On controlling narratives

I’ve been thinking a lot about social media lately.

Mainly because I finally joined Instagram. I try to tell myself it’s not because I can’t resist the siren call of random likes from strangers (that’s a lie). It’s mainly an experiment. I’m fascinated with how social media can present your best self to the world, how it can allow you to control your narrative. It’s creating a fantasy and selling it as truth.

Facebook, for me, is as close to the truth as I get on social media. I post the silly, unflattering, badly lit pictures and my rare status updates are usually my being pissed off at some world event. But my Instagram quest is to seize my narrative with an iron grip and create something patently false with just a veneer of reality. My happiest, best, healthiest, most wonderful self.

I started at about 2006 and worked my way to the present, posting a lot on slow work days. I posted a huge amount of Peace Corps photos, beautiful sweeping mountain views, wild animals, me with big smiles in exotic locals. There are so many pictures of me hiking up mountains that it appears I must be a serious mountain climber.

In reality, Peace Corps was an ordeal of crushing loneliness and loss of purpose and sometimes fear, punctuated with small moments of joy. I got amoebic dysentery, twice. I had terribly painful cystic acne that looked like the peaks of red mountains across my face. I was attacked with a knife and sliced in the hand, then improperly stitched up without meds in a tiny, dirty emergency room filled with other, much more badly injured people. All those mountains? I was either driven up most of the way or suffered wet, miserable exhaustion. On the way up one in the rain, someone fell to his death at the top and my screaming muscles were deeply relieved that we were forced to turn around, and then I felt guilty that my relief came because a young man died.

Yes, I swam in the clear blue ocean. I lived next to an active volcano. I jumped off of a bridge. I met a boy and rode on the back of his motorcycle down a dark road with liquid black mountains around us and felt truly alive. I did the great things the pictures show. But those things were just a sliver of something in a yawning mass of two years of my life wasted, holed up in my tiny apartment and feeling utterly, brutally alone.

In Instragram I am joyful, and you are envious of my life.

And now, after 136 posts spanning 8 years, I’ve reached the present. A photo of me at my bachelorette party, beaming, but what the photo doesn’t show is that it was just me and my matron of honor, because I didn’t have any other friends who would celebrate with me. I had a wedding party of one – just her. Zombie runs and traveling and beach trips, but none of it shows the heavy stress of my job and the worry over an uncertain future. I look happy and healthy, but I’m actually on multiple medications for pain that, after numerous doctor’s visits, no one seems to be able to fix. Because of this, I haven’t been the gym in months, and I’m gaining weight. My pants don’t fit anymore. My face has rounded out, so the pictures of myself I can choose from are fewer and fewer. I’m always in pain. Smiling holiday photos don’t show the weight of fear that I live under due to extreme family issues I can’t get into on the internet. Suffice to say, I’m scared every day.

Still, the pictures don’t lie. I am happy as well. Life is that two-way street. I’m blissfully happy in my marriage. We have a wonderful, snuggly little rescue dog. We decorated our apartment for Christmas and have a huge live tree in the tiny space. We cook dinner together every night and spend too much time at the dog park. I had a beautiful wedding and amazing honeymoon. I’m ridiculously close to my parents. My job is steady and pays well.

With the exception of this rant, the internet only shows the good. The envious. And I kind of love that. I like that strangers might see my life and think it looks beautiful. That I can create a world where my pain doesn’t exist. It’s incredible. In this world, I am flawless, and so is my life, a neverending trip and sunset and #love.

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