I was having a panic attack.
I managed to make it home without collapsing in the street, then burst into tears as I started babbling to my sister about work, side hustles, commitments to friends and family - things I hadn’t really given a second thought to in relation to my mental health but seemed to have been festering in the recesses of my mind, pushed back by the fact I have been running through life at a million miles an hour for years now.
I want it ALL. And, as the Queen tune that plays in every Aussie pub goes, I want it now. I want to make it to the top of my career. I want successful podcasts and to work creatively on the side for some of my favourite brands. When Covid hit, this obsession with adding more hustle into my already hustle-filled life simply tripled. I started not one, but three new podcasts outside of my full-time job managing a team of writers and working in a fast-paced digital media environment. I’d written a book the year prior and spent any other waking second pitching it to publishers. The fraction of time leftover was spent online video-dating and writing about it for a relationships column.
When lockdown eased in late 2020 and life somewhat returned to normal, the only element that let up was one podcast. I kept running at full steam, even though those long stretches of time lockdown delivered us all had gone. I was back to socialising, dating IRL and attending a million milestone events - but I was still running two demanding podcasts, a dating column, and started a new job on top of it all.
The hustle has always been fuelled by this need to keep up. Everyone on Instagram was doing so well, even in lockdown - cute Covid virtual marriages. Pregnancy announcements. Zoom parties. LinkedIn was worse. New jobs. Side hustles making bank. People I worked with going independent and forming creative studios. I wanted to be like everyone else, this amazing, thriving success story where I looked hot and had heaps of cool shit going on.
Fast-forward to that meltdown. I thought it was a one-off anxiety attack fuelled by doing too much that week. But then on the Friday night, I had another - a big one. The kind where you can’t imagine ever feeling okay again, where you cry and cry, a claustrophobia where your life is the trap and you’re like a terrified rabbit trying to escape it. I wouldn’t wish the feeling on anyone - anxiety is an invisible illness that truly, truly cripples you.
My entire social media life has been smoke and mirrors. I’m crumbling on the inside and pasting a smile on my face topped with the Pink Preset 2 filter. I was even lying to myself - but when the panic hit, I couldn’t lie anymore.
I’m TIRED. I’m tired of trying to keep up with everyone and tired of sitting in meetings acting like I’m this easy-breezy go-getter who works hard, plays hard, and jokes about never exercising and eating frozen fish fingers for dinner with champagne, like it’s funny that I am so time-poor I can’t even do one simple healthy thing for myself in a 16 hour day. I'm tired of feeling permanent guilt because I haven’t replied to that email or seen that friend in three months or met that new baby or made a home-cooked meal in a week. It’s like pressure from every end of my life, and it somehow only ever gets worse.
That pressure is different for us all, and it's ever-changing but the feelings are the same. It’s maintaining a new partner and your existing friendships and feeling like everyone is constantly annoyed at you over your time management. It’s having a baby and needing to be on par with the Insta-mums - why isn’t my baby walking yet? Why isn’t it talking? I should be breastfeeding. I should stop breastfeeding. I should be posing on the beach wearing tonal linen with a clean baby in matching tonal linen, not struggling to just wash my hair once a week.
I don’t have answers for you if you’re going through the same thing as me. I’m still very much in the thick of it. But for starters let’s be more real on social media, can we? Let’s stop painting this perfect picture of our lives and post the occasional honest comment about how no, everything is not always fine and great. I’m exhausted by all the positivity, and I’m not saying we should all get hyper-negative on there because that’s not reality, either. Just the occasional post that’s like, you know what? I’m having A Time and just wanted to let you know, in case you are too, so you know we’re in this together.
And let’s stop those evil thoughts that tell us everyone else is having the best life ever, because it’s also on us to remind ourselves that Instagram isn’t reality. Just because Sophie shared a joyous photo of her with the new house she bought, it doesn’t mean she won’t spend Monday night having a big cry over feeling lonely or have a whole three month period where she feels flat and like her life has hit a plateau.
I’m also going to actually do that thing where you actively switch off from social apps after a certain time. Mindless scrolling is the most toxic of all. I’m constantly filling my brain with people’s good times, especially when I feel shit. It’s just so damaging for me, it’s like a straight feed to my brain that tells me I’m not enough, I’m not doing life properly, I’m missing out.
Finally, let's be kind. It's so easy to be at the end of your rope and spew forth criticism online. We hide behind our usernames and feel safer being cruel or blunt with everyone from celebrities to our friends, but we're all real people on the other side of those usernames, and we all get hurt by words. Remember that most people are struggling just like you - you just don't always see it.
In the end, I posted one of those honest Instagram tiles - about how my life might seem great, but I wasn't doing so great. The response was massive. So many women replied saying they felt the same. Many of these women? The very people I was trying to compete with, who seemed like they lived perfect, blessed lives.
So I might not have answers for you. But I can tell you that however it might seem, most of us are not actually doing great. And it’s okay if you aren’t, too.