Look at these two photos, taken 45 minutes apart from each other:
Both are from the little kitchen of our first house on the same day, one before cleaning, and one after. Something about the dirty dishes struck me, so I took a photo. I was in the trenches of real life that day. You know the feeling: exhausted, feeling overwhelmed by everything I needed to do, and VERY much not wanting to scrub the baked-on food from the crockpot.Very unglamorous. Probably cursing my student loans in the moment, as tedious things in life often inexplicably make me do.
And after I washed them, I took the second photo of my kitchen because it looked so darn good. I was going to post the picture to IG and caption it something like “I love this quaint, cozy little kitchen”. You know, with some cutesy little hashtags or something. But before I took the picture, guess what I did? You know the drill. I staged things. Like the little tea towels that say, “no problems or messes here, only marital bliss!”and various other little things before filtering the crap out of it. It sounds silly because no one talks about the things we do to appear to the world as if life is always #cozy when in reality life is many times #crusty and #overwhelming.
Social media has made it possible to make life look like something it’s not.
This isn’t revolutionary; we all know this of course. But I think we don’t actually believe it.
We’ve all learned to fool each other into thinking we are more ok than we might actually be, that things are well-organized and in their places and that our selves and our families are always nice and always lovely and always without a problem. I’m not saying that the photos we share on social media are always lies, because they aren’t. They often reflect truly beautiful moments that really did happen.
But the trouble comes when we keep trying to fabricate our lives to keep up with everyone else who clearly lives perfect, manicured, well-traveled, adorable little lives free from fights with their spouse, or fights with their kids, or financial difficulty. These photos often make us feel like we are the only ones who are struggling, that there is something wrong with struggling, even. Cue downward spiral into shame, self-pity, and self-loathing.
Or maybe that’s just me.
I will sometimes spend hours (I know; it’s embarrassing) on the Instagram explore page creeping on strangers I don’t know because they are thin and beautiful, or they have a perfect looking family, or they were in Greece last week and now they are in London or Bali or wherever. It’s like I truly don’t believe these people’s lives don’t look like this all the time, and I just automatically assume these pretty things weren’t meant for me. That I was disqualified a long time ago because my skin isn’t perfect, or I’m not a size 2, or whatever craziness I choose to dwell on in the moment.
And just like that, I’ve lost belief in myself all over again. Maybe earlier that day I was feeling stronger and more capable than I had in awhile, but a few clicks here and a few clicks there and POOF. It’s all gone.
But you know what the truth is? No one’s life looks like that all the time (I actually find this almost impossible to believe most days, if I’m being perfectly honest. But I’m trying). We’ve heard it all our lives, right? that no one is perfect? Yet it’s so easy to dismiss it when you are in the trenches of your own life, with unpaid bills or jeans that suddenly don’t fit anymore. It’s so easy to believe the world is unkind to you and you only.
But you know something else? And I think this is true above all: It’s almost like I CRAVE feeling bad about myself because it gives me an excuse to not get up off the floor and make a change. To not pursue the goals I’ve set for myself because clearly so-and-so is doing it better and I could never do that. In a way, it lets me off the hook to not have to risk looking foolish, to avoid the hard, hard, HARD work it takes to change what I don’t like about my body, or to doggedly pursue my highest dream with no guarantee up front for success. It takes so much bravery to make a change, and honestly it’s easier to just binge watch Netlfix, or creep on other people’s lives and imagine what we want into their pictures and live some weird sort of vicarious, unchallenged, half-way, half-awake life.
To quote Dead Poet’s Society, my all-time favorite movie:”Thoreau said, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation'”. Oh, how true is that?? Especially now in the age of social media. And I have to think this is because we just don’t believe in ourselves, because everyone else looks like they are doing it better. And thus our dreams die. We console ourselves with the same, wasted-away, puny excuse of “I’ll start tomorrow”just so we can take the easy way out today, so we can eat that piece of cheesecake today, smoke that cigarette today, sleep in instead of working out today.
And you know what? It’s killing us. We die slowly when we we give in.
Many of you may know that my highest dream is to be a writer. But you know how much I’ve actually written? Besides two short stories I wrote in college thanks to actual, real deadlines with a grade attached? Exactly nothing. As shameful as it is to admit that. And it’s because of two things. 1: I haven’t believed in my own voice and 2: it’s going to be damn hard. Fear of those two things have kept me silent all my life.
I don’t speak up because I don’t want to embarrass myself. I don’t like to let the chips “fall where they may”. I like to obsess and calculate and stage and filter and crop and shape my life into something I think you want to see. I can fool you with Instagram, with lighting and shadows and editing. We are all fooling each other.
Here’s some unfiltered life for you: People who don’t know me very well might think I’ve got it all together, just like we are apt to think of anyone we don’t know.I do have some truly wonderful things in my life, like my husband Tyler, and this difficult but beautiful journey of marriage we are on. We cook together and laugh together and watch hours upon hours of The Office together. But there are still many, many days where I also deal with depression. I have for most of my life. It comes and goes, you know, but mostly it’s always there like a haze. Im anxious. I’m desperate to find out who God is and most days I don’t believe He loves me. I live in constant fear of disappointing people around me, of making waves with anyone. So I don’t stand up for myself. I keep quiet. I don’t write. I don’t do the thing I was made to do for fear of exposing myself.
Even now I want to delete all of this and keep living under the radar because I don’t want you to think I have any problems. And that, I think, is why social media can be so damaging. Nobody says what they really want to say, or asks for help when they need it, or accountability with something they struggle with. It’s safer to live behind smoke screens than to expose our true selves, because we open ourselves up to potential judgment and criticism. But we also open ourselves up to help, to freedom, and to finally, FINALLY, living towards a better life.
This blog is an attempt to start navigating my own feelings and admitting things I’d never admit before. I don’t want to live a life of quiet desperation anymore. And by simply hitting the “publish” button, I’m committing the biggest act of rebellion against my own fear that I’ve done in a very, very long time.
Listen to me: YOU ARE FREE TO STRUGGLE. LIFE IS SO, SO HARD. We don’t admit that enough. If life feels hard to you, it’s not because you are a “screw up” or “just can’t keep up” or because “everyone else is handling it better” or any of the other dozens of self-deprecating thoughts that we are so tempted to feel. Life is hard because it’s hard, and nothing more. For everyone. No matter what their Instagram or Facebook is telling you.
I’ll end this extremely long post with perhaps the most powerful quote I’ve ever heard:
“COMPARISON IS THE THIEF OF ALL JOY.”
In the future I’ll try to keep it shorter!! Yay for fighting!