Life, Filtered

Life, Filtered.

This is the last picture Madison Holleran posted on her Instagram feed. She uploaded it about an hour before jumping off of the 9th floor of a parking garage in downtown Philadelphia. It’s beautiful– even ethereal. But it’s filtered.

Kate Fagan wrote a beautiful piece for ESPN about Madison’s death, which you can find here. Much of the article focuses on the shock Madison’s friends and family felt at her death, because the image she curated on social media was that of a successful college athlete: happy and hardworking. Sadly, like the ethereal final picture above, that image was heavily filtered.

Reading Madison’s story got to me, because I have been filtering since before Instagram was a thing. Since I hit puberty and things started to fall apart, I have been choosing what parts of myself to share openly and what parts to leave buried under a forced smile and glib words. Too many nights found me dissolving into tears as I removed my makeup, afraid to look too closely and acknowledge the sadness I covered each morning with mascara and bronzer.

When I started to show symptoms of my illness at around eleven years old, I didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I did know, however, that something was desperately wrong. And just as surely as I knew there was a problem, I knew that it must be hidden. I didn’t want my family or friends to worry about me. I didn’t want to seem morose, or ungrateful for all that life had offered me. I didn’t want to seem different. From the article:

Yes, people filter their photos to make them prettier. People are also often encouraged to put filters on their sadness, to brighten their reality so as not to “drag down” those around them. The myth still exists that happiness is a choice, which perpetuates the notion of depression as weakness. Life must be Instagrammed — in more ways than one.

As an adult armed with an official diagnosis, I began to really notice for the first time just how much filtering I’d been doing my whole life, and that realization was scary. I had been filtering so successfully for so long that it had become second nature– and I wasn’t the only one.

So much stigma exists around mental health issues that for many people, taking that vital first step to ask for help feels like stepping alone onto a ledge. So many of our most vulnerable find themselves unable to take that step for fear of falling (or being pushed) off that ledge, and who can blame them?

I know what it feels like to be judged as “less than” because of my illness. My ex-husband, in a very public forum, once called me “one huge character flaw,” because he couldn’t see past the symptoms.* In such an environment, I wasn’t safe to express my true feelings; how could I help but filter?

And yet, when I realized how much misinformation was out there, and how many people like me were afraid to ask for the help they needed, I knew I had to try to break apart the stigmas and the filters and tell the whole ugly truth. I’m fortunate, you see. I am an intelligent, educated woman. I have a supportive family and group of friends, and good doctors. I find strength in my faith. I feel as though I bear a personal responsibility to tear down as much of the stigma as I can reach with my two hands and my voice, because I have been so blessed in other aspects of my life.

And so, I began to speak openly. I blogged. I posted honest status updates on Facebook. I spoke out in public forums, inviting sincere questions. I even tried– and this was the hardest part– to speak up for myself when individuals who were closest to me smelled blood in the water. And I saw results. Friends began to share their own stories. Honest questions poured in. My relationships with close family members deepened, and I began to feel like a whole person again.

It felt good to be open publically about my illness, and I was seeing positive results, but the temptation lingers. Honesty comes at a cost– and believe me, I have paid mine. I have lost romances, job opportunities, and friendships because some people (maybe even most people) prefer the filtered image to the ugly truth.

After my original experiment in total honesty, I now find myself walking a line. I push myself to be authentic and open, but I also fear the repercussions that come with the unfiltered lifestyle. I’m currently job-hunting. How open can I really afford to be about my illness? The truthful answer: not very. On the other hand, I’m dating a wonderful man who knows the truth about me– even the ugly parts– and loves me anyway. My relationships with close family members have never been so solid, but my mom is a worrier. Do I tell her, in one of our long-distance chats, if I’m feeling suicidal? Is that productive? Or does it just spread the pain? I struggle with these questions every time I wake up feeling less than great. I have yet to come to any satisfying conclusions.

I still find myself filtering on a daily basis. Sometimes, I censor myself to shelter those I love. Sometimes, I’m trying to shield myself from too much introspection. Sometimes it’s just easier. I’m much more open than I used to be, and much more authentic in how I present myself to the world, but too often, like Madison, I hide an ugly plea for help behind a twinkly picture and hope no one will notice my inconsistencies. It takes bravery to post my ugly truth up there with no filter, and when I have only 140 characters to tell my story, the filtered version often wins.

Next time I’ll come clean about the lies I tell when my filter is on. In the meantime, it’s your turn to weigh in: How much of what you share with the world is filtered? Why do you think we feel the need to hide that way? 


*I hesitated to include this, but did so because I felt it made an important point. It is hard to love ourselves when those closest to us can’t seem to. However, dear readers, we don’t hate my ex-husband. Loving someone with a mental illness is excruciating, and his suffering was as real as mine. He spoke harshly, but he spoke from pain. Some of you know my ex-husband, but none of you can know just how much our relationship cost him.

