Here’s the thing, it’s common for us to compare ourselves against others, I don’t think there’s anybody in this world who hasn’t had a bit of green eye, or just wished for something else, more often it is a passing notion and doesn’t figure too greatly on the list of things to be bothered about in life. But sometimes, that niggle can be overpowering.
I still have my niggles, but in a combination of therapy, medication, brilliant peer support and ultimately taking care of myself those niggles aren’t the big deal they have been in the past. I’ve spent much of my life in the belief that I am a failure, that I am not as good as I want to be, that I haven’t achieved anything, and have worked hard to deal with these overpowering thoughts. I feel like I am in good place as I write this, but I still find myself checking that I am, maybe that’s just a way to keep myself well. I have a personal website that hosts my work as a fine art photographer and mental health blogger, here I can see my work and it is proof I am capable, I do have a talent, and it’s not a bad thing to think that. Yes I said it, I believe I have a talent. It doesn’t make me arrogant or self-centred, it just means I am starting to believe in myself and that’s important.
So why do I write about comparing ourselves to others? Well, with clarity I am noticing the repercussions of recovery, the niggles that I have trying to edge their way back. I’ve realised that social media is very much a double edged sword. In one instance I have connected with people because of my openness about my mental health, formed beautiful bonds with old and new friends and have had conversations that have helped others deal with their own challenges. But the other is the green eyed variety.
We want to portray our very best side, and the presentation of self on our social media pages generally is one that cherry picks what others see. I know this, you probably know this, but it doesn’t stop envy and comparison from occurring all the same. So the fancy holidays, the great jobs and incredible career, the amazing partner, the brilliant children, the spectacular gig, the laugh a minute night out, the evenings filled with living; watching this scroll past in news feeds, from a variety of personalities, can ignite those overwhelming feelings that things aren’t quite good enough in our own personal life.
The what ifs, the was it the right decision, the where did I go wrong, the want to change my personality. The regret? Is social media exacerbating this thought? Is it more visible to see the envious pastimes of our friends through this social media? Internally I used to think I was a pretty rubbish person, that I was never invited anywhere or liked very much, purely because of my inability to interact in an extrovert way, I am talkative once you know me, but can be quite reserved at first, not shy, just accessing situations. I felt that this was a hindrance, there are no photos of me these days hitting the excess, being spontaneous, taking selfies, pouting, grinning, taking risks. But I see these photos slide past me, as I considered my life wasted by being internalised. It bothered me I couldn’t just get up and go, that I didn’t seem as fun as these people. But on reflection, I am who I am, I am unique, a rare personality. It may be hard work at times to be at odds with what society is expecting from us, from what social media is attempting to create of us, it may sometimes feel lonely, it may sometimes feel scary in here. But those sometimes no longer fill me with self loathing. I have value, my value is different, and I accept that. I show the sides of me others would rather keep hidden, I shout loud the issues that cause me unease, I am a quiet trouble maker and as Benjamin Zephaniah says, without troublemakers, change would never happen. I may not be the one who has a huge friendship circle because I can talk easy and can socialise without preparation, but I am the one who makes small changes that hopefully effects a larger society. I can only do that by believing in myself and being honest about myself.
I admire the work of photographer Jo Spence, and it is with this passage I leave you, about the idea of representation and how we perceive the world through the photographs we take, it is the world I chose to portray, tears and all.
The principal question of Spence’s Beyond The Family Album project concerned what was being screened out from family photography. In contrast to the carefully orchestrated images of union, celebration and occasion —the smiles and the laughs of a birthday or the joy of a seasonal holiday together —other images, those perhaps with the capacity to diminish the idea of familial stability and certitude, seemed —in the main —to be missing. Where were the tears, the screaming fights, the untruths and illnesses? Why are these moments being consistently omitted while others were being actively pursued and included?
This blog is also published on the Time To Change Leeds website.