The impact of social media on recovery
It is 9:45pm on a Thursday evening, and I sit here in my bed, restlessly flipping through my various social media accounts for the most recent updates on the ongoing election. I am hooked. Like a true millennial, I have my laptop set up in front of me, my iPhone off to my left, and my iPad on my right. Somewhere in the background, “Friends” is streaming on my TV, muted with subtitles, and sounds of Nadine Shah play softly from my phone, which has now found its way into my lap for easier access.
In the midst of a pivotal election and an unprecedented pandemic, this has become the new normal; technology and social media have infiltrated every aspect of our daily lives. I visit with family over Facetime, see my therapist over Zoom, and spend my evenings after work glued to the various screens found within my quaint New York City studio apartment. This, of course, comes with its numerous downfalls: lack of interpersonal connection, increased isolation, and a persistent headache that seems to live at the center of my forehead.
Over the past year, I have found myself in a rather strange position. Besides the obvious challenges posed by the pandemic and election and the general shittiness of 2020, I am simultaneously attempting to navigate the recovery process after a tough battle with Anorexia and ongoing PTSD…all the while working as a social worker in a prominent New York City hospital during COVID. Despite the many, MANY obvious challenges over the past few months, I have slowly, but steadily, begun reassembling the life that I once knew. Largely, this is because of the impact of technology and social media.
Early on in my eating disorder treatment, about 4 months prior to the onset of COVID, I discovered a small little show called “Outlander.” My experience with Outlander became a parallel journey with my eating disorder treatment. Each evening after program, I would turn on an episode (or 5) of Outlander while I prepared, or rather attempted to prepare, dinner. As I progressed through the episodes of Outlander, I simultaneously progressed through my eating disorder recovery. Watching Outlander became my “safety signal” as my treatment team would tell me; I used it as a comfort to push me through challenging meals and to motivate me in my fight against my eating disorder. I spent every meal outside of program immersed in this fantastical world. As the characters themselves grew and developed throughout the series, I slowly began letting go of the pieces of my eating disorder that trapped me and terrified me to my very core.
Similarly, it was around this time that I began to find myself more captivated with social media, specifically within the Outlander culture. Through technology and social media, I gained direct access to the show’s stars who had been traveling with me on my recovery journey from the other side of the TV screen. For me, this was the moment when my life metaphorically shifted. Early on in the recovery process, I was in therapy 4 times a week, was prescribed roughly a dozen medications, and was quite honestly, miserable. Placed in “alcohol time out” by my treatment team, I could no longer numb this sense of misery with the bottle of wine or the other adult beverages that I craved. Instead, I turned to Caitriona Balfe and the community of individuals she brought together.
Caitriona, Outlander’s leading lady, is the kind of woman other women (and probably some men) aspire to be. Aside from her undeniable and incomparable talent and beauty, Caitriona is generous, compassionate, wise, down-to-earth, and fierce. She is a true advocate, speaking in support of causes she is passionate about and empowering those around her to do the same. In any setting, Caitriona radiates love and kindness. Her infectious laugh, playful sense of humor, and wit evoke a sense of comfort and belonging from anyone she interacts with, whether in-person or online.
To no surprise, Caitriona’s warm and personable demeanor created a supportive community of women and men around the world who share in a love and respect for her. From this community, dozens of fundraisers were developed, friendships were forged, a book club was created, and a literal forest was planted in honor of her 41st birthday. Though her impact around the world has been expansive, her social media presence during my recovery process has been immeasurable.
One month after my starting ED treatment, Caitriona joined Cameo as a fundraiser to support (RED). I was one of the lucky fans to receive a message from her. This is what she said:
“Hi Angie, I am wishing you a lot of love for yourself and strength to get through this tough time. It all begins with loving ourselves, and I hope you know that you are very special and that a lot of people care about you. Much love.”
For months, I have held onto these words as a source of inspiration and comfort during what has undeniably been one of the most challenging times of my life. They instilled within me a sense of hope and reminded me what joy feels like. Fast forward to nearly one year later as I sit here on a now Saturday night with my glass of wine, scrolling through my Twitter feed. Biden just won the election, and all is well again. In the midst of the political celebrations, my Twitter feed is scattered with an assortment of memes, Outlander themed gifs, and an abundance of awkward puns and sarcastic remarks. I feel calm right now, despite the turmoil and devestation of 2020. That is the unique power (and sometimes downfall) of social media.
On evenings like this, social media elicits a sense of belonging. I feel at home, immersed in a world of others who share common interests. Amongst the fan girls and other silliness, I feel comfortable to be my most awkward, and true, self. This is what makes social media unique. It allows you to connect with people who you never would have otherwise met. It also allows you to connect directly to your favorite public figures, or in this case, Caitriona Balfe.
For weeks, the Caitriona Balfe community, (or as someone deemed it, Balfe Nation) has been full of laughs and jokes…and of course, the unforgettable breast puns. Inspired by this month’s book club selection “Breasts and Eggs,” Caitriona’s fans did not hesitate to engage in a little silliness. I, someone with the sense of humor of an 8-year-old boy, was no exception. Amongst the societal negativity and general collective sadness, these moments brought about a sense of levity and humor. It radiated through countless Twitter threads, ignited numerous pun-offs, and inspired many very awkward public laughing spells.
As someone who has battled depression and anxiety for many years, these moments are, in a form, curative; they allow for a temporary distraction from the stressors of the real world and ignite a child-like sense of euphoria. For me, these interactions are crucial for propelling me through the recovery process. When my mood is elevated, so is my motivation to eat or engage in other forms of self-care.
This has been the case for much of my recovery process. I find I am most successful when I embrace things I am passionate about, and for the past year, both social media and Outlander have played a crucial part in that. Whether it’s a small interaction over a new album, an embarrassing breast pun, or an answered question during a book club discussion, social media has allowed me to directly communicate not only with the Outlander community but also with Caitriona herself. Those moments, however small and seemingly meaningless to the rest of the world, help to fuel my journey to recovery. They ignite a passion and happiness within me that not even I truly understand.
I will be the first to admit that I have been quite embarrassed at times of my “passion” towards this fandom; I’ve often harshly judged myself and tried to belittle its influence in my life, but for the past year, this newfound community and the connections I’ve made have undeniably influenced such significant change and growth within me. For that, I am grateful. While I don’t necessarily need the motivation of Outlander to feed myself anymore, I still find so much comfort in it during those extra challenging meals or on those days when my depression takes over. I am beyond thankful for Caitriona and the support of the Outlander community over the past year. Not only did I gain a much-needed 30lbs, but I also decreased my need for therapy from 4x/wk to twice and was able to wean off of 75% of my medication. This is the often-overlooked beauty of television and social media. Its influence permeates the surface and has a profound influence on our lives. For people like me, this influence can be life changing, and in some cases, life saving.
To all of my Internet friends, thanks for all of the yolks and good times. No eggs-ageration, you guys are the breast.
And thanks to Caitriona for bringing us all together from the very be-gin-ning.