I want to apologize.
Last weekend I went to a Phish show and posted this photo on Facebook, for all of you to see:
In it, I am fucking miserable.
Surprised? I’ll bet. Nothing says “My life is so happy and fun, guys!” like an open-mouthed, wahoo yell-smile, indoor sunglasses, bright lights, and background spirit fingers.
(For the record, Eric is exactly as happy as he looks. If he had a tail, it’d be wagging. Which is why he is the absolute necessary to my .)
The second after that photo was snapped, my face fell back into its previous anxious contortion. That entire afternoon and night, I just couldn’t calm down. I didn’t feel present. Everyone around me was excited, and I couldn’t get on board, not matter how hard I tried. I felt disassociated, stuck in my bell jar, uncomfortable in my body. I was trying to move to the music but just….couldn’t. Everything about me felt awkward, disconnected, and out of place. And so, the self-defeating but all-too-predicatable marathon of thoughts began swirling through my brain, a loop so familiar that I carry a VIP pass to this particular ferris wheel ride of misery: “Why can’t you just relax, Emily? Why can’t you just have fun like everyone else here? Why do you have to be such a goddamn downer? JUST ENJOY YOURSELF FOR CHRIST’S SAKE, THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN! STOP BEING THE ABSOLUTE FUCKING WORST!”
(It’s weird how this strategy never works.)
Those sunglasses? Not a cute, bright-lights-at-Phish gimmick.
They were necessary to hide my tears.
Now brief side clarification– my misery that night had NOTHING to do with Phish. Phish critics might think, “Of course you were miserable at Phish, it’s a crowded shitshow.” And yeah, it sure is! But truth be told, I actually like Phish. A lot. Ok, not nearly as much as the die-hard, 100-shows-and-counting phanatics I’m usually with, but I do have an appreciation for the music, the people, and the scene. In fact, I had been to a Phish show 8 days before this one and had a genuine blast. My mood was stable that day, and the music and crowd were in sync with my dopamine levels. I got lucky. I should have posted a photo from THAT show. At least it would have been authentic.
So why did I choose to post a “joyful” photo when I felt shattered inside? I’m sure there are a million different answers to that, all of which I will analyze to death with my therapist next week, so she better buy at least 3 hats, 2 helmets, and hold the fuck on. But I’m in touch with myself enough to know that the main reason is this:
That photo represented how I wanted to feel. And maybe if that was the image I projected to the world, it would, in some way, become the reality.
But shame on me. I know better.
I know that when I’m down, a filtered, look-at-me-having-fun photo feels good for one moment and one moment only. Then I’m just part of the problem, a problem that I’ve always been so conscious and critical of.
It’s no secret that social media can be harmful to self-esteem. I’m not making any groundbreaking statements in that regard. The constant comparison to other people’s happiness and success, which is generally the majority of what gets posted, makes us feel badly about our own less-than-perfect lives. We’ve all experienced this. It’s insane how we can scroll through a news feed and, even when we KNOW, intellectually, that what we see is not capturing the true, more nuanced reality of our peers’ lives, we still, on some level, process it as such. Our visual perception, paired with our own insecurities, trumps our rational mind every time.
That is why I am so disappointed in myself for posting a photo that projects fun and joy, when inside I was torn to pieces.
This helps no one.
Especially not myself.
I know better than to communicate an inauthentic truth. I know what it does to my mental health when I try to put forth a version of me that isn’t real, and the possible damage it can do to others who struggle. It’s the main reason I have this no-clear-theme-and-sort-of-all-over-the-place mess of a blog– a mix of stories that highlight my imperfections, struggles, and staggered journey. Yes, some of my expereinces are joyful, and I’m always thrilled when I get to share that. And I will continue to share that, as we all should– when it’s genuine.
But a lot of the journey is hard. And awkward. And sad. Anxiety-and-guilt-ridden, scary, uncomfortable, confusing and head-in-hands frustrating. So I try my best to capture that, too. Not push it down and cover it up with a camera-ready smile. Because if I’m doing that, if I’m masking the struggles, I’m just another “Look how great my life is ALL THE TIME!” social media monster. We have enough Kardashians out there eating us alive, ass-first.
The thing is, my life really IS great, guys.
It’s also a category F5 shitnado.
I promise an online presence that continues to project both these realities.