and ‘you’re privileged’ sounds like ‘you’re a murderer’.
I don’t have the mental bandwidth for this, I think.
I log off without sharing.
When I log back in, I see a DM or two.
“Why are you not talking about this?” one random person who’s never spoken two words to me before asks. “Don’t you care that people are dying?”
My heart starts beating faster. In anger at the audacity of these random people or in guilt, I don’t know.
I AM privileged, after all. I have a solid roof over my head, parents and friends who care about me, the benefit of good physical and mental health, and so much more.
Maybe I do lack humanity, I think. Maybe I should educate myself and put myself through vicarious trauma. Maybe I should take the pains to educate others too. Maybe I’m a bad person for not having the energy to do all this.
Never mind that my father just recovered from COVID, that the whole of my extended family in Bangalore still has symptoms, that I had a COVID scare just a few weeks back.
Never mind that I’ve been talking to my extended family every day, feeling helpless that I can’t do anything for them because I’m in Mumbai except give them an empathetic ear and scold them when they do stupid things like work when they’re sick.
Never mind that my mother is a doctor, a front-line worker at high risk for COVID even without her asthma.
Never mind all that. Maybe I am a heartless human for caring more about my family (a mere 10 or so people) than the latest crisis that affects millions.
Am I, though? Am I heartless or just…human?
We all have a certain capacity to take sadness and grief and crisis, don’t we?
We physically can’t do more. And it’s okay.
I tell myself that repeatedly.
And then I remind myself that it doesn’t matter what a random person on the internet thinks of me.
I’m doing what I can, trying to keep my own life together.
And when the anger sets in; anger at those people who are telling me I have no humanity while lacking empathy for my situation, I tell myself that those people are screaming for a reason; that they must be suffering too. This empathy helps. Anger is not the solution right now. It was only raising my heart rate more. But at the same time, I remind myself that the reasons I’m not screaming (or at least talking) are valid, too. This perspective calms me down further.
And when the shaming becomes too much, I mute (or if I’ve hardly ever spoken to them, unfollow) them. And I block the ones invading my personal space, trying to dictate my thoughts and actions.
And finally, I still try to do what I can. I add books related to the issue to my wishlist, save posts that recommend sources, and promise myself that later, when I do have the energy, I will try and learn and grow.
After all, I am only human, aren’t I? This is all I can do.
So far, all my posts in this series have been about you, dear reader. And this is, too…sort of. But since resilience is not a universal thing and it’s a question of privilege – the privilege of having a support system, of having real friends who care for me and who call out my bullshit, of not suffering from a chronic mental illness, I felt that a me-focused post would be better here.
Through it, I hope to convey that it’s not possible to prevent people from saying and doing horrible things, and it’s natural to feel guilt and shame and hurt when the awful things seem directed at you. But you’re allowed to put your mental health first. You’re allowed to be busy enough with your own life to not have the time or energy for the latest humanitarian crisis. You’re also allowed to cut people out from your social media who frequently say things that make you angry or hurt.
There’s a lot I haven’t covered here because mental resilience is something that would require a series of its own. But if angry and hurtful posts on social media make you unbearably anxious or sad or uncontrollably angry, my sincere advice to you is to seek professional help if you can, or if you can’t, to at least take a prolonged break from whatever media is harming your mental health. You’re allowed to do that too.