Ed. note: This is a bit long. Bear with me, because I had some things I needed to say, and had to explain circuitously.
It’s been a rough few days.
There are several reasons why. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First I want to talk about social media.
Specifically, using social media when we’re sad.
I’ve read many articles about the psychological effects of social media. How we use it, how positive versus negative information in our feeds affects us, how words and topics and ideas trend. And every single bit of clinical research done, to date, tells us that our Facebook lives are perfect.
Perfect? Surely, that can’t be right…
Well, of course it’s not. But it’s what we portray. Research shows that we all “curate” our social media postings to project a certain image. We only post the good. We want to show other people that we have it together. That we’re raising our kids right, that we love our lives, that everything is peachy-keen. It’s not about being dishonest. It’s about marketing. We all lead lives that are moments of perfect in the midst of messy. And yet, social media is reinforcing this idea that we need to portray a certain image. You probably know this, even if it’s just subconsciously. Do you remember the last time you posted something about having a bad day? How much interaction did that post get? Now, what about something positive? It can be anything… a new job, a cute baby picture, your dog, last night’s dessert… now how much interaction did that one get? Positive posts generally attract more interaction (as measured in ‘likes’ and comments). Subconsciously, your brain registers this. Positive, happy posts get more attention. Attention tickles our brain’s reward system. We’re like Pavlov’s dogs searching for affirmation. We become trained to curate our social interactions to portray ourselves in a positive light.
(We do it in real life, too… but stick with me here.)
So then, what happens when things aren’t so great?
With the exception of “socially acceptable” sadness… like a death or a break-up… most of us never mention it. Or we commit that terrible sin of social media, “vague-booking“, which comes across as mysterious at best, or attention-seeking at worst.
I’m guilty of all of this. We all are, some to a higher degree than others. It’s a cultural phenomenon that we are trained that depression and sadness is bad, that we should always be happy, and that sadness or melancholy is somehow a failing on our part. All you have to do is look at the social stigma that STILL surrounds mental illness, despite all of our knowledge and research and scientific findings behind it, to see that as a species, we are uncomfortable with sadness.
So what does that have to do with me today?
As most of you know, I was stuck in a “holding pattern” of sorts for most of 2014. Between stuff going on with the Munchkin, stuff at work, stuff at school, and trying to diagnose what turned out to be fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, it felt like my entire life was put on pause. When 2015 rang in, I felt like this year would be better. That things would change.
But the thing about change is that it’s hard. The thing about your entire life getting upended is that it takes time to find your footing again.
But you know what? I’m not supposed to tell you that.
I’m supposed to curate a positive, upbeat attitude on social media at all times. I’m supposed to pretend like, to quote the Munchkin’s latest favorite song, “everything is awesome!”
And a lot of days, it is.
But some days it’s not.
Here’s the thing about me. I believe in being genuine. I believe in using my words and being honest and sincere. I believe that if we always have to put on a happy face that we’re not really being genuine. Not that there’s not a time and place to “put on the face”; there clearly is. But on Facebook… these people are my FRIENDS. The people that I love and cherish, that I share my life and my family with. If I can’t be genuine with them, then how can I call myself a person of integrity? I believe that part of integrity includes when things are NOT awesome, and being genuine anyway.
Usually when something is bothering me, or I’m having a rough day, I turn (privately) to a close confidante. I’m lucky to be able to say that I have more than one person that I call a “best friend”; they are the “bonus family” that are my constant source of strength and advice (besides, of course, my parents and sister, who I’m leaving out of this discussion for now).
The thing is, life gets crazy. Over the last 4 years, most of my best friends’ lives have changed dramatically. All for the better! One got remarried to a great guy after a crappy first marriage, and they had a baby boy after years of believing she was infertile. Another one and her husband were finally able to have a baby after 5 years of trying; their beautiful smiley baby boy was born with a genetic condition that has required a huge amount of focus from his parents (he is doing great, but their path still has some bumps in it). Another one got married and became a blended family, complete with three kids from elementary to high school and all of the associated busyness (and LAUNDRY). Another one met a wonderful girl, and the two of them, with their children, are building a new life together; they’re getting married soon, and just bought a house. Another one gave up everything and moved back in with his mom, in order to finally finish up his degree; in order to finish quickly, he’s been carrying a course load of as many as 17 hours per semester. (There are others, but you get the idea.)
I’m ecstatic for my friends. I feel that it’s an enormous blessing to be able to watch my friends’ lives unfold, to watch their children grow and their dreams take flight.
But all of my happiness for them doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own rough days, and miss being able to call my friends. You know how we mostly keep in touch these days?
Now… as I mentioned, the last couple weeks have been a bit rough for me, for a few reasons…
- This cold weather is affecting my fibromyalgia. The wind makes my muscles burn, and being outside is exhausting. Two weeks ago, my new mattress was delivered. But as it turns out, the hybrid is still way too firm. The pressure points created by the bed, combined with the cold weather and the regular stresses of working and school, have left me sleep deprived. Anyone that knows me knows that I can handle a night or two short on sleep… but 2 weeks of only 3-4 hours of sleep per night starts to mess with my head.
