Month: April 2016

Mental illness and personal identity across social media platforms.

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I live with mental illness. This is something that I rarely talk about on my Facebook profile. My Facebook profile is a manufactured image of myself. My identity on Facebook is much different to my Twitter identity, and both of these are different to my real life identity. This is a type of self branding that I do. On Facebook, I mainly post my own jokes or social commentary. In a way, Facebook is like a stand up comedy stage. I rehearse what I will post as a status update, running it through my head and editing it. There is even a ‘drafts’ section that sits at the back of my head waiting to be posted. Eventually – when I think the timing is right – I post it. And then I look at the responses I get the same way a comedian would assess how many people in the room are laughing. Some posts flop, others succeed, and sometimes I have people start real life conversations with me by bringing up a story that I recently posted on Facebook. As well as jokes, I will post what I have been doing and where I have been recently.

Like actors playing a role, they can deliberately choose to put forth identity cues or claims of self that can closely resemble or wildly differ from reality. (Source: First Monday)

Where does this tie in with mental illness? My Facebook identity is a constructed version of myself, free from mental illness. Apart from when I feel that an event or a moment calls for it, I don’t mention my mental health issues on my Facebook page. This leads to the following – very awkward – interaction I have with people when I tell them face-to-face that I struggle daily with mental illness – “But you seem so happy!” or “But you are always out doing things!”
There seems to be this strange idea that my Facebook identity and my actual identity line up 100%, but they don’t. And I never really know what to respond to people who say this to me. My immediate thought is to tell them that when I see the Facebook status update box saying “What’s on your mind?”, I figure that “suicidal thoughts” won’t go down well. No one wants to see that. So I don’t write that. I write the funny story about the stoned guy on the train eating Burger Rings that had been on the floor, while his girlfriend tells him that he is a bad person. Because it’s funny. And it made me laugh, and I want it to make other people laugh as well. Why spread the bad thoughts instead of the good ones?

The front–stage is the observable space, the setting in which explicit performances are constructed and displayed, where individuals ‘play their parts.’ There are cues and patterns to the exchange, and an awareness that the performer is in the spotlight. Less articulated, but of no less interest here, the back–stage is a more private area, where intimacy and familiarity see a relaxing of the strictures of performance.  (Source: First Monday)

If Facebook is my front-stage, Twitter is my back-stage. While in fact more public than my Facebook profile – which is only accessible to friends – my Twitter account has enough of a sense of disconnection from my every day life, friends and associates that I feel more comfortable tweeting my thoughts, including those about mental illness and how I am feeling on particular days. There is a completely different dynamic between my Facebook self and my Twitter self. My Twitter self swears a lot more, talks about terrible and dirty jokes, but also delves more into my actual thoughts and feelings. Perhaps the immediacy and the flow of Twitter allows me to feel more comfortable posting these? Within a day or two, those thoughts are buried in my Tweet history – which is currently sitting at 26.7 thousand tweets. No one is going to go back through my 26.7 thousand tweets to find out how I was feeling a few days/weeks/years ago. Tweeting thoughts and feelings is almost like dropping a stone into a fast-moving river – within minutes it could be miles downstream and you will never see it again. Twitter is an opportunity to vent toxic thoughts. As well as this, I find that the audience affects what I post. While Facebook is made up of friends, colleagues, family and people I have met in my years at University, Twitter is not. My Twitter followers are almost like the family that I chose, and therefore they get a much more “real” version of me. But even they don’t get the full picture.

Just through looking at my own interactions with different social media platforms – particularly in regards to my truthfulness and openness regarding my battle with mental illness –  I can see how I shape my online identity, and the differences of those identities across platforms. These identity differences are caused by a few factors – audience, post frequency and character limits – but really, it comes down to me, and how I have decided to control my online image and persona. For a more clear view of the real, non-constructed me – buy me a drink. That will get the words spilling.

Struggle Street viewers struggle to see the real point.

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2.5 million Australians are living under the poverty line, and this number is growing. This number constitutes almost 14% of Australians, with 1 in 4 of them being children. (ACOSS 2014) (ABC 2016) SBS’s documentary Struggle Street – aired in May 2015 – caught the label of “Poverty Porn” from many social commentators., even before it was aired. It was criticised heavily by the Blacktown mayor for being an inaccurate representation of the Mount Druitt community in which it was filmed. But my argument is that the show was not made to represent the entire Mount Druitt community, it was made to represent poverty – something that is often looked upon as just being a bludger.

The promise of the middle-class “good life” through hard work and education is increasingly uncertain if not impossible, especially when considered alongside the notion of affluenza. (The Conversation 2015)

Australia is a country that often uses the idea of the “Aussie battler”. This is a vision of an every day, working class Australian who doesn’t make a fuss about their hardships and just gets on with it. From my personal experience – those who refer to themselves as Aussie battlers are well about the poverty line. Those with dual incomes, two cars, a holiday home. But they are battling with the choice of whether or not to buy a boat or send their kids to private school. They are battlers, and anyone living below the poverty line obviously just isn’t battling hard enough.

Many people from Mount Druitt – including the Blacktown mayor – were shocked at the misrepresentation of their community. But they have missed the point. Struggle Street was not made to vilify Mount Druitt, it was made to expose the often ignored, deeply entrenched poverty that is in Australian communities. This is a documentary that could have been filmed anywhere in Australia. It could have been filmed here in Wollongong. I grew up and went to school in Kiama, one of the more privileged areas in the Illawarra – yet I went to school with someone who was set on fire by her ice addict boyfriend. You do not have to look far to find poverty in your own community. Struggle Street just pulled the blindfold off and forced people to be exposed to the less-than-comfortable truths of poverty, mental illness and drug addiction.

The bogan provokes (mostly) disgust and denigration. The bogan taps into fears, insecurities and a sense of injustice of the educated middle classes producing a forms of downward envy and “disgusted subject”. (The Conversation 2015)

With this in mind, Struggle Street was not perfect. It did play very heavily on the “bogan” stereotype, as well as being accompanied by a dramatic and condescending voiceover. But it created space for a dialogue that we need to have. Poverty, homelessness and drug addiction is either treated with disgust or completely overlooked in Australian society. Struggle Street puts a face to these people who suffer every day. People were angry because it made them uncomfortable.  People watched as Struggle Street showed Ashley and Peta put on a birthday party for their grandchild, despite the fact that Ashley and his mate have to scavenge scrap metal on weekends to earn extra cash. This is not a story of those who have “slipped through the cracks” as the voice over says. It is the story of those who have fallen into the chasm of entrenched poverty, with very little chance of getting out.

Despite the show’s issues – the dramatic voiceover and the controversy of the fart – Struggle Street is something the Australian public needs to see. It is something that we have ignored for a very long time.

 

Struggle Street was shocking because it pushed all this in our faces. This is what being marginalised feels like. This is what drug addiction is. This is what struggle means. (The Guardian 2015)