You Don’t Have To Exist IRL Anymore: How Online Personas Are Affecting Our Mental Health


Everything hurts. You wake up and everything hurts. It’s not the body aching from whatever torture you’ve put it through (vodka + beer + mango = It’s not the dull burning flooding hungover veins and pounding in your echoing temples. It’s not even that bitter stomach acid floating somewhere in your throat poisoning each breath, telling you that you do not deserve any of this air, that your very act of breathing is causing harm to your surroundings.

It’s something else, and it’s there, and this is just the manifestation of the root of the problem. Generation Y suffers more diagnosed severe anxiety and depression than any other. But the difference? Social media has taught us to smile. It’s taught us to bury sadness, anxiety, fear – all the darkest parts of ourselves – it’s taught us that no one wants to see that. You want to follow the American Dream? You want to be perceived as someone who is successful? Then you portray yourself a certain way. 

You take a shower. You brush your teeth. You put on clothes. Put on makeup, if you are a girl. If you are a girl, you also hate yourself in the mirror for a good long moment because you don’t look enough like what the girls in the magazines look like.

You get a text. It is one of your peripheral friends. You have a lot of these. Friends that see you as a filler for a seat, a fashionable complement to their lives. It’s brunch, she needs you. You go. You Instagram yourselves. You Instagram your food. And your latte art. You get tagged on Facebook, because, of course, your feeds are linked. You text the entire time, lies about something you are doing that is productive. You don’t make eye contact. You don’t need to exist in person because you… well, you exist online.

Everyone back home thinks you are so happy. They see the amateur modeling photos you did, and they say, O.M.G. you look so good. They see the pictures you’ve taken with those peripheral friends, and they say, you are so popular. They see the pictures you’ve posted with celebrities, and they say, you are living the life. How glamorous you are. How happy.

They don’t know you’ve been working in the service industry for years, and that you are just beginning to wonder if your dreams will never come true, and if they do, will they even matter? Maybe you can’t do anything. Maybe you are sad all the time for a reason.

But no. Sadness is for people who are weak. You aren’t sad. You’re just going through something. The proof is on your wall. Look how many people wished you Happy Birthday.

You go home and stress eat. Maybe take some pills, if you are rich enough to have a psychiatrist. You think, how did I get here? How is this day here, and all those other days just gone? How does no one in the entire world know that I actually hate myself, and how the fuck can I begin to explain how this feels? That would be a betrayal to my URL self. That would be a betrayal to all those people who look at me and see something good.

You don’t know where to begin. All you know is that every day, everything hurts.

I know. I’ve been there. I have friends there right now, smiling and telling me they are doing so well. I know the lies because I’ve said them so many times. But I’m not writing to preach or to tell you what to do, I’m not nearly qualified enough to do that. 

I’m here to call attention to that weird morphing monster of our social media selves, this idea we have to project an image of ourselves that isn’t who we really are. Theorist Walter Benjamin wrote of something called an aura, a sort of reflection-self. Like what a painting of a pond is to a pond, or what an actor’s persona is to an actor. Auras used to belong pretty much solely to actors, in fact, with their personalities on camera. But now everyone has one.

And the problem is, we don’t acknowledge that separation, and therein lies the insanity as we strain to reach an ideal that cannot be reached, trying to stretch a smile that doesn’t want to be stretched.