I belong to a few Facebook groups for parents of special needs ‘children’ and yesterday I reached out to a Mum in one of those groups who was feeling desperate : she posted that she was angry and sad and wanted advice from the group as to how to feel better. She was being confronted , on a daily basis, with Facebook posts about children’s last day of primary school, offspring’s end of school proms and exam successes and she could not cope. Her son had not accessed school for months due to anxiety and she was having to manage his suicidal thoughts. She was finding the injustice in front of her, too much to bear. It broke my heart to read her ‘vent’ as she called it, in the safe place of our parent group and so I responded as follows:
“Sending love and hugs. Life is so unfair for our kids but he has got you by his side, fighting his corner. We should not have to fight like we do, but that is our reality. Maybe stay off social media for a while and let parents show off about their brilliant children’s achievements, you don’t need your nose rubbing in it. They are so wrapped up in their own family sometimes that they can forget how it makes us feel”
She replied to me ” I think this is very true what you say, Other people have no idea. Thank you for your kindness” I wanted to make Facebook a supportive place for her on that day, rather than somewhere which made her feel envy, bitterness, sadness and resentment. As ever the parents in the group all reached out to her, adding their own thoughts and experience, and hopefully she felt better by the end of the day.
It touched a nerve with me however and I thought about the power of social media. I love Facebook as a means of staying in touch and keeping up to date with what my friends and family are up to. I use it as a vehicle to share this blog, to share what we are up to or what I am thinking each morning. However, if you are not in the right frame of mind, it can be a very negative place. As this Mum found, at this time of year in particular, Facebook is flooded with children’s achievements : School Prom photographs of children becoming adults, Sports day images of competitive children winning races, Graduation photographs of young adults achieving their degrees and starting careers and last day of Primary school photographs as children progress onto high school for example. I delight in seeing these successful images and will always make a comment or offer my congratulations. But every image is tinged with sadness too, they all serve as a reminder of what Joshua has not, and will never, achieve. They remind me of the life that Joshua should have had but that has been deprived of him. I never get angry about this loss, but it does make me sad at some level.
Joshua is much loved and has a rich and fulfilling life, which is probably why I do not feel anger or resentment. If Joshua was house-bound with anxiety or having suicidal thoughts, as was the case in this lady’s family, then I may well feel differently. So for me, it is with a passing sigh that I browse through the numerous end of term posts and I wistfully ponder, what might have been. But that is because I am in a happy place and content at present, when I am feeling low my attitude is totally different. In fact, when my depression is at its lowest, I do not turn on my laptop and rarely browse through Facebook, as it is just too painful. When you are already feeling low, it serves only as a reminder of how wonderful everyone else’s life is compared to your own. When I am low, I cannot bear to see everyone else’s holiday photos or to read about their new grandchild or new job, as each one is a stark reminder. So social media, for me, at that time, is out of bounds as it just makes my low mood feel even lower.
People only post what they want you to see about their lives on social media, it is not a true reflection of everything that is going on in their lives. I often hear that ‘Joshua is always so happy and smiley’; well of course I only post the cheerful images. I am selective and when he has his cross ‘Ogre’ face, as we call it, I neither photograph it nor post it, but let me assure you, it does happen, not often, but it does happen. Behind the smiles and success that is shared on social media, there will be all sorts of dramas going on that are not publicised : mental health issues, family rows, illness and financial worries all stay in the background as far as social media is concerned, it is a very filtered, perfect view of life. Nobody has the perfect lives that are portrayed on social media, these are simply snap shots of happy times that should be celebrated, but also put into context.
I hope that my advice and support made the upset Mum feel a little better, and if nothing else, that she felt less alone in her anger and disappointment. That is after all the real purpose of these support groups, to bond over a shared experience and be able to lift each other up.