On the quiet morning I sat at my desk working and he entered my thoughts with dogged determination, I stopped what I was doing and started a search. My first stop (isn’t it always these days?) was Facebook and I found nothing. So I dug a little deeper, a special skill I have, and I found a list of men with his name and picked the one with the correct birth date. There was only one problem.
It started with an over-filtered photo on a social media tag.
I was tagged for #stopdropandselfie on Instagram. I saw the notification while I was sitting in the car line, bored to tears. I had my hair pulled back in a ponytail, accentuating my big forehead, but I had taken a shower that morning and did at least have some makeup on. I wasn’t scary so I figured…why not?
I don’t take a lot of selfies. If you check my Instagram feed you’ll certainly find a few but mostly you will find photos of my kids, my dog, books, and pints of Ben & Jerry’s. I took the photo, posted it and went about my day. Later, when I put on my glasses and really looked at the photo I looked fuzzy. And plastic. I looked like me, but flawless me. So…not me.
Later that evening I felt compelled to make this right. I took picture after picture and still couldn’t figure out how to edit out the editing. Then, I saw it. The little profile of a woman’s head at the top of the screen. I tapped it and slid my finger left, relinquishing perfection for honesty. I still look a little airbrushed but that’s due to the fact that I was apparently sitting next to a good lamp and still had makeup on. I have freckles that are covered by that makeup but this is me….dark circles, forehead wrinkles, lines around the eyes earned with each day of my 47 years.
Two photos. One overly airbrushed nonsense and one real with no smoke and mirrors, just a touch of Dermablend.
Pictures are wonderful snippets of a view into our lives, a highlight reel if you will, and can certainly tell a story. But is it the real story?
We spend time creating an idea that what we are doing, and more importantly how we are doing in the time it takes for the click of the camera and to add a few filters is so much better than it really is.
We mask internal pain by smiling brightly then removing the flaws, the parts that make us real, show us as we truly are. We add a filter, adjust the light, and perfect the contrast as if our measure of happiness lives and dies in that one moment.
On social media, we decide what we want others to see and what we don’t. Photos are filtered and words are edited because we want to look as if we’re living better on the outside in order to hide what is dying on the inside.
I will admit that my life looks better on social media than it does in the real world. I edit photos. I am more apt to share the happier moments. I leave out altogether the less than stellar moments that aren’t easy to make pretty.
I don’t do this because I’m vain. I do this because I was raised to believe you don’t ever show, much less spotlight, the bad side. You stuff your feelings and hide the truth. Always put your best face forward and if you can’t say something nice, say it behind closed doors.
That was much easier to do in the decades before social media. Today, we can get up to the minute status updates and photos with the push of a button and swipe of a finger. Or the push of a few buttons and a few swipes of the finger, a little editing and filtering….it has to look or sound just so.
Everyone has that one Facebook friend. The friend who is always happy. The friend whose kids are headed for epic greatness. The friend who travels the world, eating the best food and swimming in the bluest oceans. That friend whose husband never passes gas and sends flowers weekly. They never, ever have a bad day.
I scroll through Pinterest and see the amazing things people do to their homes, the meals both edible and beautiful, the fun DIY projects, endlessly perfect bodies, nails, hair, makeup….the list goes on….my eyes glaze over, my mouth waters a little, and I wish for a prettier everything.
Instagram is full of more spectacular edited and enhanced moments. I scroll through some days and feel less than…less exciting, less pretty, less happy. Worse, some days I feel envious which, in turn, makes me feel ashamed.
Being a writer, these social media outlets are necessary evil. When I am actually doing this thing I love, I use them every day. Those are the days I can scroll through and I am inspired and genuinely thrilled for the many successes of others.
Other days, I resent them. Like a semi-stalker, I will scroll through and feel the cracks in my self esteem widening. I forget my own accomplishments and the fact that somewhere, someone may feel the same way about my own feed from time to time.
Since I purged my social media of friends and family and use it only for my writing now, I feel a little less inhibited. I don’t have to fear the phone calls and feigned support which is usually just a dig for information. I find the network of people I write with to be more open and I am find it easier to write freely and the more I do, the easier it becomes to show my true self.
Still, the simple truth is that on social media, life is often filtered. We share the pretty parts and sometimes the ugly. Hell, sometimes even the ugly may not be the whole truth, only a concocted fiction, either in whole or in part. People love a good story and morbid curiosity will always be a draw.
Do I believe that everyone that writes a blissful status update or posts smiling photos on social media are wearing masks? Of course not. I read statuses every day that express unhappiness, anger, frustration, and guilt. I’ve even seen these negative emotions in photos, albeit rarely.
The truth is we never really know.
