I want to dedicate this final project to my amazing friends and family who have tried to be there for me through all of my ups and downs this past year, even when I pushed them away on my darkest of days. A special dedication goes out to William Valtos and my Mother Tracy Hutchins. I truly would not be here and could not have and found myself again without them.
Thank you Dr. Polly Black, Dr. Von Burg, and Wake Forest University for granting me the opportunity to recount my experiences.
Keywords: Social Media, Mental Health, Happiness, Purpose, Feeling
I chose the song ‘You and Me’ By Penny and The Quarters because this sweet song reminds me of the love and support that I have been provided with by my loved ones during this recovery period in my life.
This past year I have had the most interesting and unique experience of becoming one of the most popular Athlete-influencers on Social Media. In just over a year, I have gained over 2 million followers across all platforms as an individual content creator, which means that I did not use collaborations in order to increase my popularity. It became a lonely ride and was something that I never anticipated becoming a reality for me. Everyday seems so surreal, like my life is a dream, so far from reality.
For this paper, I have taken the time to recount transformative moments from this past year, with each event that I recount a song is provided. Each song was picked specifically to give the reader an in-depth interactive experience as well as a better understanding as to how I felt during each stage during this period in my life. Each song also acts as a description that explains why I chose that particular song to describe that specific time period, and how the rhetoric used within each song and situation has impacted or resonated with me.
Growing up, I was a pretty confident child. I was funny, outgoing, and unapologetically myself. As a child I saw myself as my parents told me I was; and that was beautiful. In elementary school I had crazy dreams and aspirations. I was bullied quite often, as many children are. I was such a sensitive empath, and still am. As a child, it is hard to stay strong and stand up for yourself. Every comment definitely stung or tore away at my confidence. One thing I knew from a young age was that I wanted to prove everyone who ever doubted me wrong. This caused me to become competitive and driven. I wanted to be famous, unique, and noticed. When you’re a kid, you don’t know the extent of the negative effects of fame, and as a society as a whole we could not have comprehended the harsh effects of social media and technology back then. Here is my personal story.
I would choose the song ‘Kids’ by Current Joys because the innocent tune and lyrics perfectly represent how I thought as a kid. Always thinking big and being completely oblivious to the repercussions of the world.
“Oh, I am just a kid. I’m afraid of the dark, but I’m obsessed with ideas. One day I’ll go far.” – Current Joys
On September, 24th 2020. I posted my first video that went viral. It was a video of me lip syncing a song that I liked in the mirror. I posted it before I went to practice that day and when I finished two hours later, it had 1.6 Million likes and over 6 million views. To say that I was in complete shock would be an understatement. I was so confused and excited all at the same time, I had to pinch myself and ask if what was happening was real. I remember analyzing every comment under the video over the next few days and was in complete awe over how there seemed to be not one hate comment. Every single comment essentially was a compliment.
There were people complimenting my teeth, My smile, My nose, My aura, anything that you could think of, there was a compliment for. I was gaining likes and followers so fast, I had never felt so overwhelmed in my life. My life very literally changed overnight and I had no clue just how much it would continue to change from that day on. Before this happened, I was living life peacefully and content and a “regular” college student. I often miss her.
The song that I feel best relates my emotions to this time is ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen. The slow and steady start to the song reminds me of my life before my blow up on social media. The fast-paced pick up and upbeat rhythm and feel of the song is exactly how my mind felt and raced. The song also represents how euphoric and important the comments under the video made me feel at this time. How chaotic the song seems to get at certain points also makes me think about just how fast things have moved for me ever since this video was posted.
As the traction from posting videos continued, I started to see myself more highly and began to feel superior. I noticed that more people began to notice me on campus and in public and they started to befriend me. I slowly began to feel like I had to live up to the way that I presented myself online and mirror the way that others had been seeing me, so perfectly. I felt so cool like a cherry bomb, which is a small firecracker that was popular in the 90’s. I lost touch with reality fairly quickly as I was sucked into the black hole of social media without realizing it. When videos wouldn’t get the viewership or traction I had hoped for, I would start to feel this dull sense of worthlessness until another video would do well and give me the gratification that I needed so desperately. I had an image to upkeep, and I had fun doing it at this time.
I chose the song “Cherry Bomb” by the Runaways to describe the way that I felt during this time because I felt too cool for school. I had become popular on campus and all-over social media. I started being befriended by so many people and straying from my close friends during this time.
During this time, I began acting in a way that I never did before. I was sexualizing myself for the media because I realized that it was an easy way for me to get views to feed my newfound addiction. Due to the popularity that my content was getting over social media because of this, I was getting much more attention from potential partners in real life that I had never really experienced in the past. I began interacting with these individuals and sharing myself with the wrong people, and for the wrong reasons. In my head I thought that the only way that I could be liked was for my physicality. I often put myself in bad situations emotionally that left me feeling worthless.
