Behind the Mask of Social Media

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“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”*

The successful “working mom” you sat next to at the PTA meeting at school had a panic attack in the parking lot five minutes after she said goodbye.

The co-worker who hasn’t been pulling his weight this week is grieving the suicide of his best friend.

The new mom who passed you at the store, pushing the beautiful baby girl in the stroller, just buried her dad.

Your friend on Instagram – the one who has the most amazing marriage and is always going on exciting adventures? She and her husband are privately mourning a miscarriage and facing infertility.

The mom with the beautiful child and “happy family” who posts stories online about motherhood that touch your heart? Despite her best efforts, her marriage is hanging on by a thread.

The man who cut you off in traffic today was just diagnosed with a life-threatening illness that he can’t afford to treat.

The star of the play you just watched . . . the one who entertained and captivated you? She’s slowly watching her father die from a debilitating disease.

Your favorite author and speaker — the one that inspired you to grow in so many ways? She struggles with suicidal thoughts.

The waiter who’s been a little too slow and forgetful tonight is sleep deprived because he’s working four other jobs to support his family.

The “hot mess mom” you joke about, who is always forgetful and late? She’s dealing with memory issues and brain fog because of PTSD.

And that gorgeous, young mom who has the best fashion sense, a handsome husband, and beautiful children — she’s been battling depression and anxiety for years.

Behind the mask of social media
Photo by Fabio Neo Amato on Unsplash

There are so many who are battered and broken among us. It’s true that everyone struggles at times . . . but the sad fact is that we rarely know it these days. It’s easy to “fake it” on social media. You can post a happy photo there without a friend looking you directly in the eyes and seeing your weariness or pain. These online accounts have taken away the human element in our lives, and it’s created a cold and empty false reality.

ALL of the “scenarios” above are real. Several of them are mine, personally. Others are the struggles of friends or family. Very few are public knowledge. And yet, we’ll all say we’re doing “fine” if a friend asks us in passing — and we’ll post our happiest moments online.

I will never forget the day that I finally got really vulnerable with a friend about some of my very personal struggles and got a text back that said, “You seem fine on Facebook!” Sigh. When did social media and surface conversations become THE complete representation of a person’s heart and soul?! If social media posts are the litmus test for how you think your friends are doing, then it’s time to put down your phone and meet up with them face to face.

I’m always surprised at the things people say after someone commits suicide.

“But he was so happy! He always shared jokes and posted funny things online!” 

“I just saw her yesterday! She was laughing and smiling!”

Of course he was. Of course she was. We don’t pull out our most painful realities and put them on display. (And as much as I value honesty and vulnerability, I think that’s okay.)

An author I follow recently shared that there’s a difference between “secrecy” and “privacy”. Secrecy can be harmful . . . but privacy is a really healthy thing. While I have (sometimes) found a sense of support online during difficult times, I don’t think it healthy for us to share EVERYTHING on social media. It’s okay to keep certain struggles private — for whatever reason you deem you should. But what does that mean when it comes to relationships?

There is pain behind this mask of social media. Not everyone paints it on because they want to be fake . . . it’s just become expected to survive in society. You’re not going to share that your marriage is struggling for your co-workers to read, are you? And do all your social media “acquaintances” really need to know the details of your physical or mental health diagnosis?

Some of us only post surface things because the struggles we’re enduring need to be private. Some of us only post a “highlight reel” because we’re convinced it’s all others want to see. (It is . . . isn’t it? It sure seems to be.) Others post only the happiest, most beautiful moments because we desperately need to focus on the diamond (even the tiniest one) in all the dirt we’re wading through. Unfortunately, those crafted online personas are keeping us separated from what we need the most: CONNECTION.

Social media interaction has replaced real relationship – which is THE THING that is vital to our survival. We need a hug so much more than we need “likes”. We need someone to sit across the table and listen — not just “share” our latest blog. We need someone to look into our eyes and truly SEE US — not just double click our pretty Instagram photo.

It’s time that we prioritize REAL relationships (in the flesh) over texts and social media interaction. We desperately need each other – but you’ll never know it if you don’t connect. Don’t be the person who says “I had no idea she was struggling” . . . because she’ll rarely – if ever – post the unfiltered truth on Instagram. But you might find out what’s happening in her life if you have her over for a glass of wine, or meet up for coffee one afternoon. The most important thing we can do for our friends is to create safe spaces for our masks to come off. So many of us are hiding tear-stained cheeks behind those painted smiles.

Behind the mask of social media - Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

Today I want to challenge you to set up ONE intentional “meet up” with a friend each month. Just one in-person get-together – with time for you both to share your hearts. I promise that it will be life-giving and eye-opening.

And then? Once you realize the pain that your friends and acquaintances are carrying, your perspective will shift toward everyone around you. You’ll slowly start to realize that most people are walking around with wounds you’ll never see. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be a little more tender with even the strangers who cross your path.

Kindness costs nothing, but it means everything. A little extra patience, compassion, and connection could be life-changing for the people you meet. So, Friends, let us always BE KIND. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. And maybe you are, too.

*Author unknown – but often attributed to Plato.
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Just days after graduating from Auburn University, Ericka took a trip to Africa that changed her life forever. She discovered two unexpected things there: a passion for orphan care, and her husband Rusty! Together they founded The Sound of Hope, and have spent the past 10+ years working to provide holistic care to vulnerable children around the world. Though her heart (and time) is divided between other countries – she’s proud to call Birmingham, Alabama home! When Ericka & Rusty decided to grow their family through adoption, they never guessed it would take five heart-wrenching years to get their daughter home from Thailand. These days Ericka tries to soak up every moment of long-awaited motherhood to their beautiful little girl, Kate. Their Thai darling is growing up way too fast, and Ericka is mildly obsessed with over-documenting it all on Instagram and her blog! In addition to managing The Sound of Hope, Ericka and her husband run a video & photography business called RJackson Media. In her “free time" (do moms have free time?!) Ericka enjoys gardening, decorating, and DIY projects. She also loves singing, dancing, and acting – and was cast in her very first musical theatre role last year. She firmly believes that you’re never too old to try something new!