I Used Social Media to Validate My Happiness

By: Sydney Ingram 

Starting a new school year, let alone university, can be intimidating. After graduating high school in June 2018, I started school in Ottawa which, needless to say without going into extensive detail, was not the best fit for me. This year I decided to transfer to Ryerson, so I know first-hand after being a first-year not once, but twice, that the very prospect of starting over again can be incredibly daunting. 

While I have been trying my best to take full advantage of the opportunities offered to me here without dwelling on the past, there is one thing I am making a conscious effort to do a little bit differently: my use and consumption of social media.

As a first-year living in residence, Orientation Week was a nearly unavoidable experience, whether you choose to participate or not. I won’t go into great detail about the pros and cons of Frosh but being the socially-anxious mess that I was/am, the week of cheers and parties and extensive small talk wasn’t exactly my forte. 

Even so, there probably isn’t a “wrong” way to do Frosh week, but I don’t think I necessarily put myself in a position to enjoy it both times around. But during my first Frosh, as I logged into Instagram and Snapchat, I saw stories and posts published by my friends from home and my new classmates. They were all sharing photos and videos of their crazy adventures and tagging their new best friends while I sat alone, scared and homesick in my dorm room. 

My self-confidence was wavering and I couldn’t bring myself to join a group of people talking and laughing in my living room because I didn’t think I was “cool” enough to hang out with them. Surely they wouldn’t want to tag someone like me in Instagram photos and I definitely wouldn’t be featured in their Snapchat stories. I wasn’t necessarily miserable, but I was lonely and was worried that if I didn’t have evidence of my own crazy experiences to share that everyone would think I was a buzzkill and that had no life. So what did I do?

I posted a photo on Instagram. 

I posted a photo taken by my only friend I made that week (who happens to still be a very close friend of mine), tagged him and boasted about how much I loved him and living in Ottawa. Seems harmless, right?

From there it spiralled. Nothing out of the ordinary that would set off too many alarms. But I would scroll through my Instagram feed and as the months went on and it seemed like everyone was making tons of new friends and I wasn’t. They all looked so happy.  In a desperate attempt to validate myself that I too was happy like all those pretty smiling girls online, all I wanted was to post more and more and more. Suddenly I was boasting about how I loved my new city, I loved what I was studying and I had never been so happy in my life. 

But I wasn’t. I really wasn’t happy at all and on top of all the emotions I was feeling after moving away from home and my friends and family, I was socially drained. I felt like I was wasting the best years of my life because I couldn’t get over my personal insecurities. Instead, I overcompensated by sharing just how overly perfect my life was on social media. And eventually, I began to believe it. 

I was so desperate to fit in, I thought that by convincing other people I belonged that I would actually feel like I did. I had created an entirely new online identity that was thriving, while the real me was desperate for help.

I recently decided to look back at my old feed and was saddened by what I saw. That’s not to say it was all negative. It also celebrates the things I had accomplished and the milestones I had reached. There are photos that resurge memories of great times spent with who are now some of my closest friends. It is a mini scrapbook commemorating highlights and moments with my now-partner that I don’t want to forget. When I get down and look back at the past year with a negative light, these posts remind me that things weren’t always as bad as I remember them to be. There were times that I was truly enjoying life. 

Will I be deleting these photos from my social media? Probably not. They still reflect a period of my life that I have experienced and learned from. And really, I don’t want to forget. It happened, I learned, I grew and I adapted. But now I am definitely more aware of the digital footprint I leave behind. While I still enjoy sharing memories with my loved ones, or the occasional selfie when I’m feeling good about myself, I am much more aware that I do not need to prove my worth, or my happiness, to anyone.