Never mind shadow bans – a self-imposed Insta-ban can be good for the soul

It’s important to say from the start that I know this is not a real problem.

But.

It’s a week since I threw my toys out of my pram, had a tantrum and realised I needed to prioritise a few things above Instagram.

I know.

I wish I could say it came from a wholistic desire to improve my life with less screen time and more outdoor yogic breathing and green juice. Or something. But the main drivers were actually a need to concentrate on my relationships; work that paid cash money; and a gasping need for some headspace.

First though, came fear. Contrary to the FOMO comparison culture that we’re warned about when on social media, rather selfishly I was not nervous about missing out on what other people were up to, and I wasn’t bothered about being involved (ok, maybe a bit). More alarmingly, I was fearful of giving up my daily dose of validation.

Pre-procreation me got her double-taps from work. It felt important, and I felt good that I was good at it. A new career has meant starting all over again and confidence is at times in short supply. I’m a dictionary definition for Imposter Syndrome: certainty that I know what I’m doing is fleeting, and it doesn’t take much to knock my confidence.

Motherhood meanwhile offers little opportunity for congratulations on a job well done. Parents hope that at some point in the future someone will stand up at a wedding and say, “Thank you for raising such an awesome human”, but 30 years or so is let’s say, a long-term goal.

For the rest of the time the bulk of the work is unseen and unappreciated accompanied by an additional kick in the teeth that if you’re doing your job well, and raising a child who feels confident and loved, the likelihood is that they will at times make their security clear by being an arsehole.

And contrary to the sacrificial mother-figure we’re expected to be, I have realised that I need validation. I crave feedback; I want to feel like my opinions matter; and I want to feel like I am something other than “just” someone’s mum.

You can call it selfish if you want to, I’m sure there are elements of that in there, but I’m also pretty sure I’m not alone.

The social media explosion of insta-mums, mum bloggers, vloggers and floggers can surely be attributed in part to the current climate of talented women being pushed out of the workforce once project procreation kicks off.

We’ve been sold a dud one – we can’t have it all afterall, and as we wrestle with the knock that delivers to our sense of identity and self-esteem, strangers on the internet become a source of the approval that we don’t get anywhere else.

But that first evening, as the time crept towards my “Optimum Posting Time”, I reminded myself that tonight was not the night and I felt… relieved.

Mining my own life for coherent thoughts and feelings that I deemed thoughtful enough, funny enough, informed enough, good enough, for the internet had become a burden.

And that first evening’s relief was not the only moment. So often I thought, “oh I need to write that down… where is my phone… oh no I’m going to forget… that would make a good picture…that would make a good Story… WHERE IS MY PHONE?” and I found freedom in the realisation that there was no need .

I had been existing in a constant low level of anxiety, always on alert in case one of my mind’s mental tabs closed down. My brain constantly scanned and flickered over thoughts, checking they were still there and not lost in the same vortex of knowledge as The Krebs Cycle (A level biology, 1998), and the Corn Law Reform Act (GCSE History, 1996).

This bonkers pressure – which most insanely of all was completely self-imposed – had to be released. And the manic cheerleader in my mind, who for months had been waving her pompoms of gratitude so that my internal tickertape didn’t turn to the darker side of comparison, needed a rest too.

As a result I was smiling more, and thinking less, taking notice of the kids eating their breakfast, and not plotting my next trip to tidy the toys which would invariably lead to me standing still amongst the debris staring down at my device.

In general though, the house has got messier as my mind has got tidier – it seems lower levels of anxiety equal a lesser desire to control my environment.  And my desire to create is back. To write properly, not for social media, but because I like words.

But that’s not to say I’m giving it up. No, because like all the best addicts I’m good at justifying my habit: it’s my job; I learn from it; I get to “meet” people I would otherwise not meet’; and it is a source of inspiration and ideas. But with time to reflect on the damage social media demons are inflicting on my mind, I do have to get control.

So my new rules are that I’m not posting every day, and I’m not posting because I feel I should. You won’t find those two statements anywhere in social media best practice, but maybe applying what works to make an online living, might not be the best approach to actual life.

I’m going to post because I want to. Whenever I wonder whether or not to share pieces like this self-indulgent twaffle, I’m also going to remind myself that this is what is happening in my life, so it might be what is happening in yours.

Because while we all accept that the truth often isn’t pretty, the temptation is to make sure it is always emotive and altruistic. In reality, as embarrassing as it might be to admit, the reality is that honesty is sometimes just horribly self-absorbed.

 

Dear Anna


Dear Anna,

How are you? I hope this finds you well and you’ve not been caught too unawares by the social media storm your article in today’s Daily Mail has caused. I somehow suspect you haven’t.

I took a moment to google you after reading your piece and spent some times reading some blog posts on your website, and skimming your Twitter feed. All in the name of research, you see (and for the avoidance of doubt that is spelled R E S E A R C H and is defined as the systematic investigation into a study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions, NOT take a couple of sentences completely out of context and use them to support lies and misinformation to further your own agenda).

