Beyond the Highlight Reel, When Living Out Loud Gets Hard

People often complain about the "highlight reel" of social media: the Photoshopped, Instagram-filtered perfect life-view depicting a constant stream of gorgeous landscapes and backdrops, once-in-a-lifetime adventures and of course, the perfect outfit.

As a social media professional, it's easy for me to recognize the carefully crafted shots and understand the effort it takes to capture moments like these, even for models traveling on yachts in the Mediterranean Sea. And as someone who has chosen to live my life out loud, I also understand what's not being captured, like the long-lines, the rude customer service experience or the broken toenail from one too many glasses of wine the night before. As curators of content, we don't post things people don't want to consume. And as I recommend to my clients, while it's important to always put your best self forward but also, and this is key -- be honest, authentic and transparent about the not-so-good-stuff. When these things are all done well, in concert, social media is a beautiful work of art, a digital impressionist vision of reality.

The thing is -- the most beautiful pieces of art have range. They reflect the highs and the lows. And over the last week and a half, I have come to realize, as a whole, we aren't doing such a good job with the lows. The highs we have down. We know how to take beautiful pictures of our Blue Apron meals and align the horizon for epic sunsets. We know how to celebrate our birthdays and #humblebrag our latest achievements. But when the dark times come, we stay silent. And those who don't stay silent are considered "downers", unworthy of our newsfeeds. And the consequences of our lack of knowing how to share when we are in our darkest places is worth acknowledging. I have recently come to believe that it's setting us up for isolation and limiting our abilities to connect when it matters most. It's weakening our empathy skills and it's causing us to become less "human", the imperfect creatures that we are and need to be.

As someone who was early to embrace social media and who has committed to living out loud, I was surprised to only recently make this personal discovery. In the face of a traumatic event, I witnessed my silence on social media, my inability to find the right words. Because I believe, if I am going to share my magical fairytale wedding at a castle, and the perfect home in the cutest little town you ever did see, and perfectly shot and edited photos of myself, it's equally important to share the reality of the imperfect moments. The dark times. The times when I am not fired up, ready to "kill it" and crash through any obstacles in my way like a 21st century female warrior. Or else, where is the contrast? How can you see the light? How can I?

It's interesting because when my biological father died, I posted a photo of him and RIP. I think we know a bit more what to do with death than with our own personal dark moments. And as a community, we know how to respond to death. I found it difficult to post but rewarding emotionally to receive the outpouring of condolences. An example of when social media is at it's best.

But in this moment, I struggle. I don't know what to say. I don't know how to start so I'll just jump in from the beginning...

Last Thursday, I was awoken out of my sleep with excruciating, writhing, intolerable pain in my abdomen. I was burning up and shivering and laid on the cold tile floor of the bathroom. I drew a bath, I got in, I got out, I laid back on the floor. I cried out. I looked at myself in the mirror and saw i had lost all color. Something was wrong, something was very wrong.

At this point, almost nobody knew that I was seven weeks and four days pregnant. When you are newly pregnant, you keep it a secret until the twelve week mark -- just in case. The rate of miscarriage is high during that first trimester and higher when you are over 35. At seven weeks, your baby is the size of a blueberry, a tiny little fragile thing that you spend 24 hours a day protecting. You stop drinking alcohol and coffee, you take vitamins and work to get more nutrients like protein and iodine. Logically, you know there's a chance the pregnancy might not come to term but that doesn't stop you from planning and falling in love with the child growing in your womb. We knew our due date. We cancelled our plans to travel to Europe in the fall. Over dinner earlier that evening, we picked out our favorite girl names. I was so sure it was a girl.

So, when the severe cramping started, I prayed that it would be anything other than something that would cause me to lose her. I thought maybe it was appendicitis. But I knew for sure we had to go to the ER.

It took only a glance at me and to find out I was pregnant for the hospital to go into "triage". Don't worry, they told me, they needed to assume the worst case scenario and work backwards to make sure they didn't miss anything. I didn't need them to tell me that an ectopic pregnancy rupturing a fallopian tube would be the worst case scenario, I knew that. I knew that would mean the baby can not be saved. That my life would be in danger from internal bleeding. That I would have to go into emergency surgery and all that would entail.

