Social Media: Does it bring us together, drive us apart or leave us more isolated?
I almost died this week. No, I’m not exaggerating and I’m still checking myself hourly to make sure I can see, think and speak clearly.
I was freediving—diving while holding your breath—with my husband and two people I had never met before. We linked up via social media through our mutual love of swimming underwater.
It was a pleasure to meet new people on a summer’s day near Manly. We donned our wetsuits, entered the water and swam out into a secluded bay. It was peaceful with just the four of us diving down, interacting with the marine life and surfacing to share our individual perceptions of the experience. There was no one else in sight and as we prepared to descend again, I recited a verbal countdown, “Three, two, one,” and down we went.
On the sandy bottom I lay on my back and watched the others swim with blue sky and sun framing them. As I started to run out of air, I ascended, kicking my long fins and flying to the surface like a rocket. I was at ease and prepared to take a fresh lung full of air when it felt like someone slammed an axe into my head.
I had rammed straight into the sharp fin of a surfboard. I pulled my hood off and red blood spread into the clear water. My freediving buddies, who I had met only an hour earlier, quickly came to my aid to help and provide whatever aid was needed.
Seven years ago I was suicidal. I was lonely beyond belief but had joined a mothers group that met once a week and we’d chat endlessly on social media. Most of us loved the online group—we gave each other parenting support and shared baby stories.
But as time went by, it became apparent that we were more comfortable talking via our keyboards and screens rather than face to face and when we did meet for our weekly catch up, conversation was fitful, dissolving into awkward silence.
But strangely, as soon as we returned home, the online banter would start all over again. It was as if there were ingredients for a friendship recipe, but no one was committed to bake the cake.
One day my depression peaked and I pictured killing myself. I posted a message saying, “I am not doing very well. I am not coping”. I watched my screen, waiting for a little icon to indicate that someone had replied with an offer of support.
Nothing … with each minute I plummeted further into despair. But a message appeared followed by a dozen more. The first went something like this, “Who wants me to buy tickets for Hi-5?” followed by replies of, “Me,” “I’ll have three,” “How much is it?”
It confirmed something terrible; they’d all seen my message and chosen to ignore me. It was so much worse to actually have it out there with no response, than to have been dealing with it on my own.
I’m not unique, nor was that situation. I’m haunted by a news story a few Christmases ago; a woman was so depressed she posted on social media that she was going to commit suicide. Her online ‘friends’ proceeded to debate whether she’d actually go through with it. Not one person phoned her or knocked on her door as she ended her life that night.
Withdrawing from the mothers group was heart-wrenching and I felt like a drug addict who was having withdrawals. I have since twice tried new social media groups and both times I felt dirty and exposed, telling people things about my life and knowing they didn’t really ‘give a stuff’. But it’s SO addictive.
I get distracted from my ‘real’ life while attempting to have an ‘online’ life. However, I have now found a way that is almost working for me. As I’m a writer, I created business-only social media pages to tell my stories without needing electronic banter to confirm my validity.
People can read my stories and comment should they choose. I am authentic in everything I do, yet authenticity creates vulnerability, so my husband manages my accounts and protects me from nasty comments people might leave.
In support of social media, I wouldn’t have met my new freediving friends—people who were really there when I needed them—this week. Perhaps we can use social media to connect with, but not replace true friends.
This article was originally published as part of ABC Open Drum’s callout on Social Media.