Social media gets a bad rep these days. People say that Instagram is responsible for creating unrealistic ideals and false versions of reality. They say that it can lower self-esteem and make people feel inadequate. I would have to agree with this, but I feel a little guilty for doing so. As a blogger, I’ll hold my hands up and admit that I’ve probably contributed to the ‘unrealistic side’ of social media, sharing too many highs and not enough lows whilst creating content. I’ll also admit that although Instagram is my biggest platform, I am constantly falling in and out of love with it, as I often feel more inadequate than inspired when scrolling through my feeds . In the words of Marie Kondo, surely we should only be following accounts that ‘bring us joy’?
Until October last year, my Instagram feed was awash with exotic travel. Glamorous travellers, beautiful hotels and fellow bloggers dominated my feeds. As I was pregnant, I had begun to follow the odd baby-related account, but the majority of my feed was part of the influencer and travel communities. The majority of accounts I followed were pretty polished and perfect, closer to the type of content you’d see in a magazine than an iPhone camera roll. This became the norm and I strived to create similar content.
When Theo was born, I was plunged into a scary new world that was completely alien to me; the world of premature babies and neonatal care. It was a million miles away from anything I knew. As the weeks went on I began to discover that this scary new world had a community, and that community was on Instagram. Suddenly my alien world existed on a platform that was very familiar to me. Suddenly, my new alien world didn’t seem quite so alien. There were other people going through the exact same thing as me, and they were sharing their experiences on a much more raw and real level than I was used to.
Through a few simple hashtags, I began to discover accounts of mothers with premature babies, who had been through a similar experience to me. Some of these babies had been born around a similar gestation to Theo (25 weeks), yet they were now around 1 year old and thriving. Finding these happy, positive accounts brought me a huge amount of comfort. Wow. ‘Maybe Theo could be this big in a years time?’ I thought to myself. As I looked through the incubator at my tiny baby, this seemed impossible at the time, but these accounts gave me so much hope and optimism. Thanks to @thepreemiemum and @leviknock, you are the main two accounts I am talking about.
However, as time went on I began to dig deeper and deeper into the premature baby community. I have followed more accounts and connected with more Mums. Now when I stroll through Insta I see travel content mixed with a large dose of ‘Preemie’ posts, but unfortunately, not all of these posts are filled with good news and thriving babies. I began to realise that this community also opens up a lot of content about sick babies; about heartbreak, sadness and loss. Seeing posts about the babies that didn’t make it or that have ended up in hospital began to deeply affect me. They gave me a huge sense of gratitude that Theo was strong enough to get through his battles, but they have also began to fuel my anxieties. The anxieties started off small but have now manifested into something much larger.
This week I have decided to cut back on the amount of premature baby accounts I am following on Instagram. Whilst I appreciate the realness and rawness that these accounts show, I am not in the right head space to look at this content without being affected by it, without worrying that the exact same things could happen to Theo. This week I also start my course of one-to-one cognitive behavioural therapy, so I am hoping that both of these steps can help to begin to ease my new-found health anxiety.
What I’ve learned since having Theo is that Instagram is home to thousands of different communities, and you’ll never even realise they exist until you have a reason to find them. Whatever difficulty you are going through in life, there are accounts that can bring you light and hope when you need it most. There are accounts of people who are going through the exact same thing as you, that will make you feel a little bit less alone. That’s why I’ve also began to share aspects of my neonatal experience on my own Instagram page.
So yes, whilst Instagram has an unrealistic side, it also has an unfiltered side that is filled with honesty, rawness, love and hope. This was the side that got me through my toughest weeks when Theo was in neonatal intensive care. Now I am in a different place. Our miracle boy is home with us and making amazing progress. Whilst I will never forget what we’ve been through and how I felt, I want to try to begin to move on from this hard time. I am looking towards the future, but I will be forever grateful for finding this new community.
From today, I plan to strip back Instagram both as a user and as an ‘influencer’. As a user, I am only going to follow accounts that make me feel happy, inspired or entertained. As an ‘influencer’, I am only going to share content that is honest, real and authentic. No more striving for the perfect photo, and stressing if I don’t get ‘the shot’. I want to post the spontaneous snaps and the ‘one-shot-wonders’. I want to post about what is on my mind, not what looks best on my grid. I want to feel inspired and contribute to conversations that matter. I want to post sporadically, whenever I feel like it, not because I feel I should. I plan to embrace Instagram for what it was always meant to be.
Let’s re-curate our feeds again and fill them with things that only ‘bring us joy,’.
Want to read more of my recent posts? Check out my post Hello Again, and Thank You
Have you ever discovered a new Instagram community that has helped you to get through a hard time? I’d love to hear about it. Jess x