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Dear Swipe This!
My Facebook Memories are making me miserable. I used to feel like they were hit or miss. Some were small, fun memories I liked. And some have always made me groan—I didn’t want to look at pictures of an ex or my dead cat! And that felt pretty normal. I could laugh it off and be like, “Ugh, thanks a lot, Facebook!” But lately, even the “happy” memories upset me. I find myself scrolling past them as fast as I can. But usually, I catch a glimpse of a younger, happier me, and it makes me so upset.
Seeing myself at a time when I had so much hope and enthusiasm for life and the future is painful. Sometimes I read the old captions and I am simultaneously jealous of and embarrassed for the person I was in my mid-20s. She seems kind of stupid and naïve. But she also has this joyful sparkle in her eye. I envy that.
I guess no matter how “good” the memory is, I end up thinking about the passage of time. It feels like it’s all gone so fast and I’ve done so little. And knowing I can never get back to a point where I had more of it feels awful.
It also triggers my anxiety about my “career.” I’m an artist and I definitely don’t feel like I’ve made it. There have been moments of hope or achievement, but I still have to work odd jobs to make ends meet. I’m not rich. And I doubt I’ll ever “make it big” or be a star. But I don’t even need that kind of dazzling success to be happy. At this point, I’d settle for a life that just feels a little more stable, secure, and happy. But when I look at my younger self, she seems like she could have made it? I get this awful feeling, like she’s looking forward to a future that never arrived.
I guess I’m pretty depressed right now, and I know that can cloud my judgment. But I can’t shake this feeling that I’ve “lost” the past year to depression and a series of life disturbances. Is there a way to not hate myself for not becoming the person I hoped I’d be?
Jealous of the Old Me
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Dear Jealous of the Old Me,
If you think about it, coming across an unwanted Facebook memory, happy or sad, is a lot like attending an ambush-style high school reunion. One you didn’t even get a chance to fancy yourself up for! Imagine having a reunion, all your friends and foes and that popular girl, showing up in your living room, or worse, depending on where you were scrolling, in your bathroom or bedroom. It’s natural to feel shaken when the past walks up to you, without warning, and says, “Hey, how’ve you been?”
To me, that’s what Facebook Memories are. And yes, some of them are cute or sweet or silly. But more often than not, they feel invasive. When you uploaded those images and captions to Facebook years ago, you did so to share a moment. I doubt you did it thinking, “Ah yes, a time capsule that the algorithm can unleash on me at any moment, that will feel good!” So, while I admire your self-awareness and your willingness to accept some responsibility for the frustration you feel when looking at a Facebook memory, I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that the feelings you’re having are your fault.
Depression loves to tell us that everything we do is bad, and every bad feeling we have is an extension of ourselves. But some bad feelings are a natural byproduct of a social-media heavy existence. And even your more cheerful-seeming friends might share those unpleasant sentiments you’re describing. In a world where folks are more and more prone to sharing only their achievements and their smiling moments, I don’t think it’s any wonder that you’re feeling added pressure to live up to the images presented to you, even when those images are of your former self.
As a practical matter, you should know that it’s relatively easy to disable Facebook Memories. And if you think you’d feel better without them, I’d turn them off ASAP. But on a more personal note, I think your bigger feelings of self-rejection and self-criticism deserve some attention and care.
When I feel low, I have a few fail-proof, feel-good movies that I turn to. One of my favorites is Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. It’s silly and sweet and it always makes me laugh. And if you’re feeling shitty right now because of a Facebook memory, I’d recommend you treat yourself to a screening. Not just because it will make you giggle. I think it’s a deceptively light story that expertly tackles some of the darker things we feel as time passes us by. Romy and Michelle were never the “cool kids” in school. But they were deeply hopeful and enthusiastic. When their high school reunion creeps up on them, they realize they haven’t done much at all since high school, and they set out to become better, more impressive versions of themselves. Specifically, they decide to present themselves as “businesswomen.” You know, Successful. Powerful. Untouchable. Ring any bells?
