the narrator

image by Erica Campbell of @BeAHeartDesign

narrator A

7:32 am: I wake up in the morning, and “wake up” here is a glossing over of the actual facts of the experience: I am groggy, it is a Monday, and my eyes seem a little swollen shut. I turn off my thrice-snoozed alarm and finally heed its fourth warning.

8:02 am: My feet pad out into the cold air of my apartment, away from my messy, unmade bed. I perform the humdrum routine of getting ready, and feel slightly rushed the whole time. Also, my hair looks bad.

8:55 am: I head out the door, and plug in my headphones. I barely acknowledge the greeting I get on the elevator. I step out into the cold and dreary January and wonder why weather like this even needs to exist.

9:45 am: Throughout my school day, I work intermittently on shoving more and more facts into my head, a regular practice in getting ready for the overwhelmingly stressful Step 1 Exam coming in May. I beat myself up for not being further ahead, not being more focused, not being naturally as gifted in science as it seems others are. I get things done, and when the end of my study day rolls around, I lament and lambast myself for what I did not finish, mostly accrediting it to my own laziness.

6:20 pm: On my walk home and in my own head, I am now not only anxious about what I didn’t get done, but also about the couple walking ahead of me, who remind me of my single status. I am filled with nostalgia and pessimism about dating and what’s possible for the future. Then, I am mad at myself for being worried about this topic AGAIN.

6:45 pm: I come home, and am vaguely annoyed by the clutter in my roommate and I’s apartment, and distinctly annoyed by the mess I have left for myself in my own room. I feel overwhelmed, and tired, and warm up some lackluster meal I made two days ago.

10:45 pm: After scrolling for an hour on instagram and other sites on which I can compare my life to the shiny lives of others who have made better choices than I have, I change into some old, soft clothes, get some processed dessert from a box, and collapse into bed. Another day done. Before I slip into sleep, a thought flits through my mind:

“Today was a bad day.”

narrator B

6:15 am: I wake up to my second alarm, and groggily turn over in a warm and cozy bed, cocooned in pillows and blankets from Target that I picked out because they were floral and happen to remind me of the embroidered rose I have from my grandmother. My eyes fight off opening and the light I enforce on them, but I tiptoe out to the kitchen and turn on the coffee maker I had prepared the night before. I gently wash my face and depuff my eyes, appreciating the soft feeling of this slow start to my day.

6:30 am: I pour a generous amount of milk into my coffee, and settle back into my bed to read a book on theology or poetry with a candle flickering nearby. It is perhaps my favorite part of the day.

8:40 am: I remember that today, Monday, is the day my favorite podcast issues a new episode. I plug in my earphones after I greet the security guard at the front desk, whose name I REALLY need to ask for next time (but is it too late at this point?). I step outside, and though my hands freeze and my nose drips, I appreciate the rare snowfall that has covered St. Louis, the place I wanted to move to for medical school two years ago.

9:00 am: I arrive at school and talk to a few of my classmates. I rush upstairs to make sure I don’t lose the bet going with two of my friends about who arrives at school on time (the loss of which requires the late one to buy pastries for the other two). Even though our friendship is mostly based in sarcasm and I would thus NEVER say this directly to either of them, both of them always make my day a little happier.

11:40 am: At this point, I have learned what is possible to get done in a day, and I leave some wiggle room for a brain that cannot possibly focus for ten hours straight (because most brains can’t)! Sometimes it is a little tedious, sometimes I don’t care AT ALL for the facts I’m learning, but I do remember how overjoyed I was when I (at an AppleBee’s, no less), found out I had gotten off the waitlist at this dream school. I thought it impossible (and still do find it sort of impossible) that that could ever happen. I also remember the excitement and joy I have felt every time I’ve shadowed a psychiatrist, listening to how they moved with and connect to their patients. I return my thoughts to the lecture I’m watching at 2x speed, and am even a little grateful for the high speed and high pitch of the lecturer’s voice.

12:30 pm: I laugh a little too loudly at what a friend whispers too loudly in the library, as I eat the lunch I packed with foods that make me feel good and taste good (and are mostly cheap!).

4:45 pm: I head out of school, having checked off everything but one thing from my to-do list. It is okay—I’m proud of what I did accomplish today, and make a note to move the task to the next day. I try to focus on the importance of small steps to a big goal.

5:15 pm: I arrive at the undergrad campus gym, getting ready and hoping the coffee I chugged will give me the right amount of energy and enthusiasm to teach the workout/dance class I planned and created during the summer. It is a small, once-a-week thing, but it is a place of creativity for me—a place I am both proud of and grateful for.

7:15 pm: I walk through the front door, and am glad to see my roommate is home. The smell of something chocolate wafts through the air, and I am again reminded of how nice it is to live with one of your best friends (who also happens to be better at doing the dishes than you).

8:15 pm: I scroll through social media for a bit, but know that the limits I’ve set on my phone are for the best because I like to compare myself a little too much. I see a picture of one of my engaged friends, and I feel like freaking out because, um, WHAT IF I DIE ALONE?! There is a small, new voice that speaks here, though: This is a desire for connection, and this is a difficult uncertainty that many people in their twenties are going through right now. Uncertainty isn’t necessarily bad, but it can feel really hard, especially when you torture yourself with a litany of why it will always be hard and uncertain. It’s just as, if not more, likely the future will be wildly good as much as it will be wildly bad. Now use that desire for connection to FaceTime one of your best friends (and you can maybe freak out to them a little too—it usually makes them laugh).

9:30 pm: Thank you, morning me, for making this bed. I pull up the recent fiction book I am reading and settle in with the chocolate dessert my roomie made. After a while, my eyes get heavy and I can feel myself falling asleep. Before I do, a thought flits through my mind:

“Today was full of good things.”

Instagram and Self-Compassion

Scroll.

Scroll.
Heart that.
Scroll.
Hate that.
Scroll.
Oh, that looks fun, wish I’d been invited to something like that.
Scroll.
How is she literally always in a different location?
Scroll.
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.