- I think everyone knows that the Munchkin ended up in the hospital a couple weeks ago with H3N2 influenza. He’s totally fine now, but his illness put me behind in both my classes right as the semester started. I’m struggling to catch up.
- I received notice from the county prosecutor a few days ago that my ex-husband is, once again, unemployed. I thought I was going to see a reprieve, especially when the back support was miraculously paid in full two weeks before the scheduled contempt hearing… but it seems it was too good to last. So, here we go again. Back to court… but not until May.
- The Munchkin has begun BEGGING to not go to his dad’s. That’s a complicated story that involves some difficult dynamics that I won’t go into right now, but suffice to say that it causes a lot of strain, and amplifies tensions that were already there surrounding Munchkin’s medications, autism therapies, and the child support.
- I decided after Christmas that I thought I was ready to dip a toe in the dating pond again. So far it hasn’t gone so well…
- One of the first people I was corresponding with seemed really great… until I told him about the fibromyalgia. He informed me that “fibromyalgia isn’t real”, but is – in fact – “the modern name for Munchausen Syndrome“… and then stopped responding.
- I began corresponding with a security consultant at a local IT firm. We had a lot in common and shared some really great banter. Then I learned that he was only wanting sex. Oh, and by the way, he doesn’t have a car. Or a green card. But I can come pick him up and he’ll give me a “massage”…
- I recently got back in contact with someone I had dated previously. Initially I thought that the reason it didn’t work out the first time was just timing. We had great chemistry and really had a lot of fun together. Several months later, it seemed like maybe this might be a more viable time. But over the last week or so, he has told me more than once that I think too much, I’m too serious, that I’m intimidating because I’m so smart, and that I talk way too much for my own good. In my last message (which, I admit, was long… I can’t help it), I tried to explain that I really would just like to have a chance to talk with him as a friend, to explain some things because I realized that I possibly hadn’t handled things the best I could, and that I was struggling with some things and wanted a man’s opinion. He has yet to respond. 😦
- I’ve had emails from a couple other men… but honestly, I’ve had such a sad streak lately, I’m almost afraid to respond. On the one hand, I think maybe I need a longer break… but on the other hand, it makes me feel like giving up. But my heart craves intimacy with another person, and I just can’t make myself give up on the possibility of finding love again.
- I have this other best friend. Over the last several years, he has really been my rock. He helped me work through some of my PTSD issues after I was raped. He encouraged me to go back to school, to chase my dreams and figure out what I really wanted. He supported me through custody battles, listened to my fears and pain when I made the hard decision to leave my church, bought school supplies, watched the dogs, worked around my house, and picked Munchkin up from school. He is the closest thing to a “dad” that the Munchkin has ever had… few other people have shown the kind of patience and interest with Munchkin that he has. And now he’s met someone. Last week, she moved in.Don’t misunderstand me. I’m thrilled for him. To watch this amazing man overcome the kind of things that he has, but still secretly fear that he would never find someone to love… it warms my heart. As we all know, when you are first with someone, and then again when you first move in with that person, you can think of nothing else. You become absorbed in each other, living in a beautiful, “la Vie en rose” bliss. But it’s been a difficult adjustment for me and the Munchkin. We went from seeing him every week, to maybe once every few weeks or longer. Even though we still text every day, his attention is focused elsewhere. That’s as it should be, but it doesn’t make the adjustment go any faster for me. It doesn’t make the Munchkin understand. It doesn’t fill the void of having this huge chunk of my life drift a little farther away. The problem with this is that, because he’s so very happy, he has a hard time understanding why the Munchkin and I are so sad. It has created a great deal of tension. (Read: we’ve been arguing. A LOT.) He feels like I am not really happy for him. While nothing could be further from the truth, I know that at times my reactions must have felt that way. As it is right now, we got in quite an argument yesterday. He blew me off after we made plans, after which I said some things I really shouldn’t have, born out of hurt feelings. And now he’s not really talking to me.
Starting this essentially-new life over this year has been hard. I won’t lie. But rebirth takes time. I’m still trying to learn how to deal with chronic daily pain. Trying to get caught up in classes while staying on track with new material is stressful. My ex-husband losing his job yet again (and the subsequent loss of child support) throws a wrench in all of my financial planning, including my plans to hire some work done around the house. Because of that, I don’t know if I will have the means to consult an attorney about further modifications to our custody agreement and what my options are.
I won’t say that I’m doing it alone. I’m not. My family is always here for me. I do have a good support network. Things are v…e…r…y… s…l…o…w…l…y… starting to turn around. I ordered a return and exchange of the mattress, and a new one will be here in 8 days. I am almost caught up in my classes. The Munchkin and I are starting to settle in to a new routine for this term. Tensions at work have eased, and we’re starting to gear up for summer. Every day closer to spring gives me hope that I’m going to actually survive this cold weather. Munchkin has been doing really great at school and therapy. I’m reworking my financial plan and looking at ways to make my budget work without depending on any child support going forward, since I can’t depend on it. I’ve officially declared my major, and am considering adding a minor. All in all, things are looking up.
