It’s undeniable that social media has changed my life for the better. It’s given me a career, a platform, even a book deal. But, as we know all too well, life through the lens of a filter is not always what it seems.
In October 2016, I should have been on cloud nine. I had just finished a sell-out run at the Edinburgh Festival, my Instagram followers numbered 20,000, and the ink was drying on my freshly signed book deal. I was going to Spain to relax and unwind. I hadn’t anticipated how difficult this would be. I hadn’t told my travel companions that I’d been signed off work the week before. That I’d spent my week traipsing in and out of hospitals, hearing words like “major depressive”, “severe anxiety” and, most terrifyingly, “bipolar”. I didn’t tell them that I’d listened to Beyoncé’s Running on repeat 279 times or that I’d somehow managed to aggressively fake tan one toe with no recollection, leaving the rest of my body pasty white.
To my friends and my thousands of followers I was a viral internet sensation, high on likes and drunk off admiration but, in reality, I was about to have my first nervous breakdown. A recent study carried out by Harvard University and the University of Vermont has identified an algorithm that can diagnose depression in Instagram users with a 70 per cent success rate. It looks at your photos, your filters and how often you post. For me, the latter discovery is particularly poignant. At first, thinking up new jokes had been easy and fun. I’d laughed while cruising the aisles at Asda, hunting for junk food to turn into my next pun. But as soon as I arrived in Spain the panic set in. How was I going to get to the supermarket if I didn’t have a car? What if my friends were too busy having fun to take pictures of me posing with food? Did everyone think I was silly for caring so much?
I had never intended to go viral. My previous attempts at social media had been sporadic and underwhelming, averaging two likes and peaking at 11. I wanted to poke fun at the current obsession with “clean eating”, gym selfies and always being #blessed. I posted pictures of avotoast with Haribo eggs, turned photos upside down in place of practicing inversions and I found a natural skincare remedy in the form of a bottle of ketchup. Within a month it had taken off. I was gaining hundreds of followers every day and in return I posted daily without fail.
Making people laugh was all I’d ever wanted and at first the validation felt amazing. I conspired over new post ideas with everyone – my friends, my family, my boss. But the more followers I got, the more pressure I felt to keep to my self-imposed posting regime. By the following May I had climbed my way to over 100,000 followers. I continued posting constantly, convinced that as long as I was still making people laugh, I was definitely okay.
Eventually, with the encouragement of my worried parents, I was referred to an inpatient facility. My doctors told me to take a break from social media, but even when I was in the hospital I couldn’t bear to stop posting. I took pictures of my dinner in The Priory dining hall and I begged my dad to smuggle in party rings so I could make a joke about “hole foods”.
After more medication changes than I can remember and a lot of intense therapy, I slowly started to feel better. The better I felt, the less pressure I felt to post, and somewhere along the way I discovered balance.
Now that I am better, my relationship with Instagram is healthy. I post when I want to and when I feel like I have something to say. I don’t do it every day and I hope that if those researchers applied their algorithm to me now, they would be assured that I am the healthiest and happiest that I have been in years. I will always be grateful to social media for what it’s done for my career, but I’ll never post to paper over the cracks again.