Instagram and Self-Compassion


Heart that.
Hate that.
Oh, that looks fun, wish I’d been invited to something like that.
How is she literally always in a different location?
There’s that one person who I met twice who I really only kind of envy-follow.
Sugar Bear Hair Ad.


This is approximately what happens in the first ten minutes of my morning everyday, and man what a way to start your day. And by “a way to start your day” I, of course, mean “propably a really terrible way to prime your emotions for the next 17 hours ahead.”

Like most people, I know I shouldn’t do this, I know I should limit screen time, and I know the deleterious effects it can have on our mood, self-image, and understanding of other people. But scrolling on social media is designed like a slot machine that keeps you around until the next like, comment, or meme happens. If you’re lucky, sometimes you even hit a real connection point with a long-distance friend or relative.

I’ve written about my own experience of going without social media for Lent (i.e. 40 days) before, and while much of that is still true (i.e. wow I use this for comparison and unrealistic expectations WAY TOO MUCH), there are other effects that I’m only now starting to notice. The highlight reel effect—i.e. when you compare your behind the scenes, unedited life to someone’s picture perfect moment—is talked about a lot, and it teaches us not to compare a perfect image to what we might look like when we wake up in the morning. I know this. However, one thing I didn’t notice until recently was the emotional highlight reel I may unknowingly compare myself against.

For the most part, especially on social media such as Instagram and Facebook, people announce achievements, parties, life events, cute dogs, and who their #MCM is. This can be a good thing, and it can act as a way for people to share the joy in their life with others. This i a good thing. However, social media conspicuously lacks any hint of negative emotion a real human might experience. It’s sharing, but it’s only sharing the pretty emotions. It’s connecting, but only at the surface level of experience that is easy or fun to accept, and this is dangerous.

The lack of imperfect emotions—like sadness, jealousy, or bitterness—on social media makes sense. It’s the same way as when you first meet someone: you’re not going to lead with your scars or pains in the first five minutes of conversation. Telling people about the ugly parts is vulnerable, and you’re not going to be vulnerable with your whole newsfeed. This would be akin to getting therapy by getting on the PA system at your school and listing off your emotional wounds, 140 characters at a time. Ugly (i.e. not easy to process and hard to fix, not wrong) doesn’t feel fun to share in real life nor on social media.

The problem is not that we carry a box for sharing and a box for hiding on social media. The problem is that in real life, eventually the surface shell fades away to the vulnerable and soft underneath as two or three people become friends. In real life, we hopefully let people know that the image we once presented is actually much more deeply nuanced than our original presentation. On Instagram or facebook, the relationship doesn’t really progress to this in real life, let alone within the platform, especially when it concerns following people we don’t know in real life.

And we are innundated by it. We reach for the images and feeds whenever we have a moment alone, or are bored, or don’t want to look awkward in real life. At least, I do this. In our moments of boredom or awkwardness, we see pictures of life presented as it seemingly “should” be: life without pause, without acne or wrinkles, without loneliness or confusion, and without complications. Essentially, we see image after image of what life seems to be like for everyone else, and this life looks nothing like our own. Our own life is filled with incongruencies and is not quite as aesthetically pleasing as everyone else’s apparent lives, and we keep scrolling with the feeling that perhaps our lives and our normal daily happenings are not as good as everyone else’s.

Maybe this is true—I don’t personally know who you follow, and therefore maybe they are the one lucky human out there who truly has perfect emotions and a perfect body and a perfect life. For the grand majority of the population (i.e. like >99.5%), our daily lives have good cups of coffee and burnt eggs, scenic walks and accidentally stepping in dog shit, big accomplishments and big setbacks. And we have unpredictable emotions all along the way.

Be gentle with yourself the next time you scroll, or maybe try to not scroll at all. Have a little self-compassion as you surround yourself with perfect images—it really is okay to not feel perfect all the time, let alone look it. If and when you wake up tomorrow morning and turn to check Instagram, take it with a grain of salt and a hint of humor. Social media is where we show others what is easy to see, not where we show them what is the most true to see.


What If It’s Not True?


I didn’t know how to pronounce the word “epitome” until I was solidly in my second year of college.

There are at least three light switches from my childhood home whose functions remained a mystery to me even after 22 years of living there.

I didn’t know how to ride a bike until I was at least 11 (which isn’t surprising, given my general lack of athletic prowess).

Despite being miles behind on some of these basic developmental milestones learning curves, the most surprising thing I picked up on late in the game was this:

As a person who has had an anxiety disorder since at least middle school, a worried and foreboding narrative has been in my life for almost as long as I can remember. One would think I would thus know how it works. Here’s the issue though: It’s one thing to know you have a disorder, but it’s a whole other game to know what that means in your daily life.