I recently read an article about a young girl whose Instagram and Facebook feeds were filled with candid shots of her seemingly happy life. She was a college freshman at an Ivy League school and the real truth was that she was extremely depressed and having a very difficult time. Her family and friends knew things were different, off somehow, but she looked so happy in her Instagram photos. She took, and filtered, a beautiful photo of holiday lights in the trees at Rittenhouse Square in Philly an hour before she jumped from a nine story parking garage and ended her life. This young woman filtered out the demon of depression which, as many of us know, hides so very well.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to totally rid myself of some type of filter. I have years of practice hiding my true feelings, putting my best face forward, and burying truths. Just today I shared some personal news with some friends online that I trust wholeheartedly. I typed the status six times – six! – backspaced it out, typed it again and hit enter, deleted it, and then finally typed it, hit enter, and left it.
I felt sick.
I was worried I would look weak, desperate. Ironically, it was in a moment of weakness and despair.
So, the truth is…
I have moments where I fall to pieces. I cry, I rant, I throw things, and I look like shit because I haven’t showered in four days.
Things in my life go wrong and don’t make sense.
My kids aren’t perfect. They are real jerks sometimes.
I get jealous of my peers when they are writing brilliance and I can’t put three words together.
And, the truth is….
I am a strong woman but I am human. I get depressed and angry and tired and fed up and scared, but you will likely never see it.
My kids are brilliant, I love them fiercely, and I am proud of them every day, jerks or not. That you will likely see a lot.
I am proud of my friends for their accomplishments. Writing is a bitch of a thing whether you do it as a hobby, a passion, or to make a living. Getting it noticed is monumental. I applaud you. I will try to let you know that more often.
I made a conscious decision when I started this blog to be honest and to write free. Sharing these words on social media takes that one step further and, aside from the unfortunate Barbie-like selfie, I think I have held true to that promise. I do it in hopes of trying to form real connections, something that isn’t very easy for me.
But I keep trying.
So use your filters wisely. Make your pictures prettier, hide a few superficial flaws. There is nothing wrong with it. Show the world your best but don’t hide your worst. You don’t have to show it to the world. But show it to someone.
In times of despair, or just the need for human connection, relinquish perfection for honesty.
I will leave you with this short video from my beautiful friend, Hasty. She sums it up so eloquently in just 15 seconds:
I will not be commanded,
I will not be controlled
And I will not let my future go on,
Without the help of my soul
~Greg Holden, The Lost Boy
I hunkered down in my tunnel. I know there is a light and I know how to find it but I chose to sit in the darkness and wrap it around me like a comfortable blanket, oblivious to the shimmer I see out of the corner of my eye known as hope.
After all, everyone else is allowed. So why not me? Why can I not wallow in self pity and feel sorry for the fact that I have to do something I really don’t want to do and then let the guilt of that knowledge eat me alive from the inside out? Why should I not be able to blame everyone else in the world for my sadness, my anger, my stress, the unfair hand my family has been dealt?
I recently wrote about the fact that I am raising my grandson, have been for what will soon be four years. His mother is an addict, his formative years were chaotic and he has pieces missing that we may never be able to find.
His mother, my oldest daughter, recently came back into the picture and for the first time in a long time, I felt hope. I thought she had finally had enough and would slowly take the steps to heal herself and eventually be able to mother her son.
I no longer hold that hope.
I suppose when you step out of the prison yard and are just grateful to be free you will make promises to back up your foxhole prayers and put on the face you suspect everyone wants to see. Then the day will come when you feel a little more sure footed and small step by small step you will walk backward into old habits and behaviors, because trying to do things a different way will just be too fucking hard.
You will look at your own son, being raised by someone else but still accessible to you and you will think, NO. Too fucking hard.
You will make plans to spend time with him and tell him of these plans and when they fall into the hole that is the chaos you create, you will leave it to someone else to break his heart. Again.
What you don’t know is that his heart didn’t break. He took the news with the composure of a person much older than his seven years because he is used to being disappointed by you. He doesn’t expect anything from you. I bought him a sub and took him to the park. He swung like a madman and enjoyed every moment. Are you disappointed?
I wanted to tell you about the meeting I will have at the school on Monday, the day kids return from Spring Break. You see, I’ve had all of this week to think about it. To wonder and project how it will turn out.
This meeting is with his first grade teacher, the principal, and the guidance counselor. This boy has had so many possessions taken from him in the most important years of his life, material and otherwise, that when his teacher tried to take a beloved item from him that he was distracting the class with, he grabbed her hand and tried to twist it. As it turns out, her hand has a possible fracture.
He is seven.
In the end I won’t tell you because really it is not your business and it serves absolutely no purpose.
I haven’t always gotten and still don’t always get it right. I, like many other parents, get it wrong. Probably far more often than I care to admit. But I get up every day and I start over. I don’t take the easy way out.
And yes, I believe you are taking the easy way out. You are still blaming everyone for all the things wrong with your life, especially me. But guess what! I have made my amends and I have made my peace. This is all you.