After blood tests, an IV, doses of Dilaudid every 15 minutes, a pelvic exam and two ultrasounds later, the ER doctor came in solemnly and told me he was sorry. He would give me a few minutes with my husband and then they needed to rush me to another hospital where a surgical team was being called in to perform my surgery.

I don't think I will ever forget that moment when I looked from the doctor to my husband, Alex. It was like a dagger went through our hearts, worse than the death of a friend or family member, deeper. I called my mom and awoke her out of bed to tell her the news. We all sobbed. We had been so excited. I was 39 and had heard so many women face difficulties getting pregnant. We had been trying for a few months and had just moved into a house with a perfect room for a baby, it even has a little fairy stained glass skylight. Everything seemed so perfect. And it was all just flashing past, slipping through our fingers and we were helpless.

As we dealt with our initial devastation, the doctor came back in. We would have to hurry now. We had to focus on me. The situation was "emergent" and quickly, the ambulance had arrived and I was transported, dosed with more Dilaudid, writhing in pain that one lady described in an online forum as "worse than a c-section and labor combined", and devastated and disappointed. I kept telling myself, I would be fine. I could get through this. I would get through this, lots of women do.

The surgery went well.

I awoke once either during the operation or right after and was met with alarming voices telling me to lay down, that I was at the hospital, that I was okay. I guess, they gave me more drugs. The next time I woke up, I was in the maternal recovery room, my husband beside me.

He said the doctor said they had tried to save my tube but there was just too much bleeding. I had lost a lot of blood but they were able to keep my ovary, a very important organ for hormones. I was thankful for that. I went back to sleep and then every time I would wake up, I would open my eyes and see posters of babies and have to re-remember, oh, yea, I had surgery, we lost the baby.

After I could drink and eat a cracker and applesauce, I could go home. The nurse wheeled me out in a wheelchair. Every little bump and dip, reminding me I had just had abdominal surgery and my tube had been removed. I felt like I had been hit by a truck.

Every day since then, I have diligently managed my pain, at the time of writing this, I'm still taking Oxycodone every four hours and ibuprofen between. I can walk mostly upright although I still haven't been outside or been able to take a shower. The three keyhole incisions are healing well. My abdomen is sore and fragile but the pain medication minimizes the suffering. The bruising and swelling is severe and shocking but the least of my concerns. It's my heart and my husband's heart that is the slowest to heal. When it's just the two of us in our little cocoon, we can sit quietly and be comforted with our togetherness. But then, every phone call from the outside world, every door bell ring with a flower delivery, every alert and notification from a pregnancy app and we are confronted with reality. I tried to work, I got upset about something innocuous and it sent me to bed for the entire day.

We feel like we are shells of ourselves with these raw insides and nobody but people who have gone through this exact experience seem to understand. It's like because people know there's a high percentage of losing a pregnancy in the first 12 weeks that it means if you do lose one, it's no big deal. We have gotten a casual "rest up!" and "feel better!" like this major emergency surgery was similar to having a tooth pulled or a broken bone.

But I wonder, is this because we have become a society where we only know how to celebrate the highlight reel? Have we removed from public view the most emotionally painful times in our lives for fear it isn't what people want to consume and so have lost our ability to connect with the pain of others? These are the questions I have been asking myself as I move from the bed to the couch to the bed, sitting with my pain, alone with my husband.

It's been hard. It's been sad. And although, we have had some friends reach out and express their support through this, some other people have left us a little surprised. When I try to understand some of the frivolous comments or complete lack of understanding, I have had to push myself to move from my own hurt feelings into deeper reflection. And it just makes me wonder, as a society living in a digital world, if we don't share beyond the highlight reel, are we missing not just the full art of life, but also and most importantly, are we losing out on the depths of our humanity?

Going through the process of writing this post has been helpful in my own healing. I think I need to commit myself to sharing the hardest moments of my life to create a more complete picture of reality. Hopefully, I can do it in a way that is artful and helpful. And maybe if we all do it a little more, we can allow social media to blossom into the next level of community, one where we can give and receive support beyond our moments of celebration. That would be nice, wouldn't it?