In college, thanks to support by a crew of wonderful teachers, mentors, a few priests, and definitely nothing I naturally was inclined to do, I was given this wonderful idea: our fears and narratives we’ve traveled with are not necessarily true. In fact, these stories could be farther from the truth than any other dream we could come up with.

WHAT. (!!!!)

This seemed too good to be true. I’d been carrying these heavy things for years, and I might not have to anymore? How could I have missed something this big? The revelation was about the scary story I told myself: What if it’s not true?

If you have had a mental illness for most of your life, it can take a long time to understand how exactly that illness plays out in your day-to-day. If you have been telling yourself a story for your whole life, how would you know that it was inaccurate or overtly critical of yourself? In all likelihood, you wouldn’t know that, at least not with your small sample size of just yourself. At least, I definitely did not know that.

I had always thought the way I negatively talked to myself or predicted the future was what everyone did. To an extent, everyone does do that—but not to the level of daily, hourly, or about everything. That’s a heavy load to carry, and it’s something that I learned doesn’t have to be as true as I was once convinced it did.

If you’re telling yourself a negative narrative, please know that other possibilities exist. It seems almost too good to be believed, but the constant thought you have carried that you are not x or y enough could really (and in full reality) be totally false. This was the best news I had ever heard, because I was unaware until that point that our fears don’t create us. Just because our inner bully is telling us we aren’t smart, or not capable, or not enough, doesn’t mean that it’s true. You don’t have to accept the worst story you’ve ever heard as true just because it’s the thing that fills you with the most fear.

Knowing this doesn’t mean it will be easy to erase that narrative, and I’m guessing if you’re anything like me, it will take more than an off-brand blog post to convince you of this. But if you can let this in for a minute today, it will be a minute well spent. Knowing that your scary stories might be bullshit won’t free you completely from them, but that knowledge will give you something you didn’t previously have: a choice in what your story becomes.

2018: St. Paul Is Super Relatable

You sit down and pull out that one random and multicolored notebook that you’ve had since you were inspired by the beginning of 2014 to start a journal. It has a hodge podge of pages that are random attempts at the following: gratitude lists, stream of consciousness, and a bad poem you wrote after a break up you were STILL not over (just me? oops). You wonder how high the chances are that you will set off the fire alarm if you try to burn that page.

You sat down, what for again? Oh right—to write down a brand new list of New Year’s resolutions for 2018. Nevermind the fact that this notebook was part of a short-lived attempt at a resolution in the first place. What will this new year be full of?

When I sat down to write things down that I WOULD do, DAMMIT for the next year, I looked back at the promises I’d made to myself in the past: promises to care more about health, or faith, or kindness, or accomplishment. Some things really did get better or got done, but many of the ones that were most important to me didn’t. Why?

First of all, maybe I just really am not built to ever be able to do a pull-up. That’s under consideration for this year.

More importantly, my resolutions in the past were for a fictional person. This new person would pull a reverse Cinderella—when the clock struck midnight, she would drop any bad habits or unfortunate coping mechanisms and suddenly pick up the habits that it takes other people months and years to build. But God, planning to be a new person is so fun—and you can use those colored pens you forgot you had.

As fun as the planning is, it’s less enjoyable when the big plans you make never pan out, because you never created a way for them to pan out. I, at least, would create resolutions that didn’t take into account that I would get tired, or frustrated, or sick, or be a human. None of that was allowed in the new year! Either-Or logic would then take over: either I stick to this perfect new way of existing, OR I get discouraged by messing up once and quit the whole thing by January 5th.

I write all this because I think this is a common experience. In the words of my boy St. Paul: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
(Literally never has a saint been more relatable. I will fight about this one.) While I think the not doing what we want to do thing is a common part of the human experience, I also think knowing this about ourselves can help us make resolutions towards being better that fail less. If we plan for failure, at least we won’t be scared of it. If we plan for the fact that we are a bit scatter-brained, then when we are lost and confused by our big ideas, we will know it’s okay. If we see the problem coming, then we are much less likely to give up when it comes.

This year for resolutions, I am making a plan for who I already am, not who I want to be someday. And instead of saying “I will do x, y , and z for the next 365 days or die trying”, I want to say “What is a choice I can make today, this week, this month that will help me towards the good things I want to live out?” Instead of making a rigid plan that I will almost definitely end up not following within one week, I’m going to treat the process like trying to unlock a safe: listening and trying to find the click when I hit the right number, keeping what works, and moving on methodically to the next thing. Logistically, this means is I am going to try to do better and keep track of three small habits a month. I will try to learn what works and what doesn’t, what brings joy and what definitely does not (will be writing on this more in the future!).

My only real resolution is this: to sit next to the smelly and ugly fact that perfection is not possible this year. I’m going to try to give that fact a big embrace, and then introduce it to my other favorite fact for 2018: just because you will never be perfect, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give your hopes a grand, ugly, and perhaps successful try.

