Do you feel lonely and depressed as you scroll through Instagram or Facebook at 2 in the morning on Tuesday? It’s possible that seeing all your friends, family, and acquaintances –which you barely remember why you even follow– going on amazing vacations, having lavish dinners, and simply having really great lives, is making you feel anxious, depressed, and overall completely isolated from the world. This might then lead to you not wanting to leave the house that often, if ever. You’ll get excited to see your phone light up only to see it’s some sort of spammy email. You’ll turn on Netflix and stay indoors, safe and away from the stress of socializing.
While the pull of social media is high, the consequences of seeing it as a true reflection of the real world can have awful consequences. According to several studies, explained by the Association for Psychological Science, these networks unavoidably tend to favor people who have real relationships in real life. This is not news, since someone who has a close knit group of friends in real life will be posting or be tagged in more images than someone who’s in a new city or doesn’t have that many friends. The same can be said about someone who is in a romantic relationship versus a peer who is single. However, rationality does not rule our mind when we’re envious of our Facebook neighbor who goes out on dates or cocktail parties while we sit at home eating cold pizza in our bunny onesie.
This constant display of material to which we can compare ourselves results in an ever present sense of anxiety and other disorders. Any tendency we had towards imbalance is heightened because we’re living wires, viscerally reacting to minimum suggestion. There are plenty of demons that rise from our obsession with likes and having the largest number of followers/friends. But the truth is that even people who have a million “friends” can also feel incredibly lonely and anxious. Social media is a double-edged sword: there are those who feel like they're not as interesting as the people they see, and those who feel like they need to keep up the image of having a wonderful life all the time.
Several women of Instagram have come out saying how hard it was to keep the image they presented online. Some ended up having body dysmorphic disorder or depression from trying so hard to be seen as models of the perfect life-body-job-relationship-etc. These outlets are not necessarily negative; it’s more that they become magnifying glasses of the things that bother us. For every positive moment we get from having an unexpected number of people click like on our picture, there’s a myriad of instances when we feel ignored and unworthy.
Toby Allen is an illustrator based in the UK. His series titled Real Monsters is an attempt at presenting and educating about mental illness in a way that breaks away from the social stigma. Since he suffers from anxiety, he understands how at times these issues are not talked about enough and usually are depicted negatively by media or entertainment. As he explains on his website, “I want to make people aware of how damaging these illnesses are and how much of a burden they can be to those who suffer from them. The project highlights conditions that some people may have never even heard of, so the work aims to raise awareness for these.”
These postcards feature a piece of information of the ailment next to the drawing of a Tim Burtonesque character. It’s a way that invites people to be more informed without the clinical scariness of going online and only seeing a thirty-page PDF explaining the scientific perspective of a condition. The visual depiction of these situations allows for a more empathetic way of approaching them. Instead of the typical Cop Show depiction where the person suffering from mental illness is a criminal or just completely incapable of functioning in life, we see the monster that lives within that human. Just like each of us has our own colorful yet deadly creature such as anxiety, depression, or insomnia, others have more serious conditions that cut them off from the world if left untreated.
It’s through finding ways to communicate with each other and connect that we can begin to change the way we use social media. If instead of comparing ourselves with others we ask ourselves why we react the way we do, we might be able to find a solution to both our issue, as well as help others who might be feeling the same way.
You can see more of Allen’s Real Monsters on his website. Eventually a book with all these depictions will be released to present this vision to more people across the world.
Association for Psychological Science
Toby Allen’s Tumblr