I am interrupted hundreds of times a day by thoughts a murderer would have. I can’t control myself. I have to hide. No one can know. These thoughts takeover in the middle of night when I become Lady Macbeth and start seeing blood on my hand, dripping from my phone with Instagram posts of my ex and his new girlfriend pulled up.
I’ve seen their photos a hundred times. My fingers and my phone have become private investigating partners (think 1940s suave, sexist kind). With comparable speed and dexterity to a nose picking seven-year-old on organic ADHD softchews, my thumb knows exactly which photos to target: the kiss in Tokyo, the “sleeping” selfie, and, out of tons of posing-somewhere-dictating-status photos, the ones that have a subtle glint in their eyes that I know, unmistakably, that they are happy.
I find the photos that hurt the most and I revisit them (with swift avoidance of double-tapping). I’m killing my self-esteem with my bare thumbs. And there’s really no reason. Sure, there’s my low self-esteem, genetic predisposition to anxiety, and unfinished grieving over my missing childhood, but I’d like to think I’m actively hurting myself because I like it. It’s like smelling deep inside your belly button. I am constantly seeking affirmation of my own grossness.
What is there to do? Stop and see my shit. And own it. I know that’s vulgar, but a man with a mortgage once told me that. In other words, I had to give space for my feelings, even if they’re scummy. Even if it’s envy. They’re parts of me that I have to attend to and hold. It’s totally human to miss someone who cared about you, to feel not enough, and to feel awful when you see photos of someone prettier than you—and then feel petty about that.
When I catch myself feeling badly about feeling badly about myself, I try to think of “phobophobia.” Phobophobia is the fear of fears. Fearing even our internal sensations doesn’t stop them from happening and magnifies the stress instead. I allow myself to feel the first jab of pain when I find myself on my ex’s Instagram again. Then I place my hand on my heart. I hold my heart and sit through the emotional tides. I even say out loud to myself, “I’m staying.” “I’m not leaving you.”
Next time I find myself on an Instagram post of my ex’s girlfriend from 168 weeks ago, instead of flogging myself with shame, I start with gratitude. Thank you, Instagram, for you are kind keeping women ignorant of how deep they’re in the self-comparison rabbit hole (the weeks to years conversion is impossible). I follow with self-compassion. I tell myself in the gentle tone of fairy godmother, I’m not burying a dead body. I’m quite alright.