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What I Want You to Know If You Hide Your Pain on Social Media

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I posted a carefully edited black-and-white photo on Instagram the other day of me smiling and carefree, holding my puppy in my arms. The photo reflected someone happy, someone content, someone who appeared to be in a good mood. Someone who appeared to be “OK.” But in reality, because I live with severe (and I mean severe) insomnia, I had only slept for about two hours the night before the picture was taken, and was thus feeling like an exhausted, emotional train wreck. I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown from the buildup of sleepless nights, and I, in no way, was feeling content or calm, despite what my photo suggested.

Posting the photo was a feeble attempt to try to distract myself from how I was actually feeling: down and anxious. I was turning to social media in the hopes that it would give me a little burst of positivity, a handful of likes to make me feel validated, to make me feel good about myself. Essentially, the photo was a distraction that (I believed) would make me feel better about myself, and that would relieve me from some of the intrusive anxious thoughts that were flooding my mind. Because I don’t keep my phone notifications on, I kept reopening the app to check how many likes I was getting. And when the likes didn’t come pouring in right away, my anxiety heightened and I contemplated deleting the post altogether.

Life can be so lonely and so hard, and we don’t talk about it enough. We think we are the only ones who feel alone, so we don’t tell others that we are having a hard time out of fear that they won’t understand. Or out of fear that they will look down on us. We worry that they will judge us, or that they will think we are weak for feeling so low. So instead, we stay safe by bottling all of the feelings up. We keep them hidden below the surface and push them down as deep as we possibly can. We do everything in our power to keep the darkness buried, and to face the world with a brave smile.

We think that hiding our feelings is brave. That living a picture-perfect life is the solution. And we tell everyone that “everything’s fine,” even when it isn’t. We smile, we laugh and we gossip about all of the exciting drama that’s going on in our friends’ lives. And sometimes, even though we are faking it, for a split second, or even a long-lasting moment, it does become real. We are genuinely happy. We are truly excited. We are laughing, a real laugh. We are who we appear to be. We are who they think we are. The funny, happy girl. The girl who has it all together.

But other times, we are putting on a false front. We are putting on a deceptive mask to hide our sad eyes and our tired hearts because we think the mask will make us more lovable. We post a cute selfie on Instagram with a romantic caption that makes it look like we are living our best life. But really, we are smiling back tears. We have no idea what we are doing with life. And we feel like we are about to fall apart. And the worst part is, we don’t know why. Yet still, we don’t tell anyone. We keep our “dark side” a secret. We cry alone. We struggle alone. And no matter what, we keep fighting and fighting to make it appear as though we are more than OK.

So much of life happens at the surface level. So much of life happens in the shallow water, where things are easy and topical. Where life is simple and fun, and shiny and perfect. Yet, so many of us do not feel perfect or simple. So many of us do not feel even “OK,” mentally or physically. And we hide behind Snapchat filters and surface-level texts. We hide behind cute clothes and well-applied mascara. But what we need more of is connection. We need depth. We need deep-water conversations. We need to talk about how we are actually feeling, what we are going through, and what we need most out of life. We need to talk about our fears and our anxieties just as much as we talk about our hopes and our dreams. We need to talk about our lowest moments, and our most isolating, lonely thoughts. We need to feel like someone else out there understands us. And most of all, we need to feel like we are not alone in this.

Because none of us are alone. Not me, and not you. I’m not the only person who has posted a photo on Instagram to try to feel better. I’m not the only one who has used a Snapchat filter to cover up baggy eyes that are either the result of a lack of sleep or of tears. I’m not the only one who has smiled even when feeling like my heart is sinking and my body is exhausted. Now, looking back on that photo, I realize that I was doing all that I knew how to do. I was trying to cover the dark side of myself with something that made me appear like I was doing OK. I was trying to show the world a side of me that may or may not have even existed at the time.

And I wanted to share this because I don’t want to keep living in the shallow end. I don’t want to be scared of sharing hard or emotionally loaded thoughts. I don’t want to be scared of telling people that some days I am not OK, and I want to make it OK for this to be OK. And I want you to know that if you are struggling, it’s OK to talk about it. It’s OK to cancel on plans and spend the day watching Netflix. It’s OK to tell people when your symptoms are flaring up, either mentally or physically. It’s OK to rest all day. It’s OK to tell your best friend that you are having a really, really hard time. It’s all OK.

And as soon as we realize this, things actually do get a little bit better. We feel less pressure to push our feelings down beneath the surface. And when we don’t try so hard to hide everything, life becomes a little bit easier. We don’t feel so trapped in our own bodies, and we don’t feel so alone.

So if this is you, if you are struggling, I want you to know that it’s OK to stop hiding your pain. I want you to know that there is comfort waiting for you out there and that even during your darkest days, you are supported and loved. I want you to know that others are going through the same thing and that you are by no means ever alone. I want you to know that it’s OK to start a conversation and that it’s OK to dive down into the deep end with someone else. I want you to know that the right people are not going to be scared away by your challenges. And above all, I want you to know that if you stop trying so hard to hide everything, things really do get better.

Photo by Benigno Hoyuela on Unsplash

Originally published: May 3, 2021
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