Black and white photo of a coyote caught in a claw hunting trap.

For a while now I’ve been stuck. Stuck listening to the old voices that say,

“You’ll never be like _______.”
“You’re just not talented enough.”
“You’re just not pretty enough.”
“You’re just not….enough.”

Social media has allowed us for over ten years to follow the triumphs of people we only tangentially know. It’s allowed us to watch the lives of people that we don’t know at all and make us feel like we do. Granted, it has some good that it does, but there’s also a lot of documented bad. It’s like the idea of having to keep up with the Joneses multiplied by a zillion.

Like anything as pervasive as social media, we can’t really avoid it altogether, but we’ve got to develop a healthy relationship with it. I will admit that I have a very unhealthy relationship with social media. Even when I tell myself I’m going to take a break I sneak on and look at my timelines like a kid sitting at the top of the stairs watching the TV and hoping their parents don’t hear them or see them. It’s bad.

My main issue is that I am bad about comparing my life as a whole to other people’s thirty seconds of success. Every graduation, marriage, birth, successful business or career; I sit at the top of the stairs and hope that no one sees what I giant failure I am.

I’m from Northern Virginia: Where overachievers are just regular achievers. I can’t tell you how many people were disappointed that I went to community college because I couldn’t afford the colleges that I got into. People thought that I was going to audition for Juilliard or head off to Los Angeles to be an actor. I was voted, “Most Likely to Become a Hollywood Star”. I was treated like a person who was supposed to succeed so my failures have stung pretty badly.

People who went to my high school are all over the world doing amazing things. Part of why I didn’t want to go to my ten year reunion was because I didn’t want to face anyone. I’m not even aging particularly well.

I say all of this, because social media brings all that baggage to the forefront of my mind every day. I struggle with it. I finally have a good job and a semi-stable life, but somehow when I log on to the guilt trip machine I lose sight of all my progress.

It makes me look at what I have and think these thoughts:

You owned a business….that failed.

You were married! ….yes, I was married.
You run a non profit! ….that I can’t get funded.

At least you tried!  ….and I have absolutely nothing to show for it.

I’ve spent so much of my life simply surviving insane odds and here I am. Yet, even though the simple fact that I am still breathing is an actual miracle, it feels overshadowed by what others have done.

The one question that usually stops the crazy comparison train in its tracks is, “But do you even want that?”

The answer is no, I don’t want to be an actor anymore. I don’t want to be a decorated Marine. I don’t want a family. I don’t want to be instagram famous or a travel blogger or a screenwriter…the list goes on. I don’t actually want to have what those people have.

What I want at the end of the day is to write and if people like it they can read it. I want to help people through the work of Rethink Trauma. I want to be physically and mentally healthy. Eventually, I would like to share my life with someone else. That’s it.

I’m telling you all of this because the comparison trap is real and it is a toxic vat.

Here is how the cycle works for me:

  1. See someone online/Meet someone in real life
  2. Compare my entire self to the 2% of them that I know about
  3. Find myself lacking in every area
  4. Lose motivation to meet my goals because of the anxiety and depression brought on my this very toxic pattern
  5. “Try” again after a while with little result because I’m not consistent and I am constantly second guessing myself and not taking any real risks
  6. Beat myself up. Repeat Step 4.

The real kicker is that I am able to have lots of tracks of this cycle going at the same time! I can be comparing my looks to one person, my career to another, my work to a third person.

It is a real fact that I couldn’t write for a while because someone I compare myself to (who is prettier and more successful) said in a video that I saw that they hate think pieces. It took me weeks to stop and shake it off. The grip of one person’s preference choked me and they weren’t even there and would probably never say to my face that they don’t like what I write. But I took it and I internalized it and I made it about myself like a lunatic.

At the end of the day who honestly gives a fuck? Even if that person did say to my face that they hate my work, it has no bearing on my life and career whatsoever. I don’t write for them.
But I know that if I have this undercurrent of lunacy, someone who has gone through tons of therapy and is hyper aware of her toxic behavior, there have to be plenty of people who are doing it without thinking.

We’ve got to stop. We’re just sabotaging ourselves and hiding our lights in a basket.

Get off YouTube. Get off Facebook. Stop creeping people’s #fitspo on Instagram.

The only way that we can move towards our goals is to actually do the things we want to do. This last winter I wanted to perform the play, “Love Letters”. So I just staged the whole play myself. I took risks. I worked my butt off. Guess what happened? People freaking loved it.

In the six years that I’ve been writing two different people have told me that things I’ve written have saved their lives and emboldened them to get help.
Shouldn’t that over shadow what one person whom I barely know said in passing about not liking the genre I write?

What are you sitting on that could be changing the world that you haven’t done because the same world you could be changing has told you that you are too old, or don’t have the right degree, or you should just let someone else sit back and do it?

You aren’t too old. You don’t have to do it all at once. You can take your time. You can do whatever you set your mind to do.

Also, good news, if you work even with itty-bitty baby steps towards something I can tell you this as an honest fact from someone who lives with a mental illness and a disability:
You will have hope. You will be less anxious. You will be less depressed. You will feel better.

Set the phone down and choose yourself for five minutes. Pick up your guitar. Write a few words. Tinker with your invention. Sign up for a class.

You will not feel like doing these things at first. You will think that you suck and you will believe it with all your heart. But you know what? It doesn’t matter.

Start with yourself. Make yourself proud. Do something that you keep just for you and don’t post on the internet. I have a picture that I drew recently that I’m wicked proud of. I didn’t post it online because it’s mine. It’s just for me. I don’t need to get the internet’s approval on it because I already have my own. The drawing is still good even though it doesn’t have any likes. I keep it to remind myself that things can still just be lovely as they are. Which means that I can be lovely as I am.

It’s so fucking hard to limit my social media scrolling. It’ hard not to reflexively share my life and weigh its goodness by what others think. But it is making me feel better, it’s making me write more and feel more confident. It’s making me reach out to people in real life and tell them I’m thinking of them.

We hear it all the time from inspirational videos telling us that we’re okay and unique and to stop comparing ourselves to other people. But you know what I do with those videos? I compare myself to the person on stage and wonder why I’ve only been asked to speak at one event. So I am undermining the message while I’m watching the damn thing.

Y’all, we all need therapy. We all need to check our toxicity and see how we are poisoning ourselves. We need to do the hard work of sucking out the poison and making new habits.

We have to make peace with where we are and set realistic goals. I have to make peace with the fact that I have narrow hips and will never have an Instagram butt. No amount of scrolling or squats can change genetics.

The first thing I’ve done is set strict limits on my screen time. The second thing I’ve done is to start intentionally encouraging those that I love to achieve their goals so that I feel like I too can achieve mine. I try to spend time out of my own head and work to engage with my local community and the flesh and blood people around me. I try to practice gratefulness and be realistic about my expectations for myself.

Little to little you can do big things. It sounds like bullshit, but it’s true.