Nap-time, a sodden pushchair and over a thousand Starlings

You can tell when she is tired. She starts to suck her thumb more vigorously and strokes her ear lobe, plus her eyelids look noticeably heavy. She has been tired for half an hour now, in-fact, she is overtired and fighting her bodies natural urge to sleep. Every time she is laid down on the sofa and wrapped up, she looks like she is about to succumb, then smiles and starts to stroke my face – I cannot help but smile back – then it becomes a game. It is probably because she fell asleep in the car seat on the way back from the food shopping. Yes! The car seat! She has never been driven to sleep purposely, but if she misses this nap then the repercussions could continue into the ensuing days. We are going to give it a try.

Within five minutes of being in the seat, she is asleep and we are driving without purpose. The off-road buggy, rain-cover and changing bag are all in the car boot, so really, we can drive anywhere. She needs to sleep for an hour, ideally, so we head away from town and suddenly, the coast seems like the perfect destination and we can get out and go for a walk. It starts to rain, not that heavily, but it is persistent and the wipers have to be clicked up into second gear to clear away the raindrops. The sky is much greyer when we reach the cricket club car park and as we’ve only been driving for forty minutes, the engine will have to keep running to continue the sensation that we are still on the move.

Five clicks of the handbrake and she is awake, grizzling for a s’nack’ and some water. The buggy is put up, she is hastily but gently put in it, the canopy is over, rain-cover on and we are off up the old coast watch track in the driving rain. The buggy’s rough tread helps it to negotiate the muddy brown puddles and we talk all the way to the squat brick shelter. To be fair, though, it’s a one sided conversation about the importance of good sleep patterns and the wonder of bird migration. The rains tenacity increases and it bounces off the rain cover, splashing into the canvas bag tray at the bottom. She’s happy, babbling and laughing each time that the buggy stops and I crouch down to look through her ‘viewing hatch’. We smile and continue walking.

The elder bush is alive with the movement of birds. We can see several Chaffinches, some Reed Buntings and a charm of Goldfinches – that all take flight, coalesce and then separate into the surrounding bushes. We make it to the shelter and as we enter, on the brick windowsill (albeit, long devoid of an actual window) sits a sodden Goldcrest, visibly exhausted and trembling. It does not show concern for our presence and sits for a few minutes, watching, as she eats some coconut rolls and has some water; the Goldcrest, drying. We talk about the journey these birds will have just undertaken; the weather, the loneliness – the magic! The Starlings start to trickle over the cliff like a black band twanging in the wind. They stay in formation, ordered and purposeful, as they continue to stream over the clifftop. Over the next ten minutes or so, hundreds of them emerge from the misty murk and arrow into the beet tops of the field next to the shelter. She has seen the miracle that is bird migration firsthand. I smile – she giggles – and we begin to walk back down the track, once again negotiating the pock marks and puddles.

The vicious cycle of the vanity metric

I’ve been reading more and more about social media and it’s impact on wellbeing. The more I read, the more I recognise traits and behaviours in myself and in others that are unhealthy (to say the least) and the more my desire grows to investigate and share my reading with you. This week, the topic I’ve been researching is ‘self-esteem and social media’ and those of you that have been following my posts about my issues with Twitter will know that this is an area I’ve been struggling with.

Self esteem is our perception of who we are and we can only have high self esteem when we consolidate this in our own minds. A lot of this stems from the feedback we receive from others – simply – the more we feel accepted by others, the more positive our self-perception is likely to be and thus, the better we feel about ourselves. Positive feedback and interactions from others, (or ‘social rewards’) trigger dopamine production – a neurotransmitter that stimulates and motivates reward-based actions and also makes us feel good. So it’s easy to see how we can get stuck striving for impossible attainments, socially.

The other problem is that social media is skewed, by us and by its makers, to only present a sugar-coated, rose-tinted representation of life. We share ‘peak’ experiences, making social media a highlights showreel of amazing and often unattainable things. Basically, in constructing this perfect vision of the world we want people to see us living in, we often choreograph our posts (in some cases, obsessively) to ensure we get the most social reward from them. Therefore, we alter the way we are behaving in reality to create an unreality of ourselves – another version for social media, if you like.