I had so many new “Friends” and people who “cared about me” that it became overwhelming, and I later realized that I honestly could not tell who genuinely liked me for who I was, or for my newfound fame. I started making more videos during this time, because whenever I would feel worthless, I would post a video in hopes of the satisfaction of instant gratification. I slowly began to stop feeling much unless there was some form of validation along with it. How beautiful I felt did not come from within anymore, it came from everywhere else, and that was dangerous.
The song that I would relate to this time is “Sex, Money, Feelings Die” by Lykke Li. The song and its lyrics accurately describe how detached from real emotions I became during this time. I became numb and convinced myself that I didn’t need real love, and that I didn’t mind being used as long as I was validated. That mentality damaged me, and I eventually isolated myself from so many meaningful people in my life without even realizing.
Ghosting (Slang): to abruptly cut off all contact with someone by no longer accepting or responding to texts, etc.
During this time, I essentially ghosted everyone that was ever important or meaningful to me. I became extremely selfish and self-centered. I was pretending like everything was fine, but I had a problem growing. I stopped taking care of things that mattered, such as going to class, doing homework, or keeping my room clean. I began procrastinating and would waste time creating content and checking my statistics. I stopped contacting my friends, family members, and anyone who was relatively close with me without even realizing. My whole life became my status, and social media.
I began perfecting myself in unhealthy ways, I developed eating disorder tendencies and I had no room for true enjoyment or happiness in life. None of the simple things mattered and all my actions became calculated and faked, I had an image to upkeep and nothing else mattered.
The song that I chose to relate to this time is ‘Me and My Husband’ by Mitski. This song is about an abusive relationship where the singer is trying to convince herself that everything is okay, and that she should be happy in her relationship. When things started declining in my life I would remind myself of my following and fame I had, and would convince myself that I can’t be upset, because I supposedly have everything that society desires and says that I need.
On April 17th, 2021. A video that I posted broke the internet and became one of the most viral videos of the year. It currently has 47.7 Million views and 10.5 Million likes. The day that this video was posted, I went from having 500k followers to 1.3 Million. I gained 800k followers overnight. Over – night! It was unlike anything I had ever seen first hand or expected. I was completely overwhelmed. My brain was literally buzzing. All of a sudden everyone in the world seemed to know who I was. I was receiving messages from people I hadn’t talked to in years. The internet was going crazy over me, and was absolutely eating it up.
‘Brain Stew’ by Green Day describes this period in my life perfectly because the lyrics are about an individual who is experiencing the high and come down from a drug trip, which essentially makes their brain stew.
“My mind is set on overdrive. The clock is laughing in my face. A crooked spine, my senses dulled Past the point of delirium, On my own, here we go.” – Green Day
These lyrics relate perfectly to how I felt at this time because I was on an intense high from all the attention that the video got but once it subsided, and it always does, I was hit with a harsh reality check.
I had always thought that something groundbreaking would occur when I hit the magic 1 million followers, and I don’t know what that was but when I hit that plus 300k more, I felt nothing. Once the buzz faded, and the hype was gone. I felt nothing. There was no groundbreaking news story, no surprise party with balloons and cake, no gold star. It was me sitting in my room alone watching TV. I quickly realized that I had nobody to share my “success” with. I had pushed all my friends and most of my family away. And, I certainly did not want to spend this so-called milestone with another meaningless hook up.
‘Chamber of Reflection’ By Mac DeMarco is a beautiful Melancholy song about self-reflection and realization. Mac says in an interview:
“A chamber of reflection is a room that people go into before you’re initiated into freemasonry. It’s like a meditation room, and they lock you in there for a period of time. The purpose is to reflect on what you’ve done in your life already and move on from it. I think that’s what I did in this chamber of reflection right here.” – Mac Demarco
I took a good look at my reflection that day and realized that I had hit 1 million followers and nothing in my life changed. Once the buzz died down, and things faded I realized that I was alone again. I took some time to sit alone and reflect on myself, and I realized that I didn’t know who I was anymore. All of the fame and money meant nothing because I had nobody to share it with. I did not want what I had craved anymore, this fame, but I was too late in some ways.
After my moment of realization, I began my pathetic attempt of reaching out to my friends again, but it was understandably hard for me to build those relationships back up. It was especially hard because I could not even find the motivation to try hard enough to build back my bridges. All I could think about was how I had never felt so alone. With so many millions of people knowing who I was, I had nobody that I was close to anymore, and I was suffering.
