Saturday morning, I posted a Instagram picture from the Mandarin Oriental in Miami. By then the tears had stopped, and I had begun mentally preparing for the journey ahead. My 14-year-old brother commented, curiously inquiring why I was in Miami. My heart hurt as I thought of how much he didn’t know. On Saturday afternoon, I hugged a cop whose partner had just committed suicide as I stood across from my dad’s hospital bed.
48 hours earlier: “Who am I speaking to?” An unfamiliar female voice answered the phone. I hesitated for a moment; it was far from the “Hello sunshine!” my father’s warm voice usually greets me with when I call. Regardless, I smiled, then responded that I was his daughter. The women, who turned out to be a nurse, nonchalantly answered, “We found your father unresponsive in his home this morning. Nurses tried to wake him up, but they couldn’t, so he’s on his way to the hospital. It’s not looking good. I have his phone, though I didn’t know who to call.” My mind went blank. It felt like a year passed before I finally thanked her. As if she had just realized the gravity of what she had told this man’s daughter, she added a shaky apology and hung up.
I wasn’t completely unprepared for a phone call like this, because my father’s health had been deteriorating for almost a year. But at this moment I was in the most helpless position. I put down the phone and stared blankly out of the 24th floor of my apartment in Shanghai. Days before all this happened, my Instagram featured a picture in Shanghai with the caption “I think I’ll stay here.” How ironic, because after that I was on the next flight out to Miami.
It is so easy to paint a pretty picture of a perfect life online—the hard part is getting through real times.
Why in the world did I Instagram while my dad’s life was in crisis? Was I being selfish, vain, ignorant or insensitive? As I think back and wonder why I did, I look at all the filtered moments of my life and realize I did it because it’s nice to see something that looks so pretty and perfect when you are living through what feels like the worst moments of your life.
It is rare to see a grown man in uniform crying in public. He stood silently weeping in the corner for this fallen friend. He recounted to me how it was completely unexpected, because his partner “was the happiest guy”; he had wife and a kid who he loved with all his heart. He told me that he just couldn’t wrap his mind around how this could happen. I thought silently to myself how it is always the ones who we least expect it to be. The ones who are in the most pain are usually the ones who are able to hide it the best.
Instagram and Snapchat make it so easy to make it look like life is perfect. There are filters, edits and timed views to give people a window into your life. You get to choose exactly what people see and you hold the power to control people’s perception of your life.
Every day, social media is flooded with endless images of the seemingly perfect lives of celebrities, models, socialites, and our own friends. They draw a range of emotions from those who view the images, from happiness, inspiration, and awe, to anger, jealously and sadness.
Whether it is freshman year of college and everyone looks like they’re having the time of their lives, or junior year and everyone is posting glamorous pictures from study abroad, it makes me wonder: is everyone’s life perfect? Of course not, but people aren’t going to post the moments of their lives where they are stressed out or in pain; they’re going to post the happiest, most exciting times.
I think I know what my friends are going through because I commented on their last Facebook post or liked their last Instagram picture. But it is not until I finally see them that I understand the whole story. It’s so easy to assume that you’re the only one going through a hard time and no one would understand if you told them. But chances are, no one knows you’re actually going through anything. Some problems are definitely bigger than others, but it doesn’t mean we are helpless. It is so easy to paint a pretty picture of a perfect life online—the hard part is getting through real times. So lean on your friends when you need to, because the real ones are always going to be there for you.