We all know the internet can be a fantastical place of nonsense and hilarity. Just look at this recent photo evidence of me laughing so hard at something I saw that my ribs started to hurt and actual tears formed in my eyes.
At its simplest, the internet can be a haven for community and information. We all know this. But if you’ve spent more than five minutes on it, specifically social media, and more specifically, Instagram, then you probably also know it has a dark side.
It brings out the worst in us. Not only do so many people find the need to just be mean, they borderline bully and assault people whom they don’t even know. But that’s not really what I want to get into today.
Today, I want to talk about what happens in our own heads. When what we see on social media makes us our own worst enemy. RuPaul famously calls this our “inner saboteur.” And what it feels like is a near crumbling of confidence and self-worth until we’re a pile of anxiety and insecurity. If this lasts long enough, possibly even depression.
But I can’t speak for everyone, so I’ll speak for myself.
In July 2019 I found what I was looking for on the internet (and in this case Instagram). Instagram provided me with what I didn’t have in real life–sober friends. Strangers who understood the experience I was going through. What I wasn’t expecting was how much that sobriety would be celebrated. I had no clue. However, it wasn’t just confined to inspirational, community-focused alcohol-free living, I was finding aspiration everywhere I looked. Childhood wounds? Check! Healers living their authentic lives? Check! Outspoken, radical people? Check! And then there’s the fashion <3 It’s a bit like moving to a big city after you’ve lived in a small town. Your eyes are wide. Some of it you just want to stare at because you can’t believe what you’re seeing but after some time, you just want to know more! What?! Huh? People like this exist?!?!? I had no clue.
When the internet (Instagram) is like this, it is at its best. It can make you feel on top of the world as you also begin to see–begin to believe–the greatness inside of you, too.
That’s where I found myself in July 2019. For the first time in my life I wasn’t actively teaching. And for the first time in my life I created a public Instagram account. I took a namesake that I created years before and really started to live into what that means. Now the part you don’t know, is that shortly after this happened I had the greatest idea of my life come to me: I am going to write a book! YES! I am going to do it. I don’t know what it’s going to be but I am going to achieve it. I won’t get stopped by all the arbitrary things that probably stop everyone else. I am going to make this happen.
Naturally, in that naivety I failed to see the holes in this plan. I failed to be realistic with my goals.
Nonetheless, it didn’t take long for me to realize what my book needed to be. It was the message that had been boiling on my heart: Transform Yourself, Transform your Teaching. This belief that we (mostly meaning educators but also parents and anyone around children) needed to take a closer look at our behaviors and words so that we weren’t unconsciously holding children back was everything to me. It was the philosophy of my future.
And so on the internet (Instagram) I continued on my way following people who fit this message. People who inspired me to be better and learn something along the way.
When I first began my public account I gave myself solid boundaries: never will you conform to this site. You don’t need to do what everyone else is doing.
Please insert your own “foot in mouth” quote here.
Because over time, the things I didn’t want to do began to eat at me. I would see others who had followings and communities and I wondered why I couldn’t generate that, or be part of them. I would see people post public pictures of their children and I chastised myself for upholding the boundary not to do that. When everyone got on the TikTok craze, and pointed to captions, I was like, “what am I missing?” I didn’t want to be Instagram, I wanted to be me.
But again, spending more than five minutes on social media with a tender heart can leave your bucket feeling quite empty. Why don’t people like me? Why don’t I like me?, I wondered.
And the worst of all: Omg, they are saying what I want to say. They are doing what I want to do. I’m too late.
Those questions began to haunt me. One of the greatest things I revealed to myself upon first diving into public Instagram was finding my own self-worth. And yet, all it was doing now was bringing up my worst fears and providing trigger after trigger.
I wasn’t good enough anymore. Everyone else was better than me.
When everyone has a strong opinion, and they’re right, and he’s right, and she’s right…where does that leave you? Where did that leave me?
I stopped knowing who I was. I stopped believing in myself.
I felt paralyzed. Not only was I constantly being triggered by my motherhood wounds I was also feeling less than courageous. Less than intelligent. Less than good. I felt cowardly.
People and things that once brought me joy on the internet now felt like a blinding light. As soon as my eyes hit their page I had to look away. It hurt. Seeing their success, seeing them just be themselves, when I was clearly struggling to do that, hurt. (It still hurts sometimes).
I started to look like this:
Being the ever-reflective person I am, I knew it wasn’t personal. I wasn’t mad at them, I didn’t dislike them. I was mad at myself. I was disliking myself.
And the wonders continued, Why was it so hard for me to do this? Why couldn’t I do that before? Will I ever be able to do that? Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
Oh, that book idea? That world-changing magic I held if only I could get the words out–POOF. It disappeared. Maybe it was an act after all.
And where I found my greatness–poof–I lost it.
This is what I know now:
I am always going to be triggered by things that make me feel less than*. Maybe they won’t always hurt so severely. Some days will be better than others. But they still hurt.
As much work as I do on myself, it doesn’t make those things disappear, they just become less severe over time.
I don’t know why I couldn’t do those things before, but I can do them now (with hope, with baby steps, with whatever it takes).
The internet will always make me wonder why I don’t have what she has, why she’s got the better deal, why they get certain experiences that I never knew possible. It will always be a hole of insecurity. That is not going to change because we are human people with feelings and emotions. We are living, breathing souls with our own privilege and hurt. We are walking histories who are just trying to do right in our present. And simply, life can be really confusing at times.
But I also know this,
If I want to stay on the internet (Instagram) I have to keep fighting. Not so much for my dream, or followers, or even my specific message, but for me. I have to build up my armor. This includes, words of affirmation I tell myself to remind myself I am still worthy. When the devil wants to play in my head, I have to be stronger. I have to acknowledge what I am feeling and ask myself the hard questions like, “Why is this bothering me?”
I have to be brave.
I have to be soft.
I have to be me.
And most importantly, I have to remember that I have a full, rich life, too.
(And I’m the only one who can make me believe that.)
If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?RuPaul
Thanks for your time today. <3
*Things that are hard for me/have been hard for me/may continue to be hard for me: seeing people love on their babies, seeing mothers enjoy early motherhood, seeing mothers pick clothes and outfits and cutesy things for their kids, maybe because they know what they want or they have the monetary means to do so, seeing people go after their dreams when I feel stuck, seeing people use their strong voice, seeing couples lavishly in love, seeing someone speak the words that have been in my heart, see beautiful houses/hair-styles/wardrobes/the list goes on & feeling discouraged I don’t have that, seeing the ‘grace and mercy’ people have for themselves, for their God, for others, and recognizing the lack of love and gratitude I feel for myself in that moment. Yeah, ouch.
I can’t solve the internet’s problems. I can’t solve humanity’s problems. But I can work to make change in my life and maybe, perhaps, help you along the way, too.
If you’d like more tender messages like these, consider signing up for my new newsletter: The Tender Hearts Club. I’ve been waiting for you.