The Pictures are Pretty but the Struggle is Real
Why viewing the Web through the right lens may be more important than a digital detox
Digital detoxing is getting a lot of buzz. I should know. I wrote a book about it. My google alerts tell me that just today 6 new articles cropped up espousing the need to pull ourselves back from the digital brink. It’s a view I share, but I think our needs go deeper. Much deeper.
The Internet has a way of making the dullest things look shiny: Parenting. Pachouli. Petunias. But here’s the thing: nothing is as shiny as it looks on the Internet. No relationship, career, kids, or clothing. Nothing.
Stop and let that sink in for a moment.
Every single person you walk by on the street or follow obsessively on Instagram are struggling in one way or another.
I’ll tell you how I know: I’m one of them.
Lately I’ve been feeling quiet. Timid. Pulled back. Even afraid.
For a month after the #JOMO book tour ended I woke up every morning dead tired. I felt hollowed out, like I had nothing left to give. I was happy for the rest. I needed it, and I didn’t think much about writing or speaking day-to-day. But, as I slowly recharged my batteries, the urge to do resurfaced. I wasn’t sure what to do, just that my inner frantic-holic needed an outlet. Surely, there was more to be done. A book doesn’t promote itself.
So, I ran myself ragged: tweeting things, setting up meetings, harassing the marketing team at my publisher.
Persistently, I heard a quiet voice telling me to: “Stop, and watch what I will do.” But trusting someone else is risky, and I wasn’t ready to pass over the reins. I was spinning my wheels, making myself crazy, making my family crazy.
And I mean actually crazy. It wasn’t pretty behind closed doors.
This didn’t let up until I hit every possible wall, the reverberations shaking any sense of solid ground left.
I’m telling you this because on the surface this wasn’t something you could see. And I want you to know this because the pictures are pretty but the struggle real.
I’ve been doing a little reconnaissance, combing my online profiles from the past three years, seeking images that require explaining:
What the world saw: The announcement of my third pregnancy coupled with an expertly executed mirror selfie of my growing stomach.
What was really going on: I was four months pregnant with our third child. I was so grateful for the gift of this new life but also scared and conflicted. My career was starting to take off after being home with our two elder kids for 4 years.
What the world saw: Happy kids galavanting in the backyard. Look at us! Christina is a super-fun/cool mom!
What was really going on: I'd been to the doctor's office that morning because he thought I might have shingles. (Turns out I didn’t but still had to run through a panel of tests.) My husband Michael's grandpa had just passed away and we were about to fly out for the funeral. Also, Michael and I had a 'marital’ (read: fight) the night before.
Slowly, over time, I’ve been trying to match my outsides to my insides. To not paste on a happy face on a terrible, no-good day. Bit by bit I’ve been trying to even my online score by posting hard stuff to offset the selfies that have been through so many filters no one knows what my skin colour looks like anymore.
The defining moment of this was the day I walked onto a stage in front of 500 people after listening to someone generously introduce me. I shook my head as she read out the highlight reel: Author. TEDx speaker. Essayist. In other words: Perfect. Successful. TOGETHER.
I walked up to the microphone and did a risky thing. I told them that only moments earlier, I’d rearranged my top and a baby soother dropped out and hit the bathroom floor.
You could hear the room EXHALE. Then, laughter.
It was the truth, and the truth, it’s said, will set you free. I believe this. I believe it with my whole heart.
In my direct circle of colleagues and friends, who from the outside look like shiny happy people, there are those struggling with their marriage, their health, with how to reconcile their western lifestyle with the world’s needs, with selfishness, insecurity, making ends meet, kids' head lice and with infertility.
This is life. Beautiful and terrible life.
Whether you govern or push paper. Whether you garden or teach. Whether you act or paint or plumb or preach, you’ve got things under your skin.
The lost love who never seems to quite make their exit. The parenting regrets that linger decades in. The in-laws who make you crazy. The weight that never seems to budge. The overwork that’s sapping your creativity, rest, relationships. The unanswered questions. The partner who’s silent. The partner who drinks. The secrets you hold.
Everyone has their closet full of secrets. Everyone is bound to the minutiae of life. Celebrities flush toilets. Presidents brandish scars.
Do we need to stop posting pretty pictures? I don’t think so. But we do need to come to the screen acknowledging the truth beyond the pixels:
The pictures are pretty but THE STRUGGLE IS REAL.
Raw. Real. Everywhere.
Remember, and take heart.
I am launching a #thisisreal campaign.
Tell us the story behind your photo. If it’s beautiful, also share the ugly. If it’s a sink full of dirty dishes, let us have it. Let’s turn social media on its head with reminders that the pictures are pretty but the struggle is real. #thisisreal. Who’s in?
I have some #thisisreal heroes. They are Anne Lamott, Glennon Doyle Melton, Rachel Macy Stafford, and Sarah Bessey. Each time I read their confessions I can exhale. Them too? It's going to be okay. Let's join them.