None of my friends want me to use their real names tonight because their real lives deeply conflict with their Facebook profiles, in which they all appear to be having the time of their lives.
“Natalie” recently posted a bunch of pictures of her family on a dream vacation. In one post, they’re smiling and playing in the waves. In another, Natalie and her husband are kissing and holding up glasses.
The captions read: “Just another day in paradise.”
But upon return, Natalie confesses she’s stressed because they’re deep into their line of credit. Her son got some sort of fungal infection from the pool. And she and her husband only had sex once. She pulled off one pyjama leg and made some noises and four minutes later, pulled it back on and went to sleep.
But no one ever posts good shit like that with captions like,
“Just another day, deep in my rut!”
I heard about a study that claimed a person’s level of happiness is reversely proportional to the amount of time they spend on social media. I wish I had the courage to get off completely, but I don’t.
In real time, the effort required to make myself appear all pulled together and happy is forcing me to rebel in little ways.
For instance, this morning while dropping my son off at kindergarten, one of the moms asks, “How are you?”
“Do you really want to know?” Seriously, don’t ask that question unless you are prepared for a real answer:
“For lifestyle reasons, I’m forced to stay in a job that chips away at my soul a little more every day. My husband and I barely make eye contact let alone have sex and all I dream about is the day when I’ll have courage to fake my death and leave town.”
I know one day I’ll have to explain to my son why he never gets invited to birthday parties.
Then are those times when my rebellion is … bigger. Much bigger.
Take my current mid-life crisis, for example. It’s impossible to appear all pulled together and happy while still acknowledging more challenging feelings like self-doubt, dissatisfaction and being generally pissed off – because ignoring these feelings only increases anxiety and insomnia, which leads to psychosis.
There was a study done through the UBC Psych Department where they put rats in a cage and kept them anxious and awake. On the fifth day, they started eating one another.
Which is basically how I was feeling on the day I hauled my ass up to St. Paul’s psych ward.
That morning I decide to put my insomnia to good use.
When I wake at 4 am, instead of worrying, I marinate some tofu. Around 6 am I prep a stir fry with rice. When the kids wake up I say cheerfully, “Guess what? I’ve made you special lunches.”
My daughter Naomi wanders over to the stove, crinkles up her nose disapprovingly and says,
“It smells like Felix’s poo.”
“It does not!” My son Felix shrieks, tearing after his sister, trying to pull out a chunk of her hair.
They both start screaming, which brings my husband out of the bathroom to say, “It’s past eight. Why haven’t they had breakfast yet?”
My response is so sudden, it feels involuntary: I slap the wooden spoon I’m holding against the kitchen counter so hard, it shatters, sending splinters and wooden shards in every direction and also pulling a muscle in my back.
I grab the smoking frying pan and throw it into the sink.
Bits of food fly everywhere, sticking to the cupboards, walls, ceiling.
“Fine.” I scream.
“How about you all just starve.”
I yank open the junk drawer, rattling around, looking for something to throw, a trick to incite panic I learned from my mother.
The kids pull on their boots with impressive speed.
Meanwhile, I’m searching for something that won’t cause damage, but will make a lot of noise. A box of nails? A screwdriver?
“Shhh. Shhh.” Hisses my husband pushing both kids towards the door.
“But I’m hungry,” whines my daughter.
“Get oooouuuuttt.” I scream again.
By the time I raise a roll of duct tape over my head, my family has scrambled out the door, slamming it behind them.
I’ve gone to so many therapists, healers and psychics, I’m hyper aware of those moments when parents cause lasting damage to their kids.
I sense this may be one of those times.
All I can see is this scene repeated again and again for the rest of my life until I die, broken and despised.
I can’t stop sobbing.
Which is why I decided it’s time to visit the emergency department at St. Paul’s Hospital for a mental health tune-up.
Anyone who has ever tried to see a medical-plan-covered psychiatrist knows officially there’s a 1 year wait time, unless it’s an obvious emergency. You can’t look even the slightest bit pulled together. I’m aiming to see one within the week. And that’s why I don’t bother washing my face or brushing my hair. I start walking there, just as I am. Snot and all.
Yaletown is a small place and there is always a danger of running into someone. So within five minutes, that’s exactly what I do.
Alice, the mom of one of my daughter’s school friends, waves from the corner opposite the grocery store. Seeing my face and my track pants, she races across the street to get a closer look.
I learned about Alice’s divorce from her newly altered Facebook status. She’s got two small kids and hasn’t worked since her 8 year-old was born. But based on her posts I’d say she’s a great believer in positive thinking.
“Oh my God! Are you ok?”
“Not really. I’m just headed up to St Paul’s”
“Holy shit! Me too!”
Unable to contain our relief, we go for lunch where we split a bottle of wine. I keep the conversation light.
I’m so fucked up. (Ha ha ha)
I drink alone at night. And sometimes before school. (Ha ha ha)
Got a bottle hidden in the bathroom. (Ha ha ha)
Switching to pot because I’m trying to lose weight (Ha ha)
I can’t sleep without taking a bunch of pills (Ha ha ha)
I’ve just threatened to kill my kids and my husband. And I may have meant it.
An hour later Alice staggers into Emerge and I follow a few minutes later, pretending I’ve never seen that crazy woman in my life. A triage nurse greets me.
“Do you feel that you might hurt yourself or others?”
“Not exactly, but I am obsessed with the idea of not existing. I’ve punched holes in some drywall and threatened my husband. I just want to sleep, but I can’t…” (you get the idea)
We each get an admission bracelet and are told someone from Psych will be along to see us shortly.
Alice grabs a box of kleenex and we head over to the waiting area. Once we’ve settled into a couple of the plastic chairs, away from anyone who looks truly contagious or dangerous, Alice turns to me and says, “It’s just that my brain never turns off, you know? I’m so mentally ill.”
“You’re not. You’re going through something really big. It’s temporary. I’m mentally ill.”
We sit in silence next to one another for a few moments before Alice pulls out her cell phone and slides over to me. She holds the phone out in front of us and says, “Pull it together, friend”
Alice posts the selfie to her Facebook page with the caption. “Spending the day with my new Bestie. #Friends4Life.”
It occurs to me that perhaps some of my anxiety stems from never knowing if the people I compare myself to, or the standard I hold myself up against, is even real.