So, why do I bring this up?
Because I was criticized, privately, for “lashing out” on Facebook… once again chastised for being too emotional.
Which brings me back to my point about being genuine on social media.
While I try, as we all do, to be positive, to put a good spin on things, to “curate” my social media image, there are just days when you can’t hide the pain. The last few days, the stress in my life – magnified by sleep deprivation, increased pain, and PMS – became too much to deal with. This past Friday night/Saturday afternoon, everything came to a head. And so I shared. I shared my sadness and my sense of loss on Facebook. I reached out for something. I needed words of encouragement from my friends and loved ones, even though I didn’t really feel like seeing or talking to anyone. But it landed me more grief.
I’ve spent the last 24 hours contemplating the previous few days. I realize, first and foremost, that all of this has been exacerbated by lack of sleep. Lack of sleep increases my pain levels, makes it harder to focus and get things done, and – importantly – impairs my normal thinking process (which is analytical, nigh overly so), making it much easier to act and speak (or send text messages) out of strong emotion before thinking through my words.
So, now what?
Here’s my truth:
- My life is difficult right now, but things are getting better.
- I am a deeply emotional person. That can be a blessing and a curse. Yes, it means I can be tempestuous at times. But it also means my love knows no limits. I am a woman of passions. Over the years, I have come to understand that God made me this way for a reason. I am not entirely sure why. These days, instead of trying to hide my face when I cry at movies, I prefer to immerse myself in the depths of my heart, content with the knowledge that I get to feel things in ways that few people do. Even when sometimes that means people can’t really relate to my depth of feeling and experience.
- If there is a “right man” for me, he will not be intimidated by the fact that I am intelligent, a good writer, and have a decent vocabulary and a thirst for global cultural knowledge or for spirituality in all its forms.
- Despite our changing lives, I know that I know that I know that every single one of the best friends mentioned above (and they know who they are) LOVE me (and the Munchkin) and that I can always count on them. Even if we don’t spend as much time together as we once did, we are a tribe. Any one of them would drop anything for me in a heartbeat, and I for them, if it really came down to it.
- I am, relatively, content. No, not everything is great. But as I lay on the couch this morning, curled up with my beautiful son, snuggling with our sweet dogs, I looked around the room and was once again struck with the realization of how very rich I am. I have a home. A huge one, compared with the way a lot of the world lives. It has a roof, and floors, and windows. It’s so big, I can even park my car inside! We have an entire room that houses only shelves filled with books. The shelves are filled with not only fiction, romance and adventure, but the wisdom and teachings of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad, Gandhi, Nouwen, Borg, Chopra, and many other wise and spiritual leaders. The refrigerator and pantry are full of food, and there’s an extra freezer in the garage. Treadmill, computers, camera equipment, televisions, toys, furniture… this house has more stuff than any two people really need. I hold a tiny computer in the palm of my hand from which I can call my parents or search the entire wealth of the world’s knowledge. The house is warm. The street outside is quiet. I have never seen a roadside bomb explosion, a drone attack, an armored tank, or soldiers with machine guns lurking through my neighborhood. My child walks, talks, eats regular food, breathes without assistance, and goes to the bathroom on his own. He also goes to a private school. We have medicines prescribed by real doctors to treat our medical conditions, and extra medicines for “just in case”. I finished high school, go to college, own property, and vote in elections – and I am a woman. I have two incredible parents and a beautiful sister who love us to no end. I have not just a few but many friends on whom I can call for help. I am incredibly wealthy. And because of that, I am happy. Do I still want? Yes. My heart desires someone to share it all with. Someone to see the world with. Someone to stand next to and tackle life together with. But if that doesn’t happen, does it lessen what I have? Not in the slightest.
Which brings me to this: I am going to continue to be genuine. I want to present my authentic self to the world. The possibility exists that some days, that won’t be the most joyful facade. But it will be honest. Because I believe that we should be honest. The perfectly curated images we present on social media, while nice to share, sometimes do more harm by causing all of us to compare ourselves to each other, when in reality we should be celebrating the beauty in the chaos.
My name is Elle. I’m a single mom. I have a chronic pain disorder. My son has autism. We are of the lower middle-class. I’m smart, verbose, and one of the most deeply emotional people you may ever meet. Some days, the world is overwhelming and I get sad. Some days I lose my temper. My house is usually messy, I work better under pressure (read: I tend to procrastinate), and I literally crave chocolate almost all the time. Sometimes I talk too much, sometimes I stay up too late (thus worrying both my parents), and some days I curse like a sailor. I hate dating (but crave romantic partnership). I overthink things.
And I’m happy.
Love me or don’t. I am done apologizing for having a bad day, for being an emotional person, and for being smart. I am genuinely me. I encourage each of you to do the same. I promise that if you share about your own bad day on social media, I will do my best to be as supportive as I can. Because I think we empower each other by sharing our weaknesses and being able to lift each other up and fill needs that are shown the light of day.
This is my truth. If you don’t like it? The “unfollow” button is up and to your right.