Before last month, if someone had asked me to describe the place on the internet where I felt the happiest, I likely would have mentioned my favorite site for food porn or self-care tips. Social media would have never factored into the conversation, because social media was never a place that I felt actively cultivated true positivity. Oh no — Twitter and Instagram were where I showed off packaged positivity, a curated version of who I am. If I was having a bad day, I would keep it to myself, because no one on Instagram is ever not having an amazing time.
Then, just six months ago, I went through a pretty difficult time in my life. I was laid off from my job and soon learned how isolating the world of freelance writing could actually be. Suddenly, I couldn’t churn out the positive, happy-go-lucky content that my followers were used to seeing on my page — so I stopped putting up the facade. Once I did that, everything changed. That's why I've teamed up with Bustle, in partnership with Pantene, to share how I turned social media from a harsh place to a haven of happiness, and to promote Pantene's message: In a harsh world, #GoGentle.
It’s so easy for us to come up against negativity and respond back with more negativity. But after what I went through, I now believe the gentle approach is the best one, which is why I relate to Pantene’s message in a real way. I hope sharing this story will inspire others to take down those walls and promote positivity on social media. I was able to create my own gentle space on the internet — you can, too.
In February, just four weeks shy of my 28th birthday, I completely hit a wall. I had been laid off from my job three months before and was catapulted into the world of freelance writing with a pile of bills and $200 in my bank account. And as someone who has always believed in faking it till you make it (at least when it comes to work), I slapped on a brave face and soldiered on into my new life.
Inside, though, I was screaming. So much of my identity had been wrapped up in my job, where I’d had a successful dating column. With the help of my company, I’d cultivated a healthy social media following as the sardonic single woman in the city. I championed independence and red wine. I posted memes about finding strength within oneself. Once the job was gone, though, the mask started to slip. I tried to practice what I preached and worked so hard to be the independent woman I’d created on my Instagram. I kept posting memes and inspirational photos, but they felt hollow. The pressure of my new life was starting to get to me.
And then, one day, I broke down crying in public. The veneer had finally slipped, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I rushed into the nearest bathroom to continue sobbing solo. When there were no tears left, I stood in front of the mirror and took a selfie in all of my puff-eyed glory. I posted that selfie to Instagram, admitting to my followers that I was having a difficult time, that I couldn’t stop crying, and that my confidence was shot. Then, I waited for the backlash I expected to get for oversharing.
But the complete opposite happened. The community I’d cultivated rose up to meet me and embrace me. I had readers and followers reaching out, thanking me for being so honest. “No one is vulnerable on social media,” one wrote to me. “It’s so refreshing to see someone being real.” I got DMs of support and positivity — and for the first time in a long time, I felt light again. At that moment, I vowed to stop with the insincerity on social media, focus on being real about what’s happening in my life, and be supportive of others like they were being for me.
That decision turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more I wrote about my real feelings, the more positivity I got, and the more I started to feel better. Eventually, my followers and I turned into our own support systems for each other, and I started posting about how happy I was over that. I inadvertently turned on the light — and social media has turned into a saving grace for me since then.
I now vow to never be anything but real on social media. I’m gentle with myself, kind to others, and I also allow myself to be sad and vulnerable. All that has made me so much lighter, not only on social media but in the rest of my life, too. And when I’m having a bad day, I know that support is just one Instagram story away.
This post is sponsored by Pantene.
Images: Courtesy of Maria Del Russo