We all feel a little left behind
Social media has a funny way of doing that.
There have been plenty of times when I’ve felt like I’ve fallen behind in life. The most significant of these periods, not surprisingly, was right after Jamie died.
Like anyone else, Jamie and I had our own struggles and sad days. From the outside, though, things were running right on track. We had been married for eight years, owned a beautiful home, and were preparing to become parents. We traveled often, rarely worried about money, and had a wonderful circle of friends.
And then—bam—on one sunny February morning, it all ended. The life we built, all of our careful plans for an ideal future together, vanished with Jamie’s last breath.
In Carry On, Warrior, Glennon Doyle describes life as a game of Chutes and Ladders. Sometimes your piece lands on a ladder that allows you to skip ahead, ever closer to the finish line. And sometimes, you land on a chute. You slide down, finding yourself suddenly far behind, forced to make up the area you already covered.
For me, Jamie’s death was the ultimate chute. I went from being a wife to a widow. Multiple friendships became irreparably strained. My career was put on pause, as higher-ups cut my work hours and reassigned big projects. And our adoption application, which we’d spent months on, was no longer viable; I’d have to apply to adopt a child all over again as a single woman.
If all of this wasn’t painful enough to face on its own, social media made it unbearable.
While I was coming to terms with the fact that my husband was dead, everyone else seemed to be living their best lives—and making sure the world knew about it. Couples celebrated anniversaries and bragged about their thoughtful significant others. Career-driven friends shared news about promotions or exciting work trips. And then there were the new parents. Their photos, milestone updates, and cute stories were impossible to escape.
It makes sense that we opt to share our best selves online. When we can curate which photos, details, and life events to share with multiple people at once, we naturally choose the best ones. Even people’s confessional posts are still beautiful, aspirational in their charming vulnerability.
Still, all of these posts made me feel woefully alone. While I had fallen down a neverending chute, it seemed it was all ladders for everyone else I followed.
Here’s what my life looks like today: I have a supportive and loving partner. We’re parents to a healthy, happy baby girl. I’ve moved back to a city that’s home to many friends and family, and I’m following my dreams of becoming a writer.
Someone who met me right now, in this period of my life, may think I have it all together. It looks like I’m doing things on the right timetable, that I’ve hit a lucky streak of landing on ladder after ladder.
That person wouldn’t know the full story—that all of these things came after hitting the biggest blow imaginable.
It’s true that my life today is enviable compared to where I was in the years after Jamie’s death. I no longer cry myself to sleep, or worry that I might die of a broken heart. I have, through a combination of luck and will, found so many of the things that I once hoped for.
It would make sense no longer to feel left behind. But alas, social media has a sneaky way of subtly and silently affirming the internalized delusion of not being enough.
Depending on what I’m feeling self-conscious about, my social feeds can fuel that insecurity. I can find people who are prettier, in better shape, or more successful than I am. I can scroll through spotless homes and perfectly manicured backyards. I can read accounts from people who are happier, funnier, or smarter than I ever will be. Their lives, without fail, always seem just out of reach.
Whenever I spend too much time on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, I almost always feel worse. And yet, I can’t look away! Whether it’s out of boredom, loneliness, curiosity, or sheer habit, I subject myself to the same feeling of being less-than over and over again.
The truth is, everyone feels like this sometimes. In one way or another, we all consider ourselves behind others.
Comparison is a trap—and social media makes comparing ourselves to others incredibly easy to do. It’s a surefire way to steal our happiness.
Today is my birthday. I’m 36, which means I’ve been blessed with four more years on this Earth than Jamie was granted. In that time, I have had the incredible fortune of finding love again, becoming a mother, forging a freelance career, and witnessing all of the amazing, inspiring, heartbreaking, surreal ways that the world continues to change.
Most of all, though, I’ve been lucky enough to transform as a person. I have learned how resilient I am and discovered all of the ways that grief has shaped me. The growth that I have experienced isn’t something that I can capture in a filtered photo or describe in a pithy tweet. It’s something that only I will truly know.
Like Doyle, I’ve often thought about life like a game of Chutes and Ladders. But I usually focus on the chute part. I forget to look for the ladders.
"It's really hard to distinguish between a chute and a ladder,” wrote Doyle. “Maybe all my days are filled with little miracles, but I'm too distracted by what I think is my life to notice them.”
Four years ago, I hit the biggest chute I could imagine. In some ways, though, it was a ladder. It guided me to writing this newsletter. It gave me the strength and clarity to make leaps and decisions that I never considered before. It led me to plenty of other ladders. Sometimes I forget that. Sometimes I spend so much time looking at everyone else’s ladders that I forget to climb and appreciate my own.
So today I’m going to do just that.
Here’s to 36. And to being ok with my life exactly where it is—no comparison needed.
p.s. What’s your relationship to social media like these days? Does spending time on Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok make you feel less-than? Or do those platforms offer a delightful distraction? Have you sworn off social media or do you appreciate it now more than ever? Let me know! Reply to this email, leave a comment, or send me a message. I’ll feature your replies in Friday’s subscriber-only newsletter.
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Rainesford is the best. She’s wonderful about sharing and shouting out other writers’ work. Also, she has a book coming out very soon! I cannot wait to read An Ordinary Age. You can pre-order it here and read a Q&A with Rainesford here.
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My Sweet Dumb Brain is written by Katie Hawkins-Gaar. It’s edited by Rebecca Coates, who strives for transparency on social media, but is guilty of sharing curated, more palatable “realness” at times. Authenticity in the public sphere is important, but hard. Photos by Nathana Rebouças on Unsplash.
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