“Don’t compare yourself to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.” – Regina Brett
The internet makes it very difficult not to compare ourselves to other people. There they are, in their Instagram-perfect photos and their seemingly amazing lives. Perhaps the “nice” thing to do would be to feel good for them, and maybe the reasonable thing to do would be to recognize that things probably aren’t as perfect as they seem. But how many of us in our worst moments are nice or reasonable?
In some ways I’m a bit of a dinosaur, cruising along on the tail end of generation X. I didn’t grow up in an ultra-connected world. I had a Facebook account at one point, but I ended up deleting it, partly because I was playing way too much Farmville (does that even still exist?) but mostly because seeing other people’s supposedly happy lives was making me feel utterly alone and bitter in my depressed state.
Quitting Facebook wasn’t that hard, but what I continue to struggle with to this day is Google stalking. Not of the hardcore creepy variety, but finding out what former classmates and colleagues were up to, and using that information to compare myself and conclude that my life was even more pathetic than I thought it was. A lot of it was career-oriented, and it was particularly bad in situations where I felt like I was at least as capable as the other person. Envy is never particularly pretty.
It’s interesting, when I’m well I’m not prone to fall into that trap of comparing myself to others. I always had pretty good self-esteem, and I was very independent, preferring to do my own thing than to follow the crowds. I was pretty content with where I was in life. I had goals and ambitions, but they were more focused on what I wanted rather than being relative to what other people were doing.
Depression totally changes things. The biggest trap I fall into is comparing myself when ill to myself when well, because it’s been a big drop. The friendships, close family ties, full-time work in a career I loved… that’s all gone. Sometimes I will then turn to Google stalking to reinforce these views. I’ll see how much career success a former classmate or coworker is having, and compare that to myself being hardly able to work.
Sometimes I’ll start should-ing on myself. I should have done this, and then I’d have that. If I hadn’t done this, I should have been able to have that. There is a reasonable part of me that knows hindsight is 20/20. That reasonable part, though, also recognizes that there is a germ of truth underlying all of this; I have had substantial losses. I just need to re-orient where I’m focusing my comparisons.
I’ve tried really hard over the past year to stop with the Google stalking, and I’ve gotten a lot better with it. It’s been a long time since I’ve logged into Linked In, and when I get an email with a Linked In connection request I just delete it. My Twitter and Pinterest accounts are only for blogging-related things.
The online mental health community has been really helpful in shifting my focus to the reality that we’re all facing a lot of challenges and trying to fumble along as best we can. The respect and admiration I feel for others in the community reminds me that I deserve to get those same things from myself.
It would be so easy to let myself get sucked up in the social media whirlwind and go back to my Google stalking habits. It would be easy, but I choose not to go down that road; or, when I head in that direction, I will reorientate myself to where I need to be.
Is comparison something that you struggle with?