Obviously, it’s a comedy and hilarity ensues, but the most important reveal of the movie, for me, is that the popular girl, Christie, who made Romy and Michele’s lives hell in high school is not so powerful once spoken back to. She’s actually just a loser with a frosted lip. And her “hunky” boyfriend is actually a creep. In fact, all you have to do is look just a touch beneath the surface to discover that her whole life is a lot more pathetic than the manicured image she’s presenting.
OK, why am I going on and on about this film? Well, because I think it’s a perfect piece of cinema. And really, I need you to watch it. But also, because I think Christie is a perfect metaphor for the shame you describe yourself grappling with in your letter. Shame is the pretty, popular girl who cackles at you and says, “Really, is that what you’re wearing?” Or in your case, “Really, is that the life you’ve built?” with a menacing laugh.
Like Christie, shame thrives on our belief that if we pick the right outfit or the right career, if we find the right relationship, if we present ourselves just right, we’ll finally be accepted. But here’s the thing: Shame doesn’t want to be your friend. Shame has never even once considered being your friend! Shame is a catty, self-serving liar with no end game other than to keep itself powerful. And, in my experience, the best way to deal with shame isn’t by playing nice. It’s by telling shame you don’t give a flying fuck what she thinks.
That can be a tall order if you’re feeling low. I know it takes energy to fight back, and perhaps right now you don’t feel like you’ve got it in you to fight your own negative thoughts. But I guarantee you that if you do, you’ll feel so much better than you do right now, beating yourself up over what could have been.
I won’t deny that it’s possible you were happier in the past. But that’s because life is not a straight, ascending line toward more happiness and success. There are peaks and valleys and dips and turns. There are trials we’d rather not endure. And as cheesy as it may sound, I choose to believe those trials serve to teach us things and help us grow. It’s hard to see that when you’re in a valley, or when life has just thrown you a sharp right turn. Because, in that moment, your job is simply to survive. But when you begin to climb out of the valley again, I wonder if you won’t look back and see that you’ve come out of it a bit stronger, a bit wiser.
I suspect you’ve been disappointed a few too many times, and now, in the throes of your sadness, it feels dangerous to hope again. Maybe even hearing that “this will pass” is too saccharine, too optimistic for your current mood. But when you take your past and weaponize it against yourself, I can’t help but wonder if you aren’t channeling your inner Christie and telling yourself some big, old lies about who you are and what your worth is, here and now, with or without any crowning achievements.
I also think it takes courage, so so so much courage, to keep doing the thing you love to do with no guarantees of success. If you are an artist, then you’ve taken parts of yourself and shown them to the world. And that’s no small feat. You may not have earned the kind of success you crave just yet, but that doesn’t make your efforts are any less valid or worthy than those that get bigger moments in the spotlight. I hope, in the process of sorting through your sadness, you’ll be kind to yourself–not in the past or in some imagined, better future, but in the here and now. It takes guts to do what you do. And I suspect that, while you think your younger self would be disappointed, if you’re really honest about it, that naïve, enthusiastic you would be happy to cheerlead you on. In fact, I’d be willing to bet she’d be proud.
Your younger self wasn’t happy because she was better than you. She was happy because she accepted herself in the moment and she enjoyed looking forward to the big promising expanse of life that lay before her. If you were on Facebook in your mid-twenties, you are nowhere near old age. You still have a big beautiful expanse of time in front of you. And the fact that there is just slightly less of it now only makes it more precious. Instead of bemoaning how much of it you’ve lost to sadness, I wonder what would happen if you chose to cheer yourself on again. To stop being your own Christie, and be your own Michele, the best friend who’s always been with you saying, “Hey, I didn’t know we were losers. I always thought we were kind of great?”
I know shaking feelings of depression isn’t as simple as flicking a switch. And I know that you’ve probably already put energy into putting on a brave face, and maybe you are tired and you just need to rest. And if you do, that’s OK. You can shut off your screens and not do anything for a while. But when you’re ready to get back to business, please know that you can use your time however you wish. If you want to spend it telling yourself you’ve failed, be my guest. But if you want to tell your inner mean girl to take a fucking hike, please know that when you do, I’ll be cheering you on in my reunion-wear best.