Social rewards on social media take the form of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’. People like what we post and want to share it with others, this validates our self-esteem, dopamine is released, we feel good and the cycle starts again. These are called ‘vanity metrics’ and yes, they may make us feel good, but researchers and analysts know they don’t actually mean or measure anything. We place value on what is essentially a false economy – it’s fascinating behaviour.

Naturally, we begin to compare ourselves with others and this can make us feel like we are inadequate. Social comparison theory was founded in the 50’s by Leon Festinger and is so relevant to social media use now. It states that we determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against other people. Through social media – with its filters and hyper-connectivity – we can end up comparing all aspects of our lives – achievements, holidays, experiences etc, but we also compare how people ‘rate’ what we share; through their interactions with it and so begins a vicious cycle.

Subsequently, we then try harder to fashion more interesting ‘content’ and in a quest for social rewards we can sometimes create what is almost a doubly false reality and narrative for ourselves. How to break this? Well, I’m currently reevaluating my sense of self. I’d been looking at the Bird Therapy twitter through an account I made especially to check it. On Monday 16th at 6am, I looked for the last time. I stopped looking at the accounts that I constantly compare myself too and I’ve stuck to it. I already feel a million times better about pretty much everything. It’s crazy how much of an effect the striving for social rewards and acceptance can have on your wellbeing. As I reframe these expectations and desires, I can appreciate my own achievements for what they mean to me and not what other people think about them. That feels seriously good. From ludic loops to vanity metrics – I’m getting there!

Breaking the ludic loop – the reframing of a relationship

I’m finally starting to make positive breakthroughs in my perceptions and behaviours related to my social media use. Longtime followers will know that I’ve been struggling with this for years now and I’ve been working on reframing my relationship with it a lot more intensively in recent months. If you haven’t read any of my previous reflections then I’ll summarise here. I battle with a heady mix of ‘delusions of grandeur’ and ‘imposter syndrome’, which essentially means that I often think I’m more important than I am but then flip into the complete opposite mindset – that I’m worthless.

I know that these are both symptomatic of the other mental health issues I grapple with, and what is usually required is a detox from the online world so I can reengage with the real one. This is what I’m doing at the moment. It also leads to a deep resentment and jealousy of successful and popular people – which again, works in tandem with both of the above ‘heady mixes’ – bringing anxiety, self-loathing and worthlessness into the mix, which then becomes a desire to gain attention again. It’s a fascinating process and being able to self-reflect and deconstruct it is something I find both cathartic and petrifying.

The progress I’ve noted this week is that on two occasions, I’ve wanted to send a tweet to Chris from T4N who kindly looks after my twitter account. Instead of sending it to him, I’ve text him and discussed the urge to post for attention. The next step will be to address the behaviour that leads to the compulsion, which is obsessively checking certain peoples accounts and comparing myself to them. A lot of this comes down to ‘getting a grip’ and focusing on what matters – my daughter, family and my career but I lose sight of this and talking to Chris about what’s happening has been incredibly helpful.

Negative social media use, whilst still just a proposed psychological disorder, is in my opinion, very real. I’ve been reading about ‘ludic loops’ – a tactic employed by the gambling industry and also by social media site designers. They apply to addictive experiences and are described as this lulled state of tranquility where you just keep doing the thing over and over again. In gambling, it’s the repeated act win or no win, in social media it can be the act of scrolling, of posting, of obsessing over likes and shares or simply just checking our phone/app. In-fact, I’ve written before about it taking a few days for my finger to stop residually trying to press the Twitter app button when I remove it from my phone. Supposedly, these algorithmic designs give us just enough taste of a reward to continue with the behaviour. Over-and-over.

It’s scary. It’s a nightmare, but it’s really interesting too and I hope that as I continue reading, researching and thus, addressing these issues, I’ll reframe my relationship enough to be content. We will see.