I posted a carefully edited black and white photo on Instagram the other day of me smiling and carefree, holding my puppy in my arms. The photo reflected someone happy, someone content, someone who appeared to be in a good mood. Someone who appeared to be “okay.” But in reality, because I suffer from severe (and I mean severe) insomnia, I had only slept for about 2 hours the night before the picture was taken, and was thus feeling like an exhausted, emotional, train wreck, to say the least. I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown from the build up of sleepless nights, and I, in no way, was feeling content or calm, despite what my photo suggested.
Posting the photo was a feeble attempt to to try to distract myself from how I was actually feeling, down and anxious. I was turning to social media in the hopes that it would give me a little burst of positivity, a handful of likes to make me feel validated; to make me feel good about myself. Essentially, the photo was a distraction that (I believed) would make me feel better about myself, and that would relieve me from some of the intrusive anxious thoughts that were flooding my mind. Because I don’t keep my phone notifications on, I kept reopening the app, to check how many likes I was getting. And when the likes didn’t come pouring in right away, my anxiety heightened and I contemplated deleting the post all together.
Partially because I was exhausted, and partially because I was feeling very insecure and discontent with myself (as I do regularly), I automatically jumped to the conclusion that I wasn’t pretty enough, or that I didn’t have enough friends. I concluded that I shouldn’t have posted that photo because my smile looked kind of fake and I wondered if maybe I looked desperate by posting a picture of just me with my dog. Why did I do this? And due to sheer exhaustion and the many insecurities that I battle with, I very quickly started to feel much worse about myself than I had felt before I posted the photo. I started to feel really down…I felt lonely and uncomfortable, and insecure about who I was and what I looked like. The photo was supposed to make me feel better, more secure. Yet it had done the complete opposite. Negative self talk flooded my mind, and my thoughts only spiraled downwards from there. All because of a photo. One little photo. One tiny instance in time. Something that wouldn’t matter the next day, or even the next hour. Yet, I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t share how I was feeling. I just left the photo up, and drowned in my own anxieties.
Life can be so lonely…it can be so hard. And we don’t talk about it enough. We think it is all in our heads, and that we are the only ones experiencing these thoughts. We think we are the only ones who feel this alone. So we don’t tell others that we are having a hard time out of fear that they won’t understand. Or out of fear that they will look down on us. We worry that they will judge us, or that they will think we are weak for feeling so low. So instead, we stay safe by bottling all of the feelings up. We keep them hidden below the surface, and push them down as deep as we possibly can. We do everything in our power to keep the darkness buried, and to face the world with a brave smile.
We think that hiding our feelings is brave. That living a picture perfect life is the solution. And we tell everyone that “everything’s fine,” even when it isn’t. We smile, we laugh, and we gossip about all of the exciting drama that’s going on in our friends’ lives. And sometimes, even though we are faking, for a split second, or even a long lasting moment, it does become real. We are genuinely happy. We are truly excited. We are laughing, a real laugh. We are who we appear to be. We are who they think we are. The funny, happy girl. The girl who has it all together.
But other times, we are putting on a false front. We are putting on a deceptive mask to hide our sad eyes and our tired hearts, because we think the mask will make us more loveable. We post a cute selfie on Instagram with a romantic caption that makes it look like we are living our best life. But really, we are smiling back tears. We are on the edge of a nervous breakdown. We have no idea what we are doing with life. And we feel like we are about to fall apart. And the worst part is, we don’t know why. Yet still, we don’t tell anyone. We keep our “dark side” a secret. We cry alone. We struggle alone. And no matter what, we keep fighting and fighting to make it appear as though we are more than okay.
Behind the perfectly edited photos, behind the laughs and smiles, behind the “I’m doing great” we feel so bad. We feel unsupported and alone. We feel insecure and uncomfortable in our bodies. And no matter how many cute new clothes we buy, or how many fun and exciting adventures we take, or how many nights out, we can’t seem to fix the brokenness. We can’t seem to complete what feels so ruthlessly incomplete. No matter what we do, something is missing.
So much of life happens at surface level. So much of life happens in the shallow water, where things are easy and topical. Where life is simple and fun, and shiny and perfect. Yet, so many of us do not feel perfect or simple. So many of us do not feel even “okay.” And we hide behind social media. We hide behind snapchat filters and surface level texts. But what we need more of is connection. We need depth. We need deep water conversations. We need to talk about how we are actually feeling, and what we need most out of life. We need to talk about our fears and our anxieties just as much as we talk about our hopes and our dreams. We need to talk about our lowest moments, and our most isolating, lonely thoughts. We need to feel like someone else out there understands us. And most of all, we need to feel like we are not alone in this.
Because none of us are alone. Not me, and not you. I’m not the only person who has posted a photo on Instagram to try to feel better. I’m not the only one who has used a snapchat filter to cover up baggy eyes, that are either the result of a lack of sleep or of tears. I’m not the only one who has smiled even when feeling absolutely terrible. Now, looking back on that photo, I realize that I was doing all that I knew how to do. I was trying to cover the dark side of myself with something that made me appear like I was doing okay. I was trying to show the world a side of me that may or may not have even existed at the time.
And I wanted to share this because I don’t want to keep living in the shallow end. I don’t want to be scared of sharing the hard stuff. I don’t want to be scared of other people knowing that I’m insecure and that a lot of times I’m unhappy. I don’t want to be scared of telling people that some days I am not completely okay. And that this is okay. And I want you to know, that if you are struggling, it’s okay to show it. It’s okay to let others know. It’s okay to not cover the bags under your eyes with concealer. It’s okay to cry in public. It’s okay to cancel on plans and spend the day watching Netflix. It’s okay to rest all day. It’s okay to tell your best friend that you are having a really, really hard time. It’s all okay. And as soon as we realize this, things actually do get a little bit better. Because we aren’t so alone. We aren’t always faking it. We aren’t pushing everything deep down beneath the surface. We aren’t forcing all of the pain to stay hidden. And when we don’t try so hard to hide everything, life becomes a little bit easier. We don’t feel like we could explode at any moment. We don’t feel so trapped in our own bodies. And we don’t feel alone.
So if this is you, if you are struggling, I want you to know that it’s okay to stop hiding your pain. I want you to know that there is comfort out there, and that even during your darkest days, you are supported and loved. I want you to know that others are going through the same thing, and that you are by no means ever alone. I want you to know that it’s okay to start a conversation, and that it’s okay to dive deep down into the deep end with someone else. I want you to know that the right people are not going to be scared away by your pain. I want you to know that it’s okay to feel bad. And that it’s okay to let others know when you are feeling bad. And above all, I want you to know, that if you stop trying to hard to hide everything, things really do get better.