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The One in Which I Get My Voice Back

I’ve been Ebaying; I just bid on this:

Little Mermaid statue

And as soon as she arrives, I’m going to break her into several pieces so that I can superglue her back together.

Please don’t worry; I have not suffered a stroke. I simply need a daily object lesson.

You see, when I was around five years old, my family went to Disney World. Around that time (and ever since), I was obsessed with Ariel. So when my parents gave me the opportunity to pick a souvenir, the choice was obvious. I will save the debate on the wisdom of buying a kindergartner a ceramic figurine for another time, but I’m sure you can figure out what happened over the next decade or so.

Poor Ariel had to be superglued together so many times that she started to resemble a frankenmermaid. A few of her fingers were lost forever, the seams in her fin were very visible, and she was slightly misaligned from a hasty glue job, but she had a place of pride on my shelf for over twenty years.

Scarred as she became, she was still my Ariel–the princess in her own right who has always reminded me to be my own glorious self.  So I kept her.  She came with me every time I moved, all the way to Yuma, where she mysteriously disappeared. I was sad at the time, but I haven’t thought about her for quite awhile… until tonight.

Tonight, I decided it was time to write again. And I just finished writing a long story about why I’ve been absent for so long. It was all about my own personal Prince Charming and how my fairy tale ended with me in pieces.

I’m sorry you missed it, really. It was clever, and kind of a tearjerker. But halfway through, I decided I needed to take back the narrative. I’m tired of thinking about how broken I’ve been. Shattered, really, into more pieces than I could ever pick up. I believe some parts of the original me have ground into dust and will never be reassembled.

It was sad, really. It was over a year’s worth of sad. But I’m done. Not with sadness, I’m sure, but with allowing myself to be ruined. That’s why God invented superglue. And Ariel–who, despite her countless superglue surgeries, remained her beautiful self.

I’ve been slowly trying to glue myself back together. It hasn’t been easy. Right now it’s downright hellish. Ursula the sea-witch has nothing on my own personal demons, I swear.

I’ll never be the same; I will always be scarred and slightly misaligned– but I will be whole again, someday. Get your dinglehoppers ready, world, because Ariel is on her way back to me, and she and I are making a comeback. It will be slow. It will be sticky. It may involve copious amounts of glue. But it will happen.

The One in Which Einstein, Sparrows, and Blood Have Something in Common

lonely sparrow
lonely sparrow (Photo credit: manitoon)

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
–Albert Einstein

A small but amazing miracle happened in my life today: I successfully finished a plasma donation. I have donated once before, and that went off with only a minor hiccough, but today was different.

Everything started out well, and I felt sure I’d be off the bed and on the way home within forty minutes or so. I lay calmly in the bed, reading and squeezing a stress ball, occasionally breaking to check the little green light that indicated my blood was flowing quickly. All was well. After about ten minutes though, the light changed to yellow. I squeezed harder and faster, trying to force my blood quickly through my veins. This worked for awhile, but my hand quickly began to cramp from the effort. I silently said a little prayer for strength to continue rapidly.

Another 15 minutes went by, and the light started vacillating between yellow, where it had hovered, and red– indicating that there was zero blood flow. I tried to wave over a phlebotomist for help, but they all were busy, so I pumped my fist harder and faster yet, squeezing that ball within an inch of its life. Sweat dripped down my forehead, and I could feel my body temperature rising exponentially with each pump. My legs began to cramp, and I realized that I’d been tensing them anxiously… but I couldn’t get them to relax.

I prayed again, more urgently this time, calling on my Creator to strengthen my hand and thin my blood before I passed out. Just as I concluded my prayer, the draw cycle ended and the machine began to return my filtered blood back to me. That meant that I got to stop pumping for a bit, and as I watched the blood flow into my body, it was as though I was watching my strength return, drop by drop. I was renewed, and I sent up a prayer of thanks. After a short reprieve, the next draw cycle began, and I pumped vigorously… and was rewarded with the coveted green light! Huzzah!

Then, the worst happened. My hand, which had been cramping unceasingly, began to tremble and spasm in protest. I was unable to pump my fist at the same rate any longer, and my blood flow slowed and then stopped completely. By this time I had subconsciously equated the firm and rapid squeezing of the stress ball directly with the green light. Blood was rushing from my head and I found it difficult to think, and in my confused state I had to fight the urge to squeeze the ball with the other hand, having irrationally reasoned that I’d be able to squeeze the ball harder and thus regain green light status. I watched donors who had been behind me in line come and go, while still trying to politely ask for help and growing more and more frustrated and resentful as I was ignored.