Building Community the Notre Dame Way…When You’re Not There

I was recently asked to answer this question: How do you form community in post-grad life, and what are some challenges you’ve run into in forming one?

My first response was:

This is my second response:

My Dad’s favorite way to refer to Notre Dame: Catholic Disney World. I knew Notre Dame was a different and beautiful type of place, but I never really believed that fully. For better or for worse, it truly is.


I was super involved with faith life and community at Notre Dame. I lead retreats and small groups for campus ministry, I did Vision twice, I had a theology major, and I was an RA. In other words, I bought in HARD. My experience or advice thus might not be applicable for people who were excited to leave Notre Dame. I was ready to leave, but I didn’t want to. I knew it was time to “go forth”, to use a bit of a cliché.

There’s a story by David Foster Wallace called This Is Water. It is essentially about a bunch of fish who are swimming around, constantly bathed in water, but because they are so used to it being there they cannot name it because it’s ever-present. This is what community is like at Notre Dame—you barely realize how much is there, because you are enveloped and surrounded by it constantly.

So when you leave, you’re a fish out of water?

No, Adulting is not that bad. However, You Are Bad AT IT. If you’re at all like me, you’re bad at many things, but it is like this with community, too. At ND, there are tons of structures and clubs in place to help people cultivate and be wrapped up in a sense of belonging. In post-grad, you mainly have to build these things for yourself. In this sense, it is both terrifying and satisfyingly liberating. If you’re anything like me, you will feel both.

That being said, you will form community. It just might not be as immediate or look how you first want it to. Since you’re building it yourself, you have to do the work—put yourself out there, seek to find common ground, and perhaps embarrass yourself a bit. It’s not comfortable.

Think back to your first year at Notre Dame. It didn’t feel how it does now, as a senior about to leave. You were most likely scared and uncertain, and definitely felt alone sometimes. But eventually, it became home. Post-grad doesn’t build in community like Notre Dame does, but you’re also no longer 18. It’s harder, but you are better at it than you were four years ago.

My Rector referred to your first year out of ND in a really apt way: it’s your freshman year of adulthood. You will not know how to do super basic things, you will get parking tickets, you will accidentally eat an expired egg and be sick for two days, and you will miss the automatic love that surrounds you at Notre Dame. Luckily, you probably won’t make the freshman year lanyard mistake again.

Last things:

You will be in a brand new place with people who think and act and talk differently than what you got in the Notre Dame Bubble. This is difficult but a wonderful blessing. Choose to have a learner mindset rather than a judging mindset. This is one I had to be taught and am still learning.

You will get lonely sometimes, whether that be when you’re by yourself or you’re with a ton of new people. It’s okay–don’t run from it. Even in loneliness, you don’t ever have to be alone. Let it deepen you.

Notre Dame may be physically far but it will always be near. Your memories, relationships, and the ways you’ve changed at Notre Dame remain and grow with time. It has changed you, and it will continue to change you in new ways you cannot yet expect. Our Lady has taught you, and now you get to live it out in a real way because you are ready to. Trust yourself, and when
you don’t, learn to lean on the family of Notre Dame that loves you from near and far.

At the end of the Notre Dame Prayer Book, Fr. Jenkins write about something called the Notre Dame Spirit and taking it out into the world. For me, the Notre Dame Spirit is community that does good. While leaving Notre Dame is disorienting when trying to find community, it also opens up in you a huge sense of gratitude for ND and an awareness of what it has planted in you. You carry in you an agent of and an ability to create those lovely communities where you go, and that’s how you take Notre Dame with you.

It’s tough, but it comes, and you love it more for the time you had to spend making mistakes and building it. Wait and see.



Amy Poehler & Dancing & Hook Up Culture

This post is a first in a weekly series called Dear Little Lights, in which we try to figure out things together and I just happen to be the pencil (or typist) writing down what we figure out.

Dear Little Lights,

I don’t have a wild backstory or a crazy question, I just want advice on dating and
finding my person when I’m 100% not into hooking up. It really has nothing to
do with religion or strict morals, I just know that it takes more than hanging
out a few times or even going on a couple dates for me to feel comfortable with
getting physical, or really to do anything other than kiss a little. If I don’t
feel emotionally connected to a guy, or know him to be a kind and trustworthy
person, I’m going to be nervous, awkward, and unhappy doing anything physical.

So I don’t do it. Unfortunately, it feels like that’s so expected now a days,
and it makes me feel as though I’m not going to find anyone who is accepting
and understanding of my mindset. As someone who has dreamed of finding my
person, getting married, being a mom, etc. my whole life, being a young
20-something who has never seriously dated anyone and who has no prospects on
the horizon, coupled with the fact that I don’t feel like I jive with today’s
definition of dating (which often seems to start with hookups), I feel stuck.
And it makes me sad.