It appears you enjoy Strictly Come Dancing, dislike Katy Hopkins and think Jeremy Hunt is a bellend – so far so good. But then you had to go and spoil it all.

To be honest I’m struggling to decide what motivated you to write the article – I suppose only you will really ever know but these are my best guesses:

  1. You really believe what you say and want to extend a comforting arm of support to those who are miserable because they absolutely love motherhood. They can’t figure out how to press unfollow on the social media feeds and blogs of the women you feature so you’ve written your piece as an act of solidarity.
  2. You made different choices to the women you featured, and feel threatened that they are doing things differently.
  3. You are jealous because they are more successful writers than you.
  4. The Daily Mail contacted you and paid you an incomprehensible sum of money to write the article and compromise your own believes – SO much money that you’d have been a mug to turn it down.
  5. You really need the £50 – £150 The Daily Mail usually pay for articles like this one.
  6. This is a cynical publicity stunt to market your book – by throwing these women under the wheels of the bus (go round and round) you can (this little) piggy-back (goes to market) on the outrage of their combined hundreds of thousands of social media followers and perhaps pick up a few sales.

As I’ve already said, only you will ever know the truth about why, but one thing I can say for certain is YOU’RE WRONG.

You’re wrong to call them “bordering on neglectful” and accuse them of “dimwit narcissism” . You’re wrong to call them deceitful, arrogant, and suggest that none of them have ever experienced or expressed “a sense of wonder about their baby”. You’re wrong simply when you say their target audience is “mostly new mothers”.

Either you really haven’t done your research, or you don’t care that these accusations are untrue. Neither of these scenarios suggest to me you have the right to any moral high ground.

But beyond the startling hypocrisy of telling women to “pause in their feverish mockery of motherhood” while you single out some brilliant mothers for verbal abuse that borders on slander, there is a more insidious narrative behind your words.

The narrative you suggest where “having a new baby is a gift” that some women never get to have, that is “precious” and “should be cherished” isn’t untrue but to suggest it should be the only narrative is dangerous.

It is irresponsible to suggest that a woman, who is not enjoying the early days, is suffering the psychological and physical impact of a traumatic birth; perhaps her relationship is under strain and she lives many miles away from her family; or maybe her baby has reflux and rarely sleeps longer than an hour at a time and is always crying when he/ she is awake, should put up and shut up, and be grateful for what she has.

Just a few days ago the tiny corner of the world wide web that I inhabit was awash with messages of solidarity and support about Maternal Mental Health. As a woman who suffered enormously with post-natal anxiety, flashbacks, dark thoughts and a general desire to escape my life following the birth of my daughter, your venomous dismissal of women who have done so much to open the closed doors behind which many a mother has sat and cried, is offensive.

And in response to your token defence of mothers who didn’t struggle like I did, the mothers you describe as feeling patronised by the alleged suggestion “that a home cooked meal, laundered baby clothes and clean nappies are beyond the wit of most mums”, consider this – they are not the ones trawling the internet at 3am desperately seeking reassurance that they are normal for wanting to scream FUUUUUCK OOOOOFF everytime their 2 week old baby’s gums clamp solidly round their bleeding, blistered, thrush-infected nipples.

They are happy with their lot. They have everything they “ever dreamed of”, as did you. So why the determination to pit those women against these?

Rule 1 of the sisterhood, Anna, is that you can’t defend one group of women by attacking another – it just doesn’t work like that.

So put your faux-concern aside, let’s lever those judgey pants right out of your crack and kick them off from around your ankles, I’m sure they must be keeping you up at night (and we all know how sleepless nights can make one a little nutty). Just give yourself and other women a break and even you Anna, are welcome to sit with us.

But should just one mother read your article and feel guilty and alone with any negative thoughts and feelings she is having then I sincerely hope your sleep is disrupted and your fanny feels on fire for eternity.

But that’s ok because you’re #grateful, right?

Yours faithfully flipping the middle fish finger,

Nicola Washington.

PS.

 

Over-caring is wearing: the day I told #selfcare to do one

Thirty-five of the things I’ve cared about in the last 48 hours:

  1. Trump
  2. Russia
  3. Syria
  4. The refugee crisis
  5. Brexit
  6. General Election 2017
  7. Cuts to education and the NHS
  8. Benefit cuts which have hit women hardest, and which have been blamed for a 60% increase in prostitution in Doncaster since 2015 as vulnerable women struggle to support their families
  9. Tory fuckers
  10. Ethical fashion
  11. The fur trade
  12. Recycling
  13. Palm oil
  14. Mental health
  15. Maternal mental health
  16. Destigmatising mental illness
  17. Wasting food
  18. Eating non-organic food
  19. Feeding my children non-organic food
  20. Not cooking food from scratch
  21. Giving into requests for “just one more tiny one” when attempting to not feed my children food that is barely food
  22. (Not) exercising
  23. (Not) living in the moment
  24. (Not) knowing what to wear
  25. (Not) wearing make-up
  26. Rampant facial and body hair
  27. Farmer’s hands
  28. Flaky winter feet
  29. What example am I setting my daughter by being a stay-at-home-mum?
  30. Should I focus only on raising my children well and care less about the world?
  31. Why aren’t I doing more to help the world?
  32. Why aren’t I doing more to stimulate and support my children?
  33. Do we need to take vitamin supplements?
  34. Am I drinking too much tea?
  35. Do my teeth look yellow in pictures?