Eventually, I caught the attention of another donor, who alerted a super-helpful phlebotomist to my plight. She hustled over and informed me that the filter was completely clogged, and that all the pumping I had been doing was not helping, and could have damaged my vein. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at her timely wisdom, and instead, I prayed. I felt prompted to ask for both patience and water, and as I slowly sipped, I felt strength and logic return.

I calmly asked her what could be done, and she decided to massage the filter manually, since I was almost done with my donation at this point. So I gathered my resolve and gave my hand a firm (but silent) talking-to, and off we went. Pump, massage, pump, massage, pump, massage…. it felt interminable, and it hurt like the dickens! It felt like I was trying to push cement through my veins, but eventually the machine let forth a heavenly BEEEEEEEP… and I was done. Almost.

The last phase of plasma donation is a final return of blood diluted with a saline solution to re-hydrate the body. The saline makes you feel cold, and I smiled as I started to shiver, anticipating my approaching freedom. But though I continued to get colder and colder, the blood flowed more and more slowly. This time the needle was clogged. I’d been in the bed for over an hour and a half at this point, and I wanted to cry. I asked them to just let me go without the final return, promising that I’d take things easy — but no dice. So again, I prayed.

Eventually, the three phlebotomists and one nurse who had surrounded me decided to give up on that vein and complete the return in my other arm, which apparently was a breach of protocol and required enough delay for the saline-induced cold to set my teeth chattering and extremities quaking. My toes went numb, but eventually the decision was made and approval had, and the needle went into my other arm. A mere five minutes later, the machine beeped again, and I was done. Finally, my ordeal was over, and I silently thanked my Father as I made my way home.

I know that in the grand scheme of things, this is infinitesimal. People die and get serious illnesses and face all kinds of challenges that make my measly blood flow problem seem completely ridiculous, and the multitude of times I prayed may seem frivolous. But I very much needed a reminder today that my Father loves me, and that even my insignificant problems matter to Him, and I got it.

A warm feeling filled my chest on the way home, chasing out the saline cold. It felt like an inside-out hug, and tears of joy filled my eyes as I remembered that His eye is on the sparrow, but it is also on me– every part of my existence… even my blood.

Statistics and Depression are Both Liars!

I’ve been gone for awhile, because I’ve been hiding under the sheets of my very uncomfortable bed, trying to forget my own existence. Depression sucks. And it also lies. I’m still working on emerging full-time from my sheet cocoon. I am, like the song, in repair.

While I’m repairing, I want to share some statistics that I find interesting.

First, this: 10 Worst Cities for Singles

Kiplinger listed Yuma, Arizona, as the worst city to be single in the U.S. This is an old article; I read it while I still lived in Ohio. And yet I, fresh from a divorce, still chose to move here. Huh.

Next: Unemployment Rates for Metropolitan Areas Monthly Rankings (Not Seasonally Adjusted) July 2013

With an unemployment rate of 34.5% in July of this year, Yuma is the worst city for job seekers in the U.S. And I chose to stay here even after leaving my job. Double huh.

I should be fleeing for my life, except for one thought: Charming. Had I not moved to the worst city for singles in the entire country, I would never have met him. I came to Yuma prayerfully. I made this journey on purpose. I don’t know if I’ll stay here forever– probably not– but I do know that I came here, to the worst city in the country for both dates and jobs, for a reason, and so far, I’m beating the odds on one side of the battleground, anyway.

Faith

It may not make sense to most people, and I certainly have my fretful moments (the most recent one just happens to have lasted about a month), but having once proved that I can opt out of my proper statistical place, I guess I’ll stay and keep pounding the pavement. Wish me luck!

Numbering the Stars: Keep Calm and Read On

Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I’m a bit of a bookworm, and that when life gets hard, I pull out a book. I’m so grateful for the written word, for the collective knowledge and imagination of those who have walked this earth before me, for the opportunity to shed my skin and try on another, if just for five hundred pages or so.

Image
Bombed library at Holland House, in Kensington, London, 1940.

For that reason, I love this picture, of a bombed library at Holland House, in Kensington, London, 1940. Amid the devastation of the Second World War, these men knew exactly where to turn for peace.

Image

I don’t know whom to credit for the photograph, but it was recently made popular by James R. Benn

What do you read when you need to keep calm? Share your favorites in the comments, please, dear readers!

Workin’ Overtime

Just a heads-up, because I know you were all dying to know: from now on, the [somewhat] Daily Record will be replaced with a weekly update, because… let’s face it: my life is just not that interesting. 😉

And in other news, on our walk this morning, Ozzie and I noticed this sign:

Clearly, Dick is a very hard worker, though I don’t know when he finds time to make these signs!