Not Pretty Pictures. Not A Love List.

February 29th, 2016 - filed under: Furthermore » Feedback


photo by Dallas Clayton

A few weeks back I posted a very pretty picture of some citrus that Waits and I had foraged from around our new neighborhood. Somebody commented on that photo and said: “Beautiful and wonderful…And I’m happy that you’re so happy, that makes me happy!” And that comment just hit me in the gut, because I thought: “Oh god, she thinks I’m happy!”

Which, for the most part these days, isn’t true.

So later that evening I posted another picture on Instagram, with the following caption:

Here is a picture of the beautiful lavender lemonade that Waits and I made today out of foraged fruit and flowers from around our neighborhood. This was a really precious moment and it really did happen today. Not pictured: when I left a pan on the stove for an hour and almost burned the house down. When I told Waits that I was frustrated with him and he confided that he feels like I’m frustrated with him a lot. When I cried as I got to the wine bar because I’m feeling so overwhelmed with all that’s going on, and I feel like I’m cracking under the pressure. Not pictured: yesterday I gulped down a panic attack, and was barely able to keep it at bay. Not pictured: last week I had to go to court to fight my old landlord, and I lost. Not pictured: on Monday I will have to meet with my advisor and tell him I wasn’t able to do the things I was supposed to do. The Internet is pretty and these moments are real – nothing about my life is staged. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. It never does. Try and remember that, my friends. ♥

I don’t ever intend to be dishonest with my social media. Do you remember so many years ago, when I wrote about Positivity versus Authenticity, and why I’ll always choose the latter over the former?

Well, I feel like I’ve been letting you all down in that regard lately. Here’s what I wrote on my personal Facebook page, back at the end of January. I wrote this really late at night, on that day I had gone to court:

Man, what is even the point, of trying to be good?

I was raised to believe that right was right and wrong was wrong, and that we lived in a world that valued right over wrong. But earlier today I lost a battle – a really big battle – and even though I was in the right, I lost because what we actually value, apparently, is so much more than right over wrong. And I’ll never understand that. And this is why I’ll probably be confused and penniless for the rest of my life.

Then, tonight, we worked a six hour shift at our wine bar, and we basically had no business. It was an awful night. But I paid myself $20 in tips for my 6 hours of labor, and Jeremy and I set out to walk home at the end of the night. Late night, walking home through the downtown bars, and we passed an alley where two college girls were stumbling, with a dude lurking nearby. So I went back to see if they were okay. One of them was pretty drunk, and supporting the other one who was completely knocked-out drunk. So Jeremy and I helped them to the well-lit street, shooed the lurking dude away, helped to hold the drunken one up so she wouldn’t fall and hurt herself, and called them a cab. The first cab that arrived saw the state of the girl and immediately slammed his door and sped away. So the second cab, I opened the passenger door, leaned in, and explained the situation. And I pleaded with him. And I took all 20 of my pathetic $1 bills and I handed them to him and said “Listen, this is your tip. She will still pay you, but take this on top of that, and please promise me you will get them home safely.” He really seemed like a decent guy and I think he will keep his promise.

And now I’m back home, and still confused, and even more penniless.

I was raised to believe that we live in a world where right is valued over wrong, and I still want so badly to believe that. But that’s not what this world around me tells me every day. And I know I did the right thing, and that I do the right things. But I’m also wondering what to teach my own child. Do I lead him down this same path – this depressing, disenchanted, penniless path of believing in a world that won’t ever match your hopes and expectations? Or should I just teach him to take his, because man, those soul-sucking capitalist corporatists may be horrible people, but at least they can afford to have a a little fun. And if I’m being honest, I’d like some more of that in my life.

I don’t know man. I don’t know. I’m so tired of trying to be good, and feeling like I’m always finishing last.

And unfortunately, those feelings haven’t really subsided. If anything, they have amplified. From just last week, again on my personal Facebook page:

Honestly, I am struggling so much these days. I feel crushed under the weight of life and I don’t see any way out. Trying to practice self love, trying to practice self care. Trying to keep my bare feet planted in the dirt. Grounded. But I feel so tossed about. And untrusting, even of those who are supposed to be friends. I feel like I’ve spent 20 years pulling knife after knife out of my back.

Is this what it’s like to be an adult? Putting out fires and putting out fires and putting out fires, flailing to try and keep it all from falling apart. But why is everything always on fire?

I know that I’m just overworked and under-rested. So stressed, practically living in panic. Possibly depressed. Probably adrenally fatigued. Always, always anxious.

But I feel like we don’t talk about this stuff enough. Everyone’s so busy curating their breakfast cereal or whatever. So here’s my actual status update. Currently: a fucking mess.

