How trying to run a business on Instagram negatively effected my mental health..
My journey with social media started back in university.
We were asked as part of our module to create a blog to document our journey with art and the module itself.
I created a very bad WordPress blog, as did the rest of the class, but I wanted something more interactive and where people could communicate with me.
This is how I discovered Instagram.
I began with posting behind the scenes shots of my little art studio and the processes behind my art pieces, at the time I hadn’t actually adopted the style I have today, I was still very experimental.
People communicated on every post I made with genuine comments or questions regarding my art, it was wonderful and made me feel incredibly inspired.
Back in 2012/2013 when I first started using it, Instagram wasn’t like it is today.
There were no “stories” or “IGTV”, all content was just whatever people posted (which was mostly of the food they were eating!).
It truly felt like a community.
As I was posting quite regularly I was getting noticed more by new people, gaining followers at a great rate, however it really started to pick up once I started to create mandalas.
I was studying the origins of the mandala and I was completely engrossed by them, creating multiple each day (they were much more simple designs than the ones I make today).
The community seemed as invested as I was in them, giving me ideas on what designs I should create.
It felt like a collaboration of minds from across the world.
After a few months of posting my mandalas on Instagram a tattoo artist from my city messaged me asking for some designs for his shop, just a couple of pieces that he could frame.
This ended up leading into what was very nearly a tattoo apprenticeship that sadly didn’t end up working out.
Alongside this I received a message from a very popular tattoo artist (today he has 510k followers!) asking me to do some designs for him in return for some “exposure”.
Luckily even back then I had my head screwed on and gave him a straight “No.”, shocked that someone within the community and who has likely gone through the struggle of making a name for themselves would expect a small artist to create a lot of work for them for free.
An exposure exchange should be down for the artist to suggest, not for the client to offer.
At this time I started getting messages from regular people asking me to create art pieces for them to hang around their home in exchange for money, I couldn’t believe it!
I had always wanted to make a living from my art and it finally felt like it might happen.
After a few of these commissions a lovely tattoo artist from Denmark got in touch with me asking for some tattoo designs, which he would pay for.
This news actually came to me the same weekend of my final hand-in at uni, I had never felt such happiness before!
After doing some designs for him and posting about them on my account, commissions for art pieces quickly became commissions for tattoo designs from regular people.
This became my life for the next year.
I quickly gained a lot of followers on Instagram, and with followers came lots of emails for commissions.
My days soon became spent at my desk drinking wine and eating party rings whilst creating numerous designs for people all over the world.
I felt like I was living the dream.
The final commission from that period of my life came from a very well-known alternative clothing company who wanted me to create a design for some leggings.
I truly felt like I knew where my life was going and that with hard work I would be able to live my dream and make my family proud.
Little did I know that a thing called an “algorithm” was about to turn my life around.
Once I had created the design for the clothing company I soon noticed that I wasn’t getting swamped with emails anymore, in fact, I wasn’t getting any emails anymore!
The growth of my followers had slowed down a lot and the “likes” on my photos had dropped.
I spent the next year feeling like I had done something wrong and that people hated what I was creating.
With no more emails meant no more commissions, I was no longer able to pay my bills with my art.
I had gone from living on Cloud 9 to falling straight off it face first.
I felt like a massive failure, a huge disappointment and like everything I had worked for was worth nothing.
With no money coming in I had to turn to hospitality, something that would negatively effect me for the next 6/7 years.
As I was working a lot I couldn’t create as much art, meaning my followers were dropping faster than I was gaining any.
I felt like my dream had officially died.
For many years (actually up until last year), I felt like it was my fault and that people weren’t interested in me or my creations anymore.
My mental health was already being negatively effected by working in hospitality and a couple of things that were going on in my life, the one thing that was keeping me happy and making me feel like I was worth something was now another cause for my bad mental health.
THE PAST YEAR
The past year has been an internal fight between overworking myself regarding my art and social media or just giving up completely.
Back in December 2018, after hearing how the algorithm favoured those who got lots of “likes” and comments on their posts, I bit the bullet and decided to pay for a service that allowed real people to “like” my most recent post at a certain time each day.
I was only going to trial this for a month to see if it made any difference, but sadly I allowed the numbers to get into my head and it ended up lasting until May 2019.
As my time slot was 8pm it meant I had to make sure a post would be ready for before then otherwise everyone would like the last post available, making it obvious to everyone I was clearly using a service to help me out.
I felt like a fraud, pretending my art was more popular than it was.
I ended up either spending whole days preparing posts via an app (which would automatically post things for me at the time I had scheduled) or stopping what I was doing in that very moment to quickly get a post out in time.
This included times where I was supposed to be spending quality time with my family or partner.
It wasn’t healthy and it was messing with my head.
As I was rushing everything, anything I posted quickly became half-arsed and lacking in any passion.
Any art I did manage to create became boring and the captions on my posts had no love in them at all.
I was living a lie that was eating away at me, which may sound daft as it’s only Instagram, but art is my world and my dream, it isn’t just social media to me.
This mindset I had developed had evolved into one of needing to work extremely hard any time I wasn’t in my day job; including working until I fell asleep at night and getting up stupidly early on days off and working non-stop.
This is a recipe for absolute “burnout”.
If I ever gave myself a day off, whether it be intentionally or because of my mental health, I would destroy myself with bad thoughts about how I had let myself down.
Back in May I stopped using the engagement service and I deleted all of my Instagram posts so I could start afresh, beginning with a post detailing everything I had experienced and why it lead me to using the service.
I decided I wanted to use my blog/Instagram to be open and honest whilst showing my artwork, combining both my passion for mental health awareness and art.
I even created a new account to see whether my original one was being semi-blocked by Instagram for some reason, but after using that for a few weeks I noticed the same patterns of people mass-following and mass un-following within days.
It was happening at an alarming rate and I just couldn’t allow it to get into my head again.
My mental health has really taken a beating from this journey, I truly feel like for a short moment of my life I got to experience my dream and it sometimes feels like I will never get that chance again.
Hopefully one day I will be proven wrong as I will never stop creating art, it is my dream, my passion and what truly makes me happy.
Algorithms determine how many people get to see what you post, despite them choosing to click to “follow” you and what you post.
These days you get penalised for using the same hashtag too many times, despite everything you post being #art.
I feel like this is a battle I will never have the chance of winning anymore, so I may as well just post to share my creations and not worry myself with numbers anymore.
I made a vow to myself to post whenever I wanted to, as I no longer “need” to anymore, and to make art because I enjoy it, not because I’m trying to cater to my audience.
I no longer want to let social media, especially Instagram, take over my life again.
I’ve worked incredibly hard on my mental health to get into a better head space, and that included getting rid of any negativity in my life.
Today I’m working hard on developing my art techniques, writing blog posts and creating videos to help share my creations whilst trying to break the stigma surrounding mental health.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post.
If you would like to stay connected, you can find me here:
Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | Shop