It was never my intention to be so selfish, I had taken the people that cared about me for granted. It hurts to think about and that feeling is something that I never want to feel again and not just for me. But, it was extremely unfair to blindly abandon so many people who cared for and needed me. I started to dread myself for this. How could I make it so hard to build up relationships, I ruined so much for something so meaningless. Since everything was so successful with my social media, everyone assumed I was okay or too busy for them. Nobody checked up on me because I never gave them a reason to, I was always acting perfect, so how could there be a problem?
The song ‘Numb’ by Men I Trust is about an individual who has pushed away and hurt someone who they care about, it makes them feel numb now that they do not have that person around. They are trying to prove that they are deserving of a second chance.
“Hon, please forgive me if I ever did you wrong, I’ll be your candle, burn me upside down. From now on, I won’t sleep on my arms. Numb, is how I feel deep inside my soul. Need to feel that I am on the line. I’m sorry that I drag you down my way” – Men I Trust
I soon got to a point where I hated who I was mentally, and my need for physical perfectionism in order to match my media presence became over the top. I felt watched wherever I went, there was always someone who knew me or had seen one of my videos. I felt as if I had no privacy. With such a large following, there began to be people who would critique everything about me and do their best to put me down. I was told by some that I was too skinny and told by others that I should not gain weight. I was told by some that my natural hair was ugly and by others that wearing wigs made me look fake.
Some days I would starve myself and other days I would binge eat. I shaved my head and then started switching between wigs to wear. I formed insomnia from staying up reading comments, worrying about what everyone thought of me. I became paranoid and got social anxiety when I had to go out in public if I did not feel ‘perfect.’ I would soon become completely swayed by any opinion that was left for me to see. I completely lost my sense of self. I became very impulsive and could not trust myself to make good decisions for myself any longer.
The song ‘Body’ by Mother Mother was one of my most listened to songs during this time. The lyrics are honestly pretty vulgar and deep, but I definitely felt and related to very piece of it. I had grown tired of my body and started to loathe myself, because I didn’t feel good enough for myself or anyone else at this point.
“Take my heart, pull it apart, And take my brain, or what remains, And throw it all away. ‘Cos I’ve grown tired of this body, A cumbersome and heavy body.” -Mother Mother
Trigger Warning: On October 16th, 2021, I planned on ending my life. Social media had taken such a toll on me, how I viewed myself, my relationships with others, and turned me into a stranger to myself and everyone around me. I felt as if I could no longer go on. I was calm as I contemplated the way that I was going to do it. Later in the night I got a message from one of my best friends, William. He simply asked if I was okay. I immediately broke down and started bawling as I realized what I was planning on doing. I called him and he immediately met with me to get me help. That night Will saved my life. It was the first time in weeks that someone other than my mom asked me if I was okay. I had isolated myself so severely and faked a smile for so long that I wouldn’t have expected anyone to ask.
The song that I chose to relate to this event is “Cigarette Daydreams” by The Cage The Elephants The lyrics resonate with me because they remind me of this specific time where I really was ready to go, but somebody decided to reach out and reason with my decision, as well as remind me that I was loved and cared about, outside of social media. It was enough to keep me around.
“You can drive all night, Lookin’ for the answers in the pourin’ rain. You wanna find peace of mind. Lookin’ for the answer, Funny how it seems like yesterday. As I recall, you were lookin’ out of place” – Cage The Elephants
Shortly after, William helped me to reach out to my parents, coaches, and professors in order to get the help that was much needed in order for me to get back on the track to being content in life. Everyone was extremely understanding of me, and I could not have asked for a better support system. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and re-diagnosed with anxiety, as well as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I was prescribed Sertraline, an antidepressant, and began seeing a therapist to talk about my experiences rather than bottle them up. Recently, I have been the happiest that I have been in years. I know that there is a lot more progress that I have to make, but I am in a great place mentally and feel as if I can enjoy life again.
I am now aware of how negative the effects of social media are, and how it does not matter if you are not content with life, I will continue to use my platform but with caution. My main goal from here on is to advocate for the importance of mental health in today’s media driven society. I often think of my younger self, and if I could tell her anything, I would tell her that you don’t need to prove anything to anyone, happiness and being able to enjoy the simplicities in life are what truly matter. Everything else will come as it is meant to.
The song “I miss me” by Kyle reminds me of my relationship with social media and even though I thought it would bring me more happiness, at the end of the day, the simple things and finding myself again was most important.
“And somewhere I got lost, Looking for myself, I found someone I’m not or someone I once was, someone I forgot. . . I miss me” – Kyle
My philosophy of life is constantly changing, but as of now it is that life has no meaning, and that is a meaning in itself. The fact that one day none of this will matter is what you have to make the most out of the time that you have. Stressing and ruminating over things that are meaningless or materialistic should not be a constant case. For me personally, the people that I surround myself with are the true meaning of my life. They make it worth living, and for me there is nothing more valuable than that realization.