This post is about comparison, "invisible" struggles, and the role that opening up online and through social media (or not opening up) plays in our perceptions of others' lives....
Sometimes you look at someone in the pew across from you at church, or you follow someone on Instagram and think you have a pretty good idea of what their life is like, how happy they are, what sort of weight they’re carrying in terms of life challenges, and how well they’re handling things.
You probably compare them or their life with yourself or your life- whether you mean to or not. You probably have a warped perception of what life is really like for them. (Please note that I said warped perception- this is good news because there’s a good chance that your inadvertent comparing is making you feel worse about yourself, your life challenges, and how you’re handling everything! If you can realize that the comparison you’re making isn't really a fair one, it may help you on that front.)
Whether we’re interacting with friends or acquaintances in real-life settings or posting parts of our life on social media, we don’t easily volunteer the most negative, challenging, painful parts of our lives. Those tend to be kept to ourselves and we guard them carefully, assessing when we are ready to “let someone in” enough to share those deeply difficult parts of our life with them. We’re protecting ourselves and we’re protecting others. We don’t want to be hurt by sharing with someone who may not be sensitive to our feelings. We don’t want to ruin the mood of a friendly, light conversation by taking an unexpected deep dive into the dark parts of our souls! I think we do the same with social media.
It’s something I’ve thought about since before Instagram existed. Back in the beginning stages of my blog, a friend mentioned that she had to stop reading my blog (which focused on sharing fun activities you could do with your kids) because it made her feel bad about herself. Sadly, that wouldn’t be the first comment I would hear that showed me that my online presence sometimes led to others feeling bad about themselves. I share highlights on my blog- the fun things we’ve done, the exciting places we’ve been to. I share those ideas with the intent to inspire other parents with ideas for making great memories with their families. Our life is certainly not full of fun activities and creativity and joy, though. I certainly haven’t found some magical balance in my life that allows me to “do it all” and avoid challenges, laziness, failure, sadness, frustration, etc. I’m just less likely to post about the challenges.
The conversations that come up about my blog and about social media in general, and our tendency to compare ourselves to others have really made me think about this. Is there a way to help each other to remember that our social feeds are generally highlight reels? Should we be posting all of the negative moments right in there with the positive, in order to be “real”… in the name of transparency or authenticity? I’ve wondered about that… but then I think about conversations in “real life” and how I wouldn’t want to take that unexpected “deep dive into the dark parts” during a light conversation with an unsuspecting acquaintance. I think about how I carefully decide when to let my guard down in “real life” conversations- there are times when it feels right & safe to share the things I’m struggling with, and there are times that don’t feel right. I think it’s the same with social media.
It’s just tricky to figure this out with social media because anything you share is public. You’re talking to the friend who’s ready for that “deep dive” and you’re talking to the unsuspecting acquaintance who just wanted to say “Hey how’s it going- awesome weather we’re having!” and move on with her day. I haven’t figured it out exactly, and that means that I tend to stick to the lighter subjects in my posts. I play it safe.
But I do want to share a couple of things with you, because I hate the thought of anyone reading my blog or following me on Instagram and drawing comparisons between my life and theirs, and coming away from that, feeling sad.
I want you to know that yes, we went on an adventure this past year, moving to a new place, going on fun road trips, exploring, and making some great, happy memories. It was lovely in so many ways!
Also, it was one of the hardest years I’ve experienced. I struggled a lot- not just with the things that were going on around me (the challenges of moving to a new country, my husband’s foot randomly getting injured and staying that way for months, the job that we moved for not being what we expected, my husband being gone 12 hours a day, money being tight and therefore feeling very restricted with spending on anything, etc.) but also with the things that were going on inside of me.
I struggled a lot with my thoughts and feelings. I learned that I was unhappy because of some ways that life hadn’t become what I expected it to be; I was sad and disappointed, and I couldn’t figure out how to deal with the feelings I was having as a result of that disappointment. I felt guilty for being unhappy with things because I could easily see that it could be so much worse, in so many ways and that there are many wonderful blessings in my life!
I struggled with these things the whole time we lived in Utah. I struggled to figure out what I could do that would bring me more happiness. I struggled to understand my feelings. I listened to podcasts, I read books, I had long talks with friends, I even went to a counselor a couple of times.
After a whirlwind of a year, here I am back in Canada and on the cusp of another new life situation. The time we spent living at the cottage felt healing and good for my soul. I had time to think about the things I was struggling with during the last year. I’m in a better place now (mentally & emotionally… we won’t get into a debate about countries- ha!). I feel like I'm finally getting somewhere and can look back and see more clearly what I've been learning. It makes me excited to move forward in this next chapter of life.
I know that I'll continue to face familiar challenges and I'll come up against new and unexpected difficulties. I'll find joy in new places and have experiences and opportunities that I haven't even dreamed up yet. It's a little scary and exciting at the same time. I hope to share a lot of it and to continue in my quest to find ways to share the deeper parts of life with you in ways that feel right to me. As I am figuring that out, I want you to know that although I focus on the more positive things in many of my posts, the dark and difficult parts are here too. You are not alone in them.
Much love to each of you in your own struggles! I know you all face them and I wish I could give each of you a hug and send you some extra strength to face whatever your current difficulties are!