And why am I telling you this here, now? Well, the last time I felt like this, I disappeared from blogging altogether. And I was gone for a year. That’s when I was going through an illness and a divorce, and I hid from the world while I endured that journey through the abyss. I was too ashamed to show my vulnerability while it was happening, so I waited. I waited until I was all the way through it, and then I came back to blogging, and I talked about it. And everyone said that I was so brave for that, but I don’t think it was brave. I mean, it was in the past. I knew for certain that I had made it out the other side.

And this time I don’t want to do that. This time, I want to tell you that I’m in it right now. I am in the abyss. And it fucking sucks, and life is so hard and I feel like I’m at the edge of breaking. I’m barely holding it together.

So when you look at my Instagram and the pretty pictures I post of Waits cuddling cute animals, or my beautiful green juice in the sun, or a picnic on the beach, please just remember this: All of those moments are real. They are real BUT all of those moments are just the rare and precious pieces that have been plucked from amidst the abyss. They are not the overwhelming majority of what I am experiencing right now.

And remember that same thing when you look at other peoples’ Instagrams as well. And your friends on Facebook. And the blogs that you read. And the YouTubes that you watch. Everyone is trying to stay positive, by posting the good stuff and hiding the bad. It’s all well-intentioned, well mostly it is, but it can make you feel as if you’re the only person on the planet who is struggling. And if you feel like that, if you feel like you are all alone in the abyss, please know that you are not alone. You’re in good company. Hi, I’m here too!

Since I’ve been sharing more of this on my various social media platforms, there have been dozens of people who have reached out to me and confided their own stories of struggle. People who I follow on social media and who seem to be so happy and so together and totally KILLIN’ IT at life. People who you are following too. People who you would never expect.

And they’ve reached out and they’ve said “I feel like I’m losing it. I have more bad days than good ones. I feel suicidal. I feel all alone in this.” And you never would have known it, looking at them from the outside.

I understand why we do this, why we all want to put a pretty, positive face forward. But it has this dangerous, dark side too. Because it’s the opposite of authenticity.

Yesterday was all the pretty pictures of the beautiful things in my life. And today is the ugly, raw reality of how deeply I’m in this darkness. Both of these posts are true, but only one of them is what you would normally see.

So please friends, remember that. I promise I will try to be more authentic and honest in my social media. I also promise to try and claw my way out of this abyss, and return to that strong and powerful woman that you all know me to be.

In the meantime, I’ll keep posting here, when I can. I’m not finished with this space – just the opposite in fact. I have big plans! Big plans for my future.

And thank you all for being a part of it.

♥ ♥ ♥

  • Ella Darling

    Oh brother. At least you qualified all that as “privileged poor.”

    And guess, what. Everyone judges everyone. It’s called the state of being human. You are no exception. Sorry I didn’t get out my violin strings like the rest of your followers. When you are totally broke without any father or family to depend on, need to quit school and go out and work…then some of us will listen. I’m gone.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Aaaaaand there it is! See, despite your thinly veiled “Thanks exclamation point!”, it was abundantly clear from your initial comment that you had no actual interest in learning about my situation or having a real conversation. You had already made up your mind, and decided that my life doesn’t clear your imaginary bar of being “bad enough” (still based on no actual knowledge) and thus my feelings aren’t valid. But instead of just being a decent person and moving on, you had to say your piece and flounce. So there ya go, flounce complete! Bye Felicia!

  • Betty Spaghetti

    Ella, this is not a contest of who is poorer, it seems you have a lot of resentment for getting the shorter stick in life. I am sorry for that, but please don’t become bitter and lose your compassion for others. We all have our cross to bear and for some it is less visible, yet it doesn’t mean they’re better off, even though they might have a few more Dollars. Unless you’ve walked in their shoes, don’t judge this harshly!

  • PiscesLady

    I have been reading your blog for about a year and I have to admit that I do sometimes compare my life to yours and feel a wee bit jealous of how amazing things seem for you! And honestly, I know that my “jealousy” is really just admiration for someone who is truly ALIVE.
    But even though I’ve so enjoyed reading your blog, I am deeply grateful for this post in particular. I too am struggling right now. I have just lost another loved one to cancer and I’m trying to hold it together at work and feeling just so damn low.
    You reaching out across the distance to be real is the most encouraging thing I’ve experienced in months. It’s certainly a lot better than all the motivational “You are made of starlight” posts on facebook. Because though we are made of starlight, we are also made of the muck. And it all matters.
    Thank you endlessly for your bravery. You helped me immensely today.