Obviously some things stand at the “oh chuff off” end of the spectrum (looking at you online article on How to be bikini ready this summer), while others exist in an “out of my control” realm that apparently means we shouldn’t worry about them.

But worry we do in a mindless Why did we bring these perfect little beings into such a funked up world type way. Although we necessarily move on there is a little weight added, a slight staining of the day.

The other day though, when my heartfelt response to the meme

You cant pour
#selfcare

was FFS something else to think/care about/ do, it was clear there was a problem.

The self-care message is one I find annoying mainly because I know it’s right and yet find myself unable (unwilling?) to find the room to do it. Whenever I get a few hours away from the demands of the house/ work I rush away desperate to start working on a new piece of writing. I tell myself that I love writing so it is practising self-care to just crack on with it.

But actually, much of the time writing is torture. Sometimes I wonder if I’m purely addicted to the endorphine rush I get when I find the right words, the right sentence construction to make sense of the tangled mess of thoughts in my head. The rest of the time I feel pretty shit about it – I don’t actually love writing it seems, I love having written (thanks Dorothy Parker for the inspo).

Dorothy Parker

But I digress. Because really my point is how did I get to the point where a message about taking on less, made me feel more pressured to do more, to care more, even if only about myself?

Compassion fatigue is something I’m vaguely familiar with. In a previous life my colleagues and I once completed a questionnaire to see how empathetic we were. Turns out we were all raging psychopaths incapable of even looking at someone else’s shoes, nevermind walking in them.

Even for teachers this seemed a little harsh, especially as we worked in an inner-London comprehensive school and felt assured of our moral superiority. After laughing for longer than was appropriate, we assured ourselves that we were “merely” suffering compassion fatigue, so used we were to dealing with good people existing in shitty situations.

But this felt different.

This was not about feeling resistant to helping people who were suffering (including myself in some small way), this was about not wanting to know in the first place.

I was all cared out.

These days we are constantly bombarded with messages telling us the gumpf they contain is THE MOST IMPORTANT INFORMATION IN THE WORLD and YOU MUST ACT NOW!

Many of us use social media to keep track of the main news stories of the day, and the work of charitable organisations, but alongside that undeniably important “stuff” are the brand and lifestyle messages, many from Real People. Traditional advertising is predictable and easy to avoid but the scroll becomes a heady concoction of people and subjects the user genuinely is interested in, alongside things we feel we should care about – other people care, it must be important, what am I missing?

The equal importance given to these messages, the amplification of doing yoga with perfect hair and immaculate makeup, while wearing only ethically-produced organic cotton and drinking something suspiciously green, means the boundary between perceived, and actual, importance is blurred. As demonstrated by my use of the word “important/ce” five times in two paragraphs, the overall effect is we become overwhelmed by ALL OF THE IMPORTANCE (six).

It’s not even as straightforward as being ruthless and unfollowing the things you are not interested in. For me that means coming to terms with the fact that I’m not that bothered about exercising or eating well. I mean, who wants to admit they essentially want to die young?

I know this is BAD, I really should care, and so I carry on following the feeds with an unrealistic idea that one day I will find the room in my life to do something about it.

And so we arrive back at the #selfcare induced rebellion.

I’d lost perspective, my filters had failed, and I’d jumbled together the important and the trivial until my synapses trembled with a dial-up warbling of no-connection. The only thing to do was to turn my back on it all and let my echo chamber ring silent.

I tuned out, ignored the news, retreated from Twitter and immersed myself fully in the latest domestic drama about a popped balloon or a doll’s missing shoe. I shoved my head into the bottom of the washing basket, and spent time digging out errant socks. I lifted up and replaced multiple items of handwash-only clothes that I bought in a previous life before procreation rendered my main function as a tissue. I decided that this was where I was supposed to be. This is where I was needed.

It was nice. For a while.

But being an opinionated person with no opinions is disorientating. It wasn’t long before my mind pushed at the self-imposed boundaries and I started to wonder what was happening in the real world.

So is this the conundrum – live a disconnected life, calm and unfettered by worries about the state of the world/ your wardrobe but be a bit bored, OR take it all on, be interested in everything, look at what other people care about and why and, when you can, use their experiences to improve yours? Taking a middle ground of caring but not too much just feels a little lame – I’m sure it works for some but I’m an all or nothing girl.

So, for now I’m back in the game. I’m drinking it all in and for now I feel confident about my priorities. I’m also pretty certain my filters will get blocked from all the sludge-slinging at some point in the future but this time I’m paying more attention to the off button. Every now and again I’m not going to be afraid to hit it because it will definitely all be there waiting when I return.

Even that fucking meme.