Sparknotes: I wanna find my person, I know I
have a lot to offer, but what I have to offer includes not getting too physical
too quickly and it feels like that’s a huge set back in today’s dating culture.

Not Crazy


Dear Not Crazy,

Have you ever been out dancing? Let’s go with the assumption that you’re a normal twentysomething and say you have.

Who are the best dancers you know? By best, I don’t mean most technically skilled or
best at leading or have owned a pair of tap shoes at least once in their lives.
I mean the people who are having the most fun—these are the dancers we all secretly or openly want to be. They are crazy joyful, a spectacle, and probably a little sweaty if they’re really trying.

Outsourced: Expert of fun, Amy Poehler.

I’m not the first nor will I be the last to use the idea of dancing as a metaphor for dating, but I want to ask you to think about good dancers when you think about dating.

The best people to go dancing with are the ones that know they might seem ridiculous or a little too gangly in the limbs but they still just go for it, and want you to go for it too. Your worries about dating reminded me of dancing because in search of your lovely and good dream about your ~person~, you may be putting a lot of pressure on yourself and that *person*. Don’t feel bad—I think we all do it some of the times.

If you go out dancing, and you’re really there for it, you’re not worried about how you look, if it is technically correct, or what the point of dancing is. You’re in the moment, and everything is about that moment, Hips Don’t Lie coming on, and where your best friend is who also loves this song. When we look at dating, I think in having the right idea to search for our forever person, we can sometimes go too far and end up making a first date or a little conversation the thing our entire future turns on. Don’t do this (says someone who is a frequent doer of *this*).

If you want to date how you want to dance, the first thing is taking the pressure off of yourself. Let’s pretend that you’re guaranteed to meet your person exactly four years from today—but not a minute sooner or a minute later. How would you handle your life if you knew that love was coming for you, you just had to be patient? You would probably be calm, excited, and trying to live in a way that when this great person comes into your messy life, you have a bunch of great stories to tell them and are ready to be a gift to them, too.

No one can give us any love guarantee, but if we take it as a wager, it’s pretty easy to see that regardless of when, where, and if love is coming, the best thing we can do is to live a life to the full—of gentleness, of family, of blooming friendships, and of care and love for the gifts that we are as individual persons. Love isn’t just found in romance, but in bringing your neighbor a batch of scones from the extra ones you tried to make one Saturday morning and finally succeeded in, in calling a friend on your walk to work who you haven’t thought of in a few months, and in taking the second to look up and interact with the person who checks you out at your local coffee chain of choice.

Now, onto hook ups. Ironically, I’m going to use dancing (which often is the playhouse of hookups) as a continued metaphor for dating and the question you seem to be asking: Do my standards make me undateable?

The short answer: No.

The medium answer: No, but only if you think that.

The long answer: No, having standards different than what the culture makes us think everyone and their dogs want doesn’t make you undateable. Very little makes people undateable or incapable of finding love, because all of us are just a teensy bit messed up and a teensy bit ugly about some things. However, if you treat yourself like having a different set of values for whatever reason is a detractor from dating you, then you will show that to other people. You seem like you know what you want. Believe in that. Know your why, and give it to other people gently when they’re curious and want to know you. Remove your defensiveness and your worries, and tell them it’s because you know what is good for you, and you always do what you think is good. More people will be understanding than you think, and genuinely respect you for it, but not if you never tell them and only get all tense and weird whenever anyone brings up the subject. Why get tense? You’re choosing what you believe in. And if anyone gets weird and tense at YOU for that, thank them kindly for showing you so concisely that your time would be better spent elsewhere, thankyouverymuch.

This relates to dancing because we have all had that night where we thought we were REALLY working it, and that one friend makes a face at you like “Wow, can you chill?” and then we get insecure and less confident and we do in fact chill but also have way less fun.

This will happen when it comes to your standards, my girl. People will question them, hate them, love them, and find it “really interesting” that you have them.

There are two options when you get the question “Can you chill?” when you’re out dancing, and there are two in dating as well. In dancing, you can respond by freezing, getting embarrassed, getting mad, and getting a little petty, or you can look at them, make your weirdest cross-eyed-tongue-out face and show them you’re still gonna have fun, and they are welcome to join.

When you get push back on your standards in dating, you have the same two options: get mad and embarrassed, and lose all the fun of dating and in the good search to find love, or you can keep dancing—limbs flailing, sweat-inducing, grinning and wearing your heart on your sleeve the whole way home. And hey, don’t forget what Beyoncé taught us:

(hand drawn type by maddy nye for designlovefest.)

Out like a smooth cupid shuffle,

Little Lights


If you want advice with pretty hand-drawn quotes and strange metaphors, email your questions to