In the past week, I sat in my car at a stoplight more than once and thought about driving away. I thought about leaving the car and walking away. I have contemplated throwing plates of food across the room. I have screamed into pillows in the privacy of my bedroom. I have cried in the shower. I have hidden in the closet with the kids blissfully unaware that my heart is racing, I cannot feel my hands and feet or catch my breath, and wondered how long it would take before someone found me because I knew I would die in that closet.
I cannot take it anymore. I will not do this anymore.
I don’t know what will happen at the meeting on Monday. I don’t know what I’m going to decide about you and the fact that J has taken three steps backward since you came back into the picture.
What I do know is that you aren’t coming back for him. I know this in the depths of my soul. It doesn’t matter if you do because soon enough the choice won’t be yours anymore. It will be his. And he will not choose you.
And so, I will now turn my head toward the light. I will walk to the light that symbolizes hope. With every step I will remember to be grateful that this is all I have been given to deal with, that I’m strong enough to do it, and that I am not alone in it.
You will have to find your way. I am tired and my rescuing days are over. Live your life how you wish. It is yours to piss away.
I still feel the remnants of the depression and anger right at the edges, but they are beginning to fray.
I know when the emotional chaos of panic and depression is coming. I am well aware of this mayhem peeking up over the horizon of my mind. There is a shift that I can’t explain.
It begins when I wake up in the very early morning hours, disoriented and in the throes of panic. My heart is pounding and I am disoriented. At times I can’t feel my limbs and find myself unable to swallow and gasping for air. I have no idea why it happens in the middle of the night. There are worse feelings than waking from a dead sleep in the middle of a panic attack but at the time I would be hard pressed to name one.
During the next couple of days, I will know there was an episode of anxiety but it is cloudy. My mind only allows me a vague memory. It’s just a short reprieve for the real fun that’s about to begin.
It usually takes a couple of days before the depression takes hold. When it does, I feel completely powerless. The rational part of me tells me that all I need to do is take a bike ride or a shower, do something normal and keep putting one foot in front of the other and my thinking will return to normal. I can resume my life.
Sadly, the irrational demon that lives within me has other plans.
These days between the panic and the depression are as normal as any other and I function as such. I will regale my husband with tales of the day with exaggerated, yet genuine, vigor. I will have seemingly boundless energy. I will laugh loud and love hard.
Then the agitation begins. The smallest of things will irritate me. Social media becomes an enemy. I can’t read status updates without feeling an anger that sometimes borders on rage.
Writing is impossible since I can’t keep a coherent thought in my head and everything is tainted with and edge of anger and resentment.
My patience with my kids hits a low and even a goodnight kiss that feels like the flick of butterfly wings on my cheek makes me shudder. Anything my husband does makes me clench my jaw and bite back hateful words that aren’t a true reflection of my feelings, just the beast trying to create a foe, provoke a fight.
I will stop in the middle of flipping through the mail and slide to the kitchen floor because suddenly I am terrified and it feels like a safe place to be.
A drive to the grocery store because I am out of coffee seems to take Herculean effort and everyone in my path irritates me. I hurry, needing this chore to be over because those few moments exhaust me beyond reason.
I feel an overwhelming urge to cry. Let me release the havoc. Please!
But I can’t. Not a tear will come.
I want to give in and give up. These are the days I want to get in my car, drive away, never look back. I want to walk away from everyone and everything. I don’t answer my phone. I don’t interact. I simply shut down, going through the motions of every day life with no enthusiasm and forced interest.
I just want the peace to come.
Finally, thankfully, it does come and there are no casualties. Unless, of course, I count the part of my soul that has been beaten to a pulp and is now cowering in the corner, licking its wounds, waiting for the next round.
I am grateful to be strong enough to know that this is a war I may never win but that the battles eventually end. I used to self medicate with alcohol but that is on longer an option for me. By the grace of God, I don’t even consider it when the demon comes to call.
I am grateful that the episodes are sporadic and short-lived.
I’m grateful that my husband recognizes these moments and is quiet, but present. He knows and surely it irritates him to lose me during these days, perhaps even makes him a little sad though that isn’t his nature. On the rare occasion I take a step or three too far he doesn’t hesitate to let me know it is enough.
I have come to realize in the past year that writing can work much like therapy. I have met other bloggers that deal with depression and other mental health issues and do so bravely. We seek interaction, validation, and support….and find it.
I know that someone will read this and understand it. Still someone else will read this, see themselves and feel less alone.
While I have written about my anxiety and panic, this is the first time I have ever written about my battle with depression. As a recovering alcoholic and addict, I am well aware of what it is and why it comes and I accept that.
Alcoholism and addiction tried to destroy me. They didn’t. Panic and depression won’t either. These things are part of me but……