Something I like to tell people (because it makes me feel like a wise elder) is never to compare their everyday to someone else’s highlight reel.
This is a particularly easy and dark place to access in the age of social media, with posts I call “filtered to heaven.” Not only can you airbrush the hell out of yourself with a 99-cent app, but you can also caption it any way you want. “So grateful to have the love of my life and my dream job and this perfect skin! Heart emoji happy emoji hashtag bliss.”
I don’t fall into this trap much now, but I definitely did when I was going through chemo during Spring Break time in 2011. I would be horizontally draped across some sort of surface, usually bed, sometimes couch, sans hair or energy or a discernible waistline, kind of excited that I had enough strength to sit up and focus on my laptop, only to log on to Facebook and see that EVERYONE was on a boat. The title track may as well have been “I’m on a Boat” by Lonely Island featuring T-Pain. They also had hair. It was kind of a bummer.
But it was also a motivator. I told myself I would totally be on a boat again someday with real hair, and damned if it didn’t happen just like that.
Back to present day. I’m just so grateful that I didn’t have to grow up in this world. I didn’t even try to wear makeup until high school, and didn’t try it in a serious way until like, 2012. Don’t even get me started on my braces and tight perm. These teenagers would have mopped the floor with me. Are perms still a thing, by the way? I really hope not. Anyone else remember that smell?
But I digress.
The point is that social media is often the stuff of highlight reels. Shiny, happy people holding hands. Alternatively, it’s the political season and everyone’s all “I never post about politics, but…”, or that lady who used to be married to your uncle is posting “prayers please don’t ask it hurts so bad.”
Here’s the one common thread behind every post: we all want to feel that we matter. So we try to achieve that by posting something that we secretly hope gets a lot of likes or positive feedback. We post that we went somewhere cool with a bunch of friends, and look, here are the pictures! We post about how cute our kids are, about the funny position our dog sleeps in sometimes, about our vacation or job promotion…because it helps us to feel connected. It helps us feel like we’re figuring this whole life thing out, that we’re succeeding, that things are going well for us.
Here’s what we don’t post: our lows. Our darkest moments of doubt, the stuff too awful to even allude to because that makes it too real, the stuff that we have all dealt with and will deal with again, and every time we come out on the other side it feels like a post worthy of recognition, but that would mean admitting that we don’t have our shit together.
And I’m not suggesting that we do that…how depressing, amirite? But I AM suggesting that it’s okay to admit that we don’t always have it figured out. It’s okay to allow ourselves room to fail. It’s okay to wake up next to empty bags of chips, or chocolate, or both, that were full the night before, with your hair mashed against your head on one side and wild on the other, laying in a small bed of crumbs and one spot of…dear God please let that be melted chocolate please. It’s okay to do something really, really stupid…and just allow yourself to let it go. Don’t get hung up on these fleeting moments of realness and make them your new normal.
And because we’re only living in this one body, we only know what that one experience is like. No matter how much we research or spend time with someone, we will never know what it is like to live that person’s life. Ever. So why do we pretend to know? Why do we feel so ashamed to mess up and think, well, Becky that I went to school with, Becky with the perfect family, Becky who can’t post a damn thing that my boyfriend doesn’t like and comment on, Becky who probably never ate a single carb in her life and is probably at private tennis lessons right now, never got way too drunk and started crying about something that happened eight years ago.
We don’t know Becky’s life. We don’t see that Becky’s youngest just got diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and that her mom always fat-shamed her and now she is terrified to let go and eat and that she really, really sucks at tennis and her coach dreads every minute of every lesson.
Wow. Sorry, Becky. I got kind of dark there. I don’t even know you.
A lot of times, I write about stuff because it’s a lesson I need to wrap my head around, and I have no problem admitting that this is the hardest one for me. I tend to treat myself very harshly. I set the bar pretty high, and leave no room for failure. I’m not talking about my need for a clean house or homemade food, my need to monitor my diet and exercise, or my tendency to smother people I love (“Can I get you anything? Want me to make cookies? How about that one thing you love? It’ll just take a minute. Need your drink topped off? You sure?”). I mean, that’s just annoying shit about me that I’ve basically made my peace with.
No, it’s the way I never allow myself to accept my failure. Every time I mess up, I am beyond drill-sergeant strict with myself. I can’t handle criticism well, because I tend to think that it means whoever offers it is about to drop me from their life due to my inadequacy. I can’t handle helpful suggestions, particularly if I’ve had a drink. In my darkest moments of depression and self-doubt, I always end up thinking that I should probably move somewhere isolated where there is no signal and definitely not other people, because it would be better for them.
And in those times, I believe this. I don’t want anyone to have to know who I am at my lowest points. I want everyone to believe that my highlight reel IS my everyday. And because I try to hold myself in check so tightly, the moments when I lose my grip are even uglier due to the sheer amount of fear that is released at once.
Other things about me that aren’t great: I also occasionally eat everything I can find, even if I wouldn’t ordinarily be tempted to eat it. I’m talking down to the old cereal bars and stale crackers. My face looks like it got smashed in a minor accident when I wake up in the mornings. I want to have nice hair but can’t care enough to learn how to style it. If I want to hear back from someone and don’t in the time frame I’ve deemed acceptable in my mind, I sometimes start to imagine all the ways that something went terribly wrong that would prevent them from responding, basically all of which are because they hate me.
Even if they didn’t a few minutes before that.
I am beyond grateful to have people in my life who know who I really am and still won’t give up on me. And I hope that all of you have that, too. It makes so much difference, particularly that moment that you allow yourself to believe that those people really are going to stand by you through every ugly cry.
And what I want you to also remember is that we are all just trying to do the best we can here. We all have the highest highs and the lowest lows. We’re all individuals with our own likes and dislikes, our own hopes and dreams, and our own fears and hangups. Just because we may not agree with others does not make them wrong, or evil, or any more flawed than we are.
So let’s remember that the next time we see a post full of highlights, or scathing bitterness, or a weak cry for help. Remember that we’re not airbrushed in real life. We’re not immune to life. Take away the screens and filters and fixed typos, and embrace the giant hot mess that is humankind.