If you scan my recent Instagram posts, you’ll see my family went sledding a few weeks ago. Smiling, we posed around the six-foot snow man we constructed together, with his fuzzy ear muffs and wooden stick arms and funny face. There’s footage of my kids giggling as they slid down a snowy slope, and me cracking up as I tried and failed epically to hold my phone when sliding quickly down the trail myself.
You’ll see pictures of my daughter selling girl scout cookies at a booth sale one afternoon; and photos of her dressed adorably at her first dance recital; pics of my son scoring touchdowns at football and holding up sports trophies; of both kids proudly holding up “Leader of the Month” certificates and good report cards. There are images of family trips to waterparks, amusement parks, museums, playgrounds, the beach; and holiday snapshots of everyone gleefully ripping into Christmas presents, overflowing Halloween candy buckets and pretty Easter baskets.
You’ll see the occasional date night photo of the hubs and I smiling over drinks at a restaurant. You’ll see some “selfies,” taken from various flattering angles on particularly good hair or boob days. There’s birthday tributes to close family members and friends, once-in-a-blue-moon “girls night out” shots, parties and weddings and family gatherings. Essentially, it’s a smattering of memories all fitting snugly together like the puzzle pieces of my life.
Except, if I’m being honest, there are hundreds of puzzle pieces missing. I’m just as guilty as the next social media user of creating a false reality that my life is seemingly perfect. I very carefully select only the most picture perfect of moments to share. Even when I’m complaining or angry or upset about something, I spin it on my Facebook page into a joke, as if to say “my life is a hot mess but it’s a funny hot mess so I got this!” Admittedly, I’m filled with a sense of satisfaction as I watch my “likes” climb in the hours and days after a new post.
Like most of you, my life is absolutely nowhere near the level of perfection those “likes” would indicate. For every smiling family members’ face I post, there are ten, maybe twenty, real-life frowns. For every joke I type into my feed, there are hundreds of tears pooling on my keyboard. For every fun family outing I’ve splashed across my page, there are countless days of sitting at home listening to my kids whine of boredom whenever they get the chance to take their eyes off YouTube for five seconds.
Real life isn’t found scrolling mindlessly through an app on your phone. Real life is in the pictures we don’t post, the moments we don’t capture and share with the world. Sure, it can be beautiful at times, but often it’s just empty. Lonely. Painful. Boring. Frustrating. Overwhelming. Terrifying. Depressing. Unperfect in every way.
Looking at my carefully curated social media content, you might not guess I battle depression and anxiety every day of my life. Zoom in on those pictures of my family sledding this winter and you might notice my wedding ring missing from the photo. People are rarely quick to post that their marriage is falling apart. And what you don’t see from the other side of the camera, in the photo where my daughter beams while holding her “Girl Scout Cookies for Sale” sign, is a mom with crippling social anxiety who is self-consciously struggling just to make it through the event without drawing attention to herself or looking awkward or saying something stupid in front of the other moms.
I never post images of my son crying when he missed a ball and cost his team the game, or of my daughter berating herself for getting another bad grade on her math test. I don’t post angry footage of me losing my shit every morning when the kids are getting ready for school at a snail-like pace. And I certainly don’t screenshot those scary credit card statements after I’ve gone overboard around holiday time.
I’ll never post a selfie first thing in the morning or without sucking my stomach in until breathing is physically impossible. I admit I only post pretty pictures of myself when boosted with the false confidence of liquid courage. I always feel silly the next day — and even sillier knowing all those “likes” really do feel good after all.
I sometimes (always) look at others’ pictures and feel like I’m failing epically at life. I’m filled with envy as I thumb through their lavish vacation photos or bikini pics or perfect homes or exciting social lives. I chastise myself for not doing enough with my kids, for my incessant social awkwardness, for not working out enough, not cleaning the house enough, self-deprecation to the highest degree.
And then I remind myself, as crazy as it seems to me, someone else might be looking at my posts and thinking the exact same thing.
So maybe, for those folks, I’ll share some footage gulping down my 20mg of antidepressants in the morning. Maybe I’ll share my shameful recycling bin brimming with empty wine bottles I consumed entirely on my own. Or better yet, maybe I’ll take a selfie with my therapist after our next session. Frankly, my life is as much of a mess – maybe even moreso- than yours.
But this is life: real, unfiltered, unedited, unplanned life.
It’s what happens when the camera is down. When the apps are closed and the phone is out of reach. And no one’s life – NO ONE’S – is perfect. So you can choose to laugh about it, or cry about it, forget about it, or even share it with the world. Just don’t feel bad about it, because we are all going through it.
It’s like they always say: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. So put down the phone and go live your own, unperfect, unposted life.