WIP: Social Media and Mental Health
Social media as an author is confusing, because we are expected to show our true selves so that we don’t have boring accounts that only give updates on our books—but showing our true selves is also where anyone with a high number of followers could face consequences to safety and mental health.
Healthy in-person social engagement would usually mean being able to dictate who is in our circle, and who we are able to trust. We can slowly get to know a stranger, over time, and trust that they are a safe enough person to let in further. It’s a one-way street on social media, where we show ourselves and give information about ourselves that we would give to people we trust with varying levels of degree in-person. In real life, I would show pictures of my cat, Captain, to friends and family. I wouldn’t walk up to a stranger on the street to show them a picture, because that stranger might react negatively. I might talk to a friend about my opinion on a topic, with the trust that they would respect me appropriately, even if we disagreed, because they are someone I have decided is safe. I can’t control the strangers online who are not safe when I share my opinion in a quick tweet.
I have had strangers who were not safe for me attack and shame me. There are strangers who expect a level of access to me because, online, I am not able to create those energetic boundaries. I can't dictate who is safe enough for me to share myself with. It's like many strangers have known this, and were upset when I pushed back and asked for boundaries that they didn't have to respect, because there was no way to make them. The consequence of not having boundaries online is that strangers who have access to me are able to harm and shame me. These strangers begin to demand certain behaviors, with punishments of shaming in place, if I do not comply. Readers say authors must accept negative feedback sent to them in DMs and tagged reviews, or we are bad writers. Writers are not allowed to openly disagree with readers’ rules for the book community, whether they are unhealthy for us or not, because if we do, we will be shamed and placed on “do not support” blacklists that affect our livelihood. If there’s a controversy happening within the online community, many authors are expected to say something, shamed for not using their platform and voice, even if they were unaware of the events, or don’t have enough information to comment.
I knew that social media was unhealthy for me when I officially took a step back a few months ago now, but since then, when thinking about my engagement online, I’ve also had to realize that my issue of lack of boundaries online goes both ways. I once felt pressured to share my true self online so that I don’t have the account that I currently have, which basically only RTs and likes, shares news about my books or upcoming events, and every now and then posts links to these blogs, usually when I think the posts can be helpful to other writers. I wanted to share my true self as a human being, because being a real human means people feel more connection. I have to be honest with myself: yes, especially at the start of the pandemic, I craved more social connection—but ultimately, I also wanted to gain more followers by being a real human, which we authors tend to feel we need to be successful, or considered successful by others.
But followers are still strangers. Sharing information about myself—my opinions, my thoughts—means allowing strangers to have more access to me and to my energy. Sharing myself with 16K strangers without knowing whether they are trustworthy was my own action that I’ve started to take responsibility for. Sure, the industry pressured me to be online—but it was me, ultimately, who agreed to be online because I wanted to be successful (or other peoples’ idea of successful, anyway), even if it was to my own detriment, and even if it was to be potentially harmed by thousands of strangers who I don’t know and who don’t know me.
I think that being responsible has been helpful for my growth in understanding the boundaries I want to have with people in general. If I share more of myself online with thousands of people in a space where they have access to harming me, then I am purposefully taking down energetic barriers that allow people to pass through boundaries I would normally have in place. There will inevitably be consequences to this as the people who are not safe, and who have not earned my trust and proven to me that they understand I am a human being deserving of respect and love, will shame and harm me in return. It shouldn’t be that way, but right now, this is where our human civilization is: we shame, and we harm, and we joyfully join in the online shaming of others, because we would rather not look at ourselves and the harm we have caused and the ways that we must also learn and grow. I am a part of this. We all are. We, in turn, are the strangers who are following accounts with thousands of people—we are the strangers that could and likely have at one point harmed another person who is unable to have appropriate boundaries on spaces like social media. I discovered that I’m not honoring my own boundaries if I share pieces of myself with thousands of strangers who want to hurt me.
Again, this can feel tricky as an author, especially when writers depend so much on authenticity. Authenticity is a requirement for writing vulnerable, relatable stories. It doesn’t feel very authentic to slap a picture of myself on an online profile that only ever talks about my own books, and doesn’t share pieces of myself—my hopes, my thoughts, my fears, my joys. It also doesn’t feel good to have a piece of myself out in the world and feel like my layers of personality and identity have been stripped away so that I am only seen as an author, not a full human being. This is how I thought of my “Author Updates Only” profile, at first. But, with more thought, maybe without yet realizing it, the decision to become an Author Updates profile was more about boundaries, and deciding which spaces are trustworthy and who deserves access to me. I deserve to hold control over who is allowed to speak to me directly about their opinions on me. I deserve to curate a space where I know I will be treated with respect, and where the people I let closer to me are trustworthy and safe. We all deserve that.
It can be difficult to remember that the world of readers is not Twitter. There are so many authors who don’t even have Twitter accounts. It’s a lie that we need to have an account to be authors. It’s a lie that we will only find success if we are online. It’s a harmful lie, because so many of us have taken down our boundaries and allowed ourselves to be harmed by strangers as a result. I’ve recently had to remember that the book—the quality, the story, the soul—always transcends the layers of bullshit that have truly become nothing more than distractions. I had to remember to focus on the story, and why I decided to write in the first place. When I’m following along with the Twitter feed to see who has made what mistake and who is now on different blacklists and who is saying what in response… I could, literally, be writing.
I’ve also had to realize that Twitter’s book community is unsafe. Period. I think we can understand that while there are so many wonderful, helpful people online, the fact that we cannot put boundaries in place for ourselves or our mental health with hundreds and thousands of people and choose who we specifically trust will not harm us, automatically means that this is an unsafe space. It was necessary for me to realize this, and to decide how much I was willing to share of myself online, for myself and for my own safety and mental health.
This blog is a safer space. I can curate the responses. I will not be attacked. If I am, I’ll simply delete the comment and move on, instead of being in a space where, like Twitter, the attacks can continue to build, usually for the sake of entertainment for others, whether I’ve actually done something wrong or not. Since putting more energy into building my boundaries, my mental health been in a much, much better place. I shouldn’t feel stress that I will be attacked and emotionally harmed and abused whenever I share a piece of myself. By the love of God, how did this expectation even become the norm? How did I manage to let myself be convinced that social media is such a part of my job that I am required to share pieces of myself to an unsafe world, waiting for harm and invalidation in return? *shakes fists passionately* We don’t have to live this way! None of us do. Not because of the publishing industry. Not because of the expectations of strangers. And, to be honest with ourselves as authors, not out of a fear that we will lose money in a capitalistic system if we don’t give others access and ability to harm us. I have responsibility and power over my own actions and my own safety.
I like the Author Updates route. That’s become my boundary. I have a smaller account that will remain private, with very few followers who I know are safe, where I can share my art and post random things and feel much more like myself, knowing that the chances I'll be harmed in return are massively reduced. It’s been a balm for that social connection I’ve craved. Without having to deal with the energy that’s being outputted into fear of attack from strangers, and hurt when I am inevitably attacked, I’m able to put so much more energy into my writing.
We all have power over ourselves, and responsibility to ourselves, to create our own safe spaces. I have never once seen a publisher deny a well-written book because an author is not on social media, because we all know that, through all of the layers of distraction of social media, the importance will always return to the story. We will always have the power to honor ourselves and our own needs, including boundaries and safety.