I came upon this great post delivered in my email written by Jennifer St. John, called “I Want to Post this About My Mental Illness on My Social Media, but Don’t” and it really resonated with me. In fact it brought me to tears and since starting on my new medication that hasn’t happened very often. There were many parts that I related to. I even commented on her post that I could have written all of it. All.Of.It.
St. John talks about a beautiful beach walk picture she posted on her social media and how instantly she received comments like “beautiful”, and “you’re so lucky” and she wanted to say how she actually had been really struggling. That posts on social media are not always accurate snap shots.
I will admit, I use beautiful, perfectly timed, perfectly lit images on my social media to try to hide the things I’m struggling with. If my hair looks great, my outfit perfect, I’ve completed another decor project in my home, I’m in cute workout clothes then others will think I am “normal”. They will think that I’m brave and strong because after all I’ve been through look at all the amazing things I’m doing. I also go to the other extreme and post passive-aggressive quotes which everyone of course incorrectly assumes is about them. But really it’s a sad attempt at asking for help – a plea for someone, anyone to read between the lines and notice that I’m struggling and reach out to save me.
Last year I was on leave from work and my insurance company denied my long term claim saying that while the understood I had been under “stress”, stress wasn’t a reason not to be at work. They didn’t care that I had a medical diagnosis.
I had a representative from their appeals office come to my home to visit and after our meeting she said she thinks I downplayed how much I was struggling in order to show strength and I should appeal and give an honest account. It took me time to pull together my appeal but I did it. And it was denied again. I can’t remember the exact wording but basically they stated my social media showed me setting up my new house, exercising and doing activities with my children so I was clearly capable of being at work.
What my insurance company and probably others failed to understand was the tremendous energy I was expending in order to appear that I was functioning. My social media didn’t show that I was up most of the night debating if I should organize my basement or paint baseboards or reliving hard moments, encounters with friends that appeared like I was nothing short of a “dramatic, immature trouble maker.”
It didn’t show that after 2.5 hours of sleep I pulled myself together and, got my children ready for school, made their breakfasts, lunches, made sure homework was done, that they felt loved and even though I was crumpling on the inside I was still a mom and a single mom at that so I pulled it together. Yes I shared custody with my ex so was not always doing it alone but the alone weeks were always harder anyway. I remember one morning running late with the kids. I would drive them to the bus stop because once we moved I wanted to keep things simple and stable so I left them at the old stop. Time was getting tight and it was uncertain that we would make it to the bus stop on time. I froze. I was having a panic attack and I had tears streaming down my face. I said to my kids I don’t even know what to do if we miss the bus. My 8 year old daughter hugged me and said “It’s ok mommy, if we miss the bus you can just drive us to school.” Her simple logical reason made so much sense but then I felt humiliated that I couldn’t problem solve something so simple and logical.
What the social media didn’t show was that I became obsessed with my body and weight loss. That at one point I was eating 700-900 calories a day, running 5km in the morning, doing a second intense weight training workout in the evening, going to the gym or going for another 10km run. Because the more out of control life felt the more I tried to gain control by being obsessed with diet and exercise.
It didn’t show that sometimes I would sit on my bedroom floor for an hour deciding on what I was going to wear that day. It didn’t show that it was noon before I had my morning coffee because I couldn’t decide I should make a to do list, go for a walk, make oatmeal or bake cookies for the kids after school snack. I did decide to stay off unpaid for 4 months because I knew I wasn’t ready to return. I’m still recovering from that decision 1 year later.
Someone I use to know once told me that Social Media is a highlight reel. That we use it to highlight our best and brightest moments. St. John says she wishes she could use her social media to bring our struggles to light. But that’s exactly what I’m trying highlight now. That things aren’t always as they seem and brain disorders (aka mental illness) should be talked about so more people understand.
St. John talks about coming close to ending her life because she ran out of reasons to stay on the earth. I’m recovering from all too familiar episode, one that landed me in hospital for two weeks. I’m not ready to put that story out there – it takes a lot of courage to talk about a suicide attempt and I’m not there in my journey. I will be. But know, like St. John, I didn’t want to die and it certainly wasn’t attention seeking behavior. It was simply because I ran out of hope. I was tired of working and fighting and doing all the things I needed to do and just didn’t feel like I was getting better. I was tired of being told that if I wasn’t so negative all the time things would get better. Mostly I was tired of feeling like a constant burden, a failure. I felt like people were just waiting on edge for me to fall hard once again.
St. John ends with “sometimes want to be completely transparent, sharing with everyone how I really feel. But I always talk myself out of it. Pride, stigma, and fear of judgment.” But I don’t want to be afraid of judgement anymore. Mother Teresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” I only have space in my heart and in my life for people that love me despite my struggles, shortcomings and flaws. People with brain disorders, including myself should not have to “make up excuses for why they can’t make it to work or to a social event. That they can be honest and admit they are recovering from an anxiety attack or fighting suicidal thoughts. That they can take a much-needed break from school or work to care for themselves, without fear of judgment or consequences.”
So enjoy my highlight reel. Let me share my proud moments, my simple joys but don’t assume that life is perfect or that I’m not struggling. Because things are not always as they seem. Like the view in your rearview mirror – sometimes things are distorted.