You may have heard of the concept of the fantasy self. While this may bring to mind images of gallivanting around the forest picking herbs for your woodland cottage, the reality is sadly a little less magical.
A fantasy self is a highly idealized image of not only who you want to be, but also who you want others to perceive you as being.Zen Life
Back in June 2022, I started my public Instagram and YouTube accounts dedicated to sharing my experiences of living with a disability and chronic illness. I wanted to advocate for those like me living with similar difficulties while also showing that being disabled doesn’t mean you can’t live a full, vibrant life.
Of course, I wanted to show the struggles and share my low points as well as the highs. The aim was to fight against the stigma with which disability and chronic illness are so often linked by wider society. I wanted to help others in similar positions feel less alone and encouraged to express their whole, true selves, while educating able-bodied people about disability- what it could be and what it most certainly is not. In my mind, I saw an upward trajectory. Yes, there would be struggles and plateaus as I went, but I would overcome those and continue on my merry way towards my goals. As 2023 approached, I fully embraced a goal-focussed mindset, doubling my efforts to bolster my confidence and banish any anxiety or self-limiting beliefs.
It wasn’t an easy process. As my audience grew, I would feel a sense of foreboding when each filming day dawned. I would wake up with a heavy sensation in my stomach and a panic that had begun to feel all too familiar.
That’s just anxiety fed by those self-limiting beliefs! You know you can do it, you just need to get in the right headspace and push through. Keep going!
I did keep going, and for that I am proud of myself. I only wish I had stopped a little sooner to consider whether my interpretation of my feelings was accurate, or whether I was pushing down a part of me that desperately needed to be heard.
I’m not totally sure what the catalyst was. It may have been a rather unpleasant encounter with someone online who seemed absolutely determined to willfully misunderstand my intent in a video that was meant to be a relatable and light-hearted list of things I find annoying as a disabled person. The situation required me to pause and consider my response, my intent, and their point of view. While I concluded that I was happy to stand by the video I had made, this experience of pausing to assess my content brought up other, unexpected feelings too.
I was and remain proud of all the videos I have created, but was that process filling my cup or draining me? Did it feel fulfilling right now, like it had done at the start? Was I enjoying what I was doing? Did I want a public life that invited this kind of hypercritical feedback and which provided a direct line to me? In retrospect, this was what I consider an “oh, crap” moment. I was bombarded with realisations that demanded investigation. I was forced to pause and assess.
Luckily for me, I’m pretty good at digging deep into my feelings and coming to conclusions, given enough time alone. Unluckily, I was aware of the ever-present annoyance of the algorithm, reminding me that if I decided to continue making videos and didn’t post consistently I was essentially throwing away the momentum I had built up. I felt under immense time pressure. I also felt quite angry at a system that allows no time to pause and reflect. My stubborn streak ignited, I decided I was going to take my time anyway, disbelieving that I had become trapped into prioritising an algorithm over my wellbeing.
I paused. I let things sit. I purposely did not open my public Instagram and didn’t post anything. This was not easy, and still now in the throes of this change I feel the disappointment of “not keeping up” with my social media profiles. It feels like I’m letting down the idealistic, single-minded version of me that started them, the me that put so much effort and hope into them. Despite this, I’m glad I chose to fully disengage for a time, because during this pause my brain seemed to subconsciously present me with so much to consider.
I realised so many things. Two parts of my personality were vying for principal control of my life. The idealistic, driven advocate who wants to spread awareness, crush stigma and use whatever platform I may be given to further a cause. The private, peace-craving introvert who wants to enjoy life on their own terms and without reference to the unwanted interjections of strangers. They were pitched against each other, and the introverted part of me felt understandably unwanted and repressed.
Both of these are parts of me needed to be factored in, and like a mediating parent I had to find a compromise. I couldn’t give one part all the encouragement and acceptance and lock the other one away. I couldn’t live on the aspirations of my fantasy self to the detriment of a key part of my real self. The nagging sensations and doubt weren’t coming from self-limiting beliefs, to be worked on and got over. They were a part of my intuition that was shouting to be heard, telling me that something wasn’t working for me.
There was so much to mull over. So I journalled. I noted the parts of my online presence I valued and enjoyed. I highlighted the parts I didn’t and tried to find a middle-ground that pushes me just enough, but retains the necessary privacy and creative fulfilment I need. I slowly pieced together a new path forward, and I am both excited and still adjusting, fully willing for the path to change again down the road.
For now, my YouTube channel is on an indefinite hiatus. I know better than to be rigid about it; if there’s a video I want to make, I will make it. Generally though, I’m no longer uploading regularly. I am going to continue posting on Instagram, and blogging here on my website. For now at least, I feel Instagram is an element of my original vision that I can sustain, although I won’t be posting on a regular schedule.
My goal isn’t to benefit from the algorithm anymore, it is to create in a way that feels healthy to me. I still believe in my original goal, and I believe in the Gina from last year who had a detailed map in her hands. She stopped along the way and realised that the route forward is in a different direction than she thought, and she’s adapting on the fly. She is learning so much, and she is already much happier with the journey.
If you’ve read this far- thank you! I’m incredibly grateful to be able to share my whole process of pausing and pivoting on my current trajectory. I’ll still be around of course- you can always find me on my Instagram and here on my blog. I’m so proud of every video I created and took so much from the experience. More than anything, I’m so happy to be feeling much more creatively motivated and fulfilled and to be working in ways that excite and feel natural to me. Thank you for coming with me down this path. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store…