Thursday, May 31, 2018

Instagram and Simple Joys

I came to Instagram from the geeky world of Tumblr. I thought that Tumblr was *my* place on the internet. Geeky memes, fanfiction, and a pleasant mix of photos and text. Yet there was tension and stress on Tumblr that had begun to make the internet a less pleasant place to be. I’d begun to think that this was just how social media was, since Facebook had become a similar sort of place.

When I got my first smartphone, it only took a few months before I ventured onto Instagram. I was so prolific on Facebook that I first thought that Instagram would be rather redundant. Yet I decided to give it a try and have been hooked ever since.


I keep pondering this. I think there are a lot of reasons. One is that, despite being a writer, I am an intensely visual person. I LOVE photos with a deep and intense passion. I love seeing photos from people I love, and I adore seeing beautiful pictures, inspiring pictures, and especially photos of the creative process. Once I found the sewing world on Instagram, I fell head over heels in love with the platform.

But it is more than photos that I love about Instagram. It is the aura of positivity. I’ve been on Instagram for several years now and it has been, overwhelmingly, an encouraging and positive experience. I’m sure there are circles on the platform that are negative and factional, but overall I believe the way the app works lends itself toward celebrating beauty, of all kinds. (And I include the beauty of *real* life, #nofilter, #messyroom, #nomakeup in that.)

Social Media photos have come under a lot of fire in recent years and for good reason. An excellent example is the new “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” movie where an early scene shows a teen staging a photo that is supposed to be just a snapshot of ordinary life but clearly isn’t. We want to put our best foot forward to the world. It also, clearly, facilitates an idea of a ‘perfect life.’ One can get the sense that everyone else lives in a rosy, Pinterest-perfect world.

This leads to a growing self-awareness and introspection of the way photo sharing online works. Sophia Kinsella wrote a funny and critical book called “My Not-So-Perfect Life” that beautifully and scathingly dissects the weaknesses of the media—but ends with an offer of a better way: namely, to be honest about every aspect of our lives.

I’ve tried to be conscious about this in my own media. Being chronically ill, my life is so very far from perfect. Sure, I won’t show the pile of dirty laundry in the corner, and I may crop out the very worst of my facial acne, but I try not to shy away from showing the roughness around the edges. I’ve always been my own advocate for my deafness, and I’m trying to be one for my chronic illness as well. Using Instagram to give glimpses of all the sides of living with chronic fatigue and chronic pain is important. I know I’ve certainly found courage and inspiration in the photos and stories of others in the same boat and I hope to pass on the benefits.

That is not, however, the only struggle that I have. The other week I came across a meme that attached each of the major social media platforms to one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Instagram’s temptation? Pride. Boy did THAT hit home. See, the other side of being chronically ill is that so much of what I do remains hidden. For me, sharing it on social media is a way to be, well, social with my creative endeavors! I know there has been great positive encouragement both for myself and in inspiration for others with many of my postings. Yet I would be naïve to ignore the temptation of pride which photos can clearly elicit from me.

And yet, even while pondering this weakness, I came across another strength of the platform, one which I believe feeds the sense of positivity that I’ve enjoyed from it.

You see, the past month has been tremendously difficult, emotionally. And I find, when I’m struggling with really difficult, painful things, I have a lot to think and say about the subject in my diary, my prayers, and to my loved ones. Now the past few days have been beautiful, and I’ve taken such joy in their beauty. Yet when I try to reach back and hold onto the beauty, try to write it down or share it, it is fleeting. I am taking joy in tiny things, ordinary things: the fresh growth of plants in my garden, the sense of wholeness and health just from doing a load of laundry or making dinner for my husband, the satisfaction from being able to sit down with tea and write and write and write, the laughter at the latest escapades of my puppy. I can capture a little bit of this in these sentences, but repeating them over and over, every day, would get redundant.

And yet…when I share pictures on Instagram, it captures these simple little joys. Maybe there is some redundancy, but the visuals capture a poignancy, immediacy, and individuality that words alone cannot. And far quicker too. A simple glance passes on the joy, whereas a whole paragraph takes much longer to read without truly conveying the beauty.