  • Molly Glenn

    I feel you… Being a smart, compassionate, driven woman means that usually things suck. But the only option is to keep pushing forward and trying to make our personal world the best it can be. I feel like this sounds depressing, but I don’t mean it that way. I, too, am a science person (engineer), so my mind tends towards the logical. Logic dictates that the only thing to do is to keep plunging forward. Trying to make the life and world we dream of, while realistically knowing that we will likely never be satisfied [insert Hamilton soundtrack here]. It simply isn’t in my nature to ever be satisfied. But I try as hard as I can, because I, too, am an atheist. I only believe in this one life. If I’m not trying to make it the best one I can, who will?

  • Angie

    I appreciate your honesty so, incredibly much, but am sorry you are struggling. I am sending virtual love, support and much deserved good karma your way!

  • totallywired

    As someone who has suffered from anxiety (and a little depression thrown in there for good measure) I really, REALLY appreciate authenticity. I can relate completely, including the bit about disappearing from social media until I got “better” or “happier” or more appealing to my “friends”. (sorry about all the quotations!) Having children has really thrown me for a loop…I feel like I struggle a lot to find my way as an individual and as a mother. HARD SHIT. Anyways, I get it. And hearing someone else say these words, helps me tremendously. The loneliness that comes from feeling like the only one struggling is very real. I recently read a refreshing article about the secret of happiness which is to basically stop feeling bad about being unhappy sometimes. It really resonates with me and I think you’ll like it too. Here’s the link to that if you’re interested. It’s an easy read:

    I’ve been reading your blog since 2010 I believe, so it’s been a long journey for both of us. Thank you for always keeping it real, Sayward! Not enough people are that in touch with themselves or that brave. We are such complex creatures and to be alive is truly a miraculous and vexing experience. XOXO

  • Mrs. D.

    I always appreciate the thoughtfulness that I see in your posts. It’s actually one of the main reasons I find myself coming back to your blog time and again. I wish I could say or do something to alleviate the pain you are experiencing. The best I can do is to let you know that you are in my prayers. Sending love from the East Coast.

  • j.

    I just wanted to stop by and send you a bit of strength and luck and my best wishes! Your blog has been incredibly valuable to me and my vegan transition, even if I just posted here only once before, and I think it’s like that precisely because you are a human being and you show it with honesty, instead of pretending to have a perfect-for-instagram life (although I love your IG!).

    I think it is important that you do not feel judged by you readers; I am pretty sure you are not.

    Also… Although I may not be experiencing that same amount of stress and anxiety I totally feel your pain: final bachelor thesis, weekend job at a cafeteria, moving out from my hometown to finish my undergraduate degree, feelings of homesickness and loneliness, feeling that the daily routine is just too much for me to cope with… I don’t even want to COOK anymore –this is some kind of strong signal for me! Sometimes I just cannot see further than that abyss you describe.

    I send you my best and a huge “abrazo”, Sayward!

  • NAJ

    Thank you so much for your honesty. It’s a true sign of strength to be comfortable revealing that you like everyone else are vulnerable to the struggles of life. This is one of the most real and honest posts I’ve seen. Stay strong. And thank you again for reminding people that this is sometimes the reality for all of us.

  • Jane @ The Borrowed Abode

    I’m so glad I popped in today after being absent for months. Thank you for sharing your struggles. I have always liked what I’ve seen about you based on what you share, but now I really, really, really like you! What you did for those drunk girls is huge. If everyone acted this way…just imagine what a better world it would be.
    I hope you can find the support you need to get through the tough stuff. Life is often so hard as an adult, and it’s frustrating. Sending love and encouragement.

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  • Colleen @ Grow For Cook Ferm

    Sayward, I just wanted to let you know that I did in fact read this right when it was posted, but waited to comment here until now. I’m the one who originally commented on your Instagram post that sparked all of this, and I’m so glad that I did! Although my comment was purely meant as a reaction to what I saw, which was lovely and wonderful on my end, I’m so grateful that it sparked something more. I also fall victim to projecting “everything is beautiful unicorns pooping rainbows, can’t you see them?” on my social media, but I must also admit that I am glass is half full kind of person, regardless of the (non-unicorn) shit storm that we call life. So, even as we wade through the poo, together yet alone, let’s not forget the teeny tiny moments in life that *are* truly amazing and wonderful, even if they are only captured for a moment on an instagram post of urban foraged goodies :)

  • Courtney

    **hugs** I’m glad you’re staying here with us. I have friends who deal with clinical depression on a daily basis. I felt the pressure and was starting to crack the week after coming back from spring break (the time I should have felt refreshed and ready to go again!). As I tell my friends, thank you for sharing your problems with us. It’s hard to know when people need help if they don’t tell us. Now I should go to my own blog and follow my own advice! I can’t speak for anyone else, but I am not going anywhere! Thank you for being you, being honest, and being an amazing person!

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