Sometimes life isn’t pretty. We all know that right? Social media makes it so easy to see that about celebrities and politicians but easy to forget about regular people.
Last week, news broke of designer Kate Spade, found by her housekeeper with one end of a scarf around her neck and the other around a door knob. A letter telling her daughter it’s not her fault. Two days later Anthony Bourdain is found hanging by his bathrobe belt in a hotel room. Social media has exploded with dismay and sadness. Thankfully, I don’t know much about suicide or the kind of depression that drives people to it. What I do know is that research is finding a link between suicide and amount of time spent on social media. The research says Instagram is the worst. All the smiling faces, all the pictures people didn’t delete because they looked fat, all the happy moments, the carefree, joyful, “blessed” selves they’re trying to portray. There is a lot that people don’t put out there for all to see. We say it’s “private” or “people don’t need to know that” or “no one would care.” We want to show our best selves and sometimes the side we show isn’t perfect but it’s to be funny or self-deprecating. But it’s not ugly. We don’t do ugly. Ugly stays off social media unless it’s directed at someone else. I’m talking about ugly emotions. The most personal things. Things that make us hurt. And, things we do to hurt others. Despite being some of the most common human experiences, we don’t go there. Ugly is the kind of thing that makes people cringe and ask someone else “did you see what (so-and-so) posted today?”
The things that consume us in our relationships or in our lives or in our head that we still withhold often aren’t just withheld from social media. We are withholding it from everyone (or almost everyone) in our lives. How else do we get to a place where someone commits suicide or picks up and abandons their entire life or shoots up a school and leaves all these friends and family members looking at each other saying “we had no idea!”
Shame is why. People don’t say anything and don’t ask for help because they are ashamed. Brene Brown is a researcher who studies shame and vulnerability. Her TED Talk has been viewed over 34 million times, making it one of the top ten TED talks in history. Her message about the relationship between shame and vulnerability resonates with people. It certainly resonated with me when I saw it several years ago. And it resonates with me still. She defines shame as the fear of disconnection. In order for connection to happen, we have to be vulnerable, truly allow ourselves to be seen by others. Courage, she says, is “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”
To my surprise and delight, some people read my blog. Generally, the people most willing to really engage about its content are acquaintances from long ago. It has been eye opening and flattering that people I haven’t spoken to in over a decade have taken the time to reach out, acknowledge the work, and share their own experience. The small connections this blog is making are unexpected, and so appreciated. The people in my life right now seem more uncertain about what to say. There is this thing that happens now. A look and a silence when someone asks me what’s new but seems to already know. A small few have broken that silence by acknowledging their own hesitation about admitting they read the blog and feel uncertain about how to bring it up because they don’t know if or how much I want to talk about it. I understand this hesitation. People care. People want to be supportive but don’t know how, or are worried about causing me distress, or maybe don’t want to open that can of worms because it’s difficult for them too. I’m sure there are infinite reasons why a person holds back, doesn’t ask that question.
I knew in putting something like this in on the internet, it would no longer be private. I knew in linking this blog to my social media accounts, people I see every day and people I know only from social media alike might read it. I knew that my style and candor, revealing “personal” information might not be well received by people. I made a choice to do it anyways. I did it because at the heart of my sadness, frustration, impatience, and confusion about not getting pregnant, was shame. Shame around this idea of not becoming the person I thought I would be. Shame about not succeeding at something I wanted. Shame about making choices earlier in life that probably have affected my ability to get pregnant now. Shame about letting down my husband and my family. Brene Brown says that shame will eat you up inside unless you expose it to the light. She says that the barrier to exposing shame to the light is an unwillingness to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is just the scariest place to be. It feels like being naked in a room full of strangers. It’s just me, putting my truest and deepest thoughts and feelings out there to be judged and criticized. It’s just me trying to sort out this mess in front of the people I want to perceive me as together and strong. It is just me, being soft rather than hard. For once. It is me.
I’ve been avoiding the computer even though I want to write. Writing is becoming my new favorite thing. Siphoning the days into something that makes sense and has value has been delightful. A way to find stories to tell. These past few weeks have been difficult. I haven’t been able to find the humor in things. I haven’t been able to tap into the hopefulness I’ve found in previous months. I’ve been wondering “what’s the point?” I’ve been quiet, feeling that I have nothing valuable to contribute right now. Everything just feels hard. So this is me saying something, rather than not saying something and going to a dark place. A place I get stuck in.
I don’t know what it takes for life to become so dark and so stuck that you take your own life, but I have to think that the thing we all can do before we or someone we love gets to that dark stuck place…is to say something. Say something about those thoughts. Be willing to talk about the hard stuff. Be a little bit of a mess around people we love. And as the friends and the family members, it’s saying something about what we see. Asking those questions. Sharing those observations. Having that discussion. This blog was intended to start discussions. Maybe with me publicly, maybe with me privately, maybe not with me at all but with someone else in your life. It’s ok. It might be ugly. It might be personal. It’s the story of who we are. I’m going to tell my story with my whole heart.