photo by Bobby, from a truly happy day with my best friend
I start so many of my conversations with, “I was listening to this podcast about…” — and that’s exactly what I’m about to do. As I’ve mentioned in my favorite podcasts posts, I love Hidden Brain. Their recent episode (episode 68) about social media and the disconnect between our real and online lives really hit home for me. It’s not that I’m presenting a fake life to you; I really don’t know how to be anyone but myself, even in my life’s most curated form. But therein lies the biggest struggle: I don’t know how to be anyone but myself — and sometimes, I just don’t think that’s enough. I willingly put myself under a microscope with every post to social media, but my harshest critic isn’t a follower or a reader (who, for the most part, are absolutely lovely). It’s me. When I’m feeling low — and oh boy, have I ever been feeling low — I rip myself to shreds and assume everyone else is secretly doing the same. I compare my life to friends and strangers alike. And so, I found myself relating to both sides of the story on Hidden Brain: the girl who posts only the most insta-ready moments of her life, and the viewer who feels inferior as a result of that seemingly picture perfect existence.
I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life. While I consider myself a pretty resilient, high functioning and generally happy human being, I occasionally have bouts of depression that are so intense that getting out of bed feels like the most impossible task I could ever endure. The combo physically manifests in hives and rashes and panic attacks, and most recently this new cute thing where my feet and hands are tingling and half numb as if they’ve fallen asleep. And there’s a constant metallic taste in my mouth, same as the one I get when I’m on the verge of passing out. Only I’m not passing out, and my doctor said there’s nothing wrong with me. I just feel as though I have a mouth full of pennies, and I’ll have to wait it out…while maintaining a social media presence that conceals it. As it turns out, anxiety and depression don’t make for pretty pictures.
When I’m lying in bed, still in pajamas despite being up for hours, and chastising myself for being a worthless piece of you-know-what while simultaneously vowing to never get out of bed again (EVER), that’s when the feed full of well dressed, impossibly stunning, jet-setting women with their handsome husbands and cherubic offspring (also well dressed jet-setters) feel like a personal attack. I want to be happy for them. They look so perfectly at ease in their magazine worthy homes, so #goals with their girl squad brunches full of avocado toast and latte art (no hate, because I love both). And on a normal day, I am. I choose to follow them for a reason: their lives are aspirational, sometimes relatable (depending on the account), and I enjoy seeing the world through their lens. I might follow someone because I love their style, their skills, or simply because I enjoy their steady stream of beautiful photos. But I am fickle and there are days when I just can’t take it, no matter how much admiration I normally have for that [any] person. I have to put my phone down and walk away, because that constant feed of perfection invites too stark a comparison with my own current state of discontent. And of course, by “put my phone down and walk away,” I probably mean I toss it just out of reach, because I’m hiding under the covers. Whatever takes the least exertion.
Strangely, it isn’t until I start to come out of my rut — and I’m not totally there yet, but I’m definitely getting there — that my logic kicks back in: if I, dweller of tangled blanket nests and perpetual sad song player, am not accurately portraying my life at its sit-in-the-shower-and-cry-until-the-water-runs-cold worst, what makes me think that anyone else would? When I’m at my lowest, I’m not posting photos of myself crying or the massive bag of laundry (and adjacent pile of hangers) that will probably be worn straight from the bag before I ever get around to hanging them. With the occasional blog post as an exception worth noting, given this current draft I’m typing, I’m not airing my grievances and every personal hardship — even on this blog, I edit out the specifics. This isn’t LiveJournal, you know? Times have changed.
Instead, I’m posting photos I took on happier days. I’m letting them trickle out one at a time, rationing my backlog of content I’ve prepared in advance and filling the void with throwbacks. Because I can’t pretend in real life. I can’t take photos and make everything seem lovely when I’m feeling like hell. So I post photos from my real life, only from a better point in time. Everything is real, but it’s not always in real time. And of course, the bad stuff is edited out. And I’d like to think that for every seemingly picture perfect insta-life out there, there’s a whole lot more going on behind the scenes. I hope their lives are full of happiness and romance and good hair days and quality time with their awesome girlfriends, because those are all great things that we should get to experience (and yeah, I definitely put good hair days in there). But I know from my own experience that for every good hair day, there’s one (or two or ten) where you can’t be bothered to run a brush through it. For every picture perfect moment, there are ten (or twenty or thirty) outtakes that immediately went in the trash. For every goals-worthy couple, there are spats and struggles and nights when you want to smother them with a pillow because they won’t stop snoring (ahem, BOBBY). And behind every seemingly picture perfect life, there is a lifetime full of varied emotions and circumstances, of tragedy, loss, love, heartache, and the positively mundane. We are all just trying to present our best selves.
It doesn’t make it fake. It just makes it a highlight reel.