Instagram, at its heart, is a place to share and celebrate the joys of life, of every shape and size. It’s a place where you can see the satisfaction and beauty of a simple cup of tea with the same poignancy as a breathtaking landscape. Indeed, the limited size of a smartphone screen means that, in some ways, the smallest things come through the strongest and have the largest impact on our emotions.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

When Mother's Day is "Not This Year."

Mother’s Day can be hard for many reasons. Estrangement, abuse, death…there are many factors why thinking about your mom might be difficult. Or maybe you are a mom who lost a child. Or maybe you want to be a mother yourself, but for whatever reason, you are not.
I fall into the last category. This probably won’t come as a surprise to many of you. After all, chronic health in general, and endometriosis in particular, are significant barriers to parenthood. But Nathan and I have been married four years, and I am turning thirty very shortly. My biological clock is ticking away hard, and my heart is grieving.
This past year we have watched as post after post on Facebook, message after message, conversation after conversation, have turned into pregnancy announcements. And while we have deep joy for our friends and the new lives they are bringing into the world, each new pregnancy and birth feels like a death knell in my own heart. For not only is it a reminder of what we don’t have, but it is another set of friends moving on to another stage of life. And however much we might work to maintain the friendship, there is a drastic difference in having children and not having children, and how it affects everything. Getting married can change friendships, but I think the addition of children to one half of the equation but not the other has the potential to be even more so.
Both Nathan and I have felt a call to parenthood from a very young age. We both worked as nannies, and we both have always taken a great delight in connecting with our young relatives. We absolutely adore our nieces, nephew, and godson.
We also deeply trust in God’s timing. We both have family history that had long prepared us for the possibility of an infertility struggle, and for the same reason our families are deeply sympathetic, understanding, and supportive. And we can see in our own lives just how God’s timing for the birth of a child is perfect and out of man’s control.
I trust God. I trust him so much, that even when I am crying, and I want to be pleading for a child, I still find myself wanting his timing more than my immediate joy. If we are to be blessed with a baby, I want the best for that baby, and I want God’s perfect timing for my child in our lives. At this point, I don’t know whether it will be a biological child or an adoptive one. I don’t know if it will be soon or late. I don’t know if it will ever happen.
It’s a lonely struggle. People don’t talk about infertility. I know very few people of my own age who have openly shared with me that they are in the same boat. And even when you do find someone, chances are that at some point one of you is going to become pregnant and the other is not. And then you are so, so happy for them, but once again you are left behind. Or you worry about leaving your friend behind and hurting them.

And the rest of the world...well, there are so many kind, loving people in this world, who mean nothing but goodness, but still don't know what to say. Things hurt all the time, even when people are trying to be helpful and positive. Words, no matter how well-meaning, can cause so much pain. And so often I will just not talk about it, because I'm afraid of receiving more kind but upsetting platitudes.
I’m not hopeless. Indeed, at many times I am full of great hope. “Maybe this month…!!!” But I’m also really struggling. Many of the things one starts doing to try and achieve a pregnancy is adjust your hormones, so that an already emotional struggle becomes far, far more difficult to navigate. There’s a lot of crying. And there’s a lot of just walking around with a deep, deep sadness that you can’t talk about.
In part, this is a big reason of why I haven’t been blogging as much this year. It’s really hard when the biggest thing on my mind is so heavy. I don’t want to be a complainer. I don’t want to drag other people down into my depression and grief. But I also know how uplifting it has been whenever I do find another couple going through the same struggle. Whenever I feel less alone. Whenever I know that someone understands, someone else is also waiting on God. It helps so much. And so Nathan has encouraged me to write this post, in the hopes that it will do many good things, including some comfort of solidarity to anyone else going through this struggle.
It’s taken me five months to finally sit down and write this. I really didn’t want to do it. I really hoped that I’d have good news, not sad news to share. But I’d feel guilty every month I didn’t write it. I felt like I was missing an opportunity to be honest and shine a light on a very dark corner.
I don’t know if, or when, I will ever have happy news on this subject to share with you all. But if this journey continues to be a hard one, I may have further thoughts and reflections to share, as I feel they may be of use. I never, ever want this blog to become an outlet for complaining.
So. Mother’s Day. If you’re feeling apprehensive or sad about it, for whatever reason, know that you are not alone. And if you have any thoughts on how to navigate the day, please feel free to share.