Eight months ago, I wrote a blog post called “An Awesome Life on Paper”. I never published it.
I’d been chatting with a friend from school whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. What shocked me into writing a post was that when I’d pracis-ed my life recently to my friend, it sounded awesome. I’d been off gallivanting, having adventures and generally succeeding at things. I’d got into Mountain Rescue and was now on the committee, I’d been on my first Alpine Tour, passed my driving test (about time) and glamorously quit my job to cycle to Switzerland and back.
The truth was, at the time, I wasn’t feeling alright. Remotely.
My summary in the chat window shocked me. I’d never looked at it like that. I was unemployed, broke and unhappy. Quite honestly, only one of those things have really changed now… and it’s not the happiness.
Does that surprise you? I’m not writing this for sympathy at all. I’m writing this as encouragement. To all of you currently scrolling through social media thinking everyone else is having a great time and you’re not. What’s wrong with you? Why haven’t you got a life like everyone else?
Fact 1: Everyone has bad times.
It’s hard to appreciate whether your life is good or bad whilst you’re living it. This is mostly, I think, because you don’t have a sense of scale.
On my Mountain Leader training, I was sent to find a ring contour on Seathwaite Fell. It was a nice obvious ring on an otherwise flat looking area. No problem. I reached my attack point, took a bearing and started pacing.
As I came over the crest of the hill, I was confronted with a sea of 9m lumps above the index contour. None of those lumps made it onto the map. They were 1m too short. As far as the map was concerned, they weren’t even there, although on the ground they were very obvious.
This is what my life is like. Take any week: I probably don’t remember the details of all the little ups and downs that I experience. I’ll remember the peaks and the valleys, the cols and the crags – but not the 9m hummocks.
The other problem of scale is that you don’t know what size map you’re living on. Are these emotions you’re experiencing small undulations in terrain? Or are they a ridge of Munroes? Is the sadness the false summit before the top you’re aiming for? I often wish someone would let me get a proper look at the map.
Fact 2: People prefer to share good times on social media.
Who wants to be negative? Not me. Particularly when other people are watching. It’s better to put on the brave face and tell people you’re alright. That, I think, is what people do on social media. Everything takes a more positive spin. It’s easy to hide tears behind a snippet of text. Far less easy behind a face.
In fact, go and look at my social media now. Do I look unhappy? Does that smiling profile picture make you think my life is anything other than a constant stream of fun and adventure? Well it’s not. Of course it’s not. I’m just a person too, with a life as complicated and confusing as yours in it’s own way.
Keeping to our map analogy, social media is like a road atlas – particularly Instagram and Facebook. What gets onto it isn’t the full picture. It’s a selection of events that were either “big enough to matter” or curated to fit nicely on the page. There is so much in between the lines that you can’t see.
Of course that has its benefits. You probably don’t want to hear from me whilst I’m eating breakfast or waiting for the post or running bleary-eyed for the bus or sitting at work in front of a spreadsheet. Boring.
Just Keep Swimming
I’m not sure exactly where I’m going with this, but I hope it’s made some of you out there feel better. Writing it has certainly made me feel more calm. Sometimes life is lived in a foggy haze and you just have to have the confidence to keep following that bearing until you get there. Even if you’ve got completely lost and are just walking North until you hit a road. That’s ok.