Life Without a Filter
A "New York Minute" & "African Time" are beyond polar opposites, they are in fact on different planets. Two months ago, my wife and I decided to move from New York City to Kigali, Rwanda. After two years of chaos in the city, we decided it was time to slow down from the Big Apple's pace of life, and start a new adventure in a much slower culture. Now in Rwanda with all this extra time, I have had the opportunity to sit, watch the sun-set, and really think. Many times living in New York, it was much easier to keep yourself busy, then to actually deal with your problems. But not here. If you are going through something, you have no other option but to sit and work through it the hard way. I would like to share with you something I have been mulling over while on "African Time."
Recently I was editing a photo, like many days. I was using the healing brush to get rid of someone's acne. This is a fun tool in Photoshop to get rid of blemishes or any other thing that you don’t want people to know actually exists on your body. I began to think about how this tool resembles our culture. Because of social media, we can choose to only post things that make us, and our lives, look better. Like Photoshop, we can use some type of tool to cover up what we don't like about ourselves. We have the ability to make others believe we are someone we are not. Over time, we have all created the "me I want people to see." And for most of us, that person is much different then the person we actually are.
While on social media we change our look, in real life interactions we disguise who and how we are. We portray various personalities to try and seem happy. We often have masks that we wear when we interact. Some people use the happy person mask. Others wear their self confidence mask. No matter what mask you are wearing, the truth is that we are afraid to take off the mask, and share with the world who we really are, and how we are actually doing.
I write all this because I am guilty. I only post about joyful times, I give my teeth a little whitening in Photoshop, I erase those two zits on my chin, and I always will tell you that I'm doing great. Regardless of the truth, that is my answer: "I'm Good". We all do it. We all have filters. We all have masks.
The problem with all this is that after a certain amount of time, we realize that we aren’t that person that we hope people think we are. We aren’t that perfect. We aren’t that skinny. We aren’t that adventurous. We actually do have zits, yellow teeth, and we're not always happy. In reality, we are very broken people. Or at least I can speak for myself . . . I am a very broken person. I have issues, insecurities, a large helping of anxiety, and yes I’m 26 and still get a nice big zit once a week.
But no ones knows this about me. Why? because it would be weird to be honest with people about who we actually are. We live in a world that hides the truth in the closet, and puts on a mask of happiness.
I know how to wear this mask all too well.
After college I was a youth pastor for two years, and during his time every interaction with staff, students, and parents looked the same: a big smile, promise that I’m doing great and I'm happy to be here. But in reality I was struggling. I was going through some of the darkest times of my life; dealing with insecurities, depression, and an overwhelming large amount of hate towards myself. I was scared to admit the truth to anyone. I was afraid no one would understand. I was afraid people would be mad at me, or think less of me. I was afraid of showing the real me.
During college I went through the biggest mental battle of my life, and I never talked to anyone about it. I went to college in Los Angeles and it did a number on my brain and my perception of my body and eating habits. I began to believe that the look of my body determined if I was a good person or not. I started to believe that the mirror was in charge of grading my self worth. I became obsessed with food, exercise, and eventually it really wrecked my life for a few years. Some people noticed, others didn't, but it was real. I was battling something that seemed so stupid to others, yet was so real and demoralizing. Through all these struggles, I rarely ever talked about them. I just internalized them. I held them in and tried to act like everything was fine. But everything wasn't fine. I was depressed, had social anxiety around food, was hiding from friends and family, and was more then anything, very angry at myself.
I never let people see the real me because I was scared. I was scared to admit that I was dealing with an issue that is often stereotyped as a "girl's issue." It is pretty well established that guys don't have body image and eating issues.
On top of being embarrassed, I was hurt by people. It hurt to hear my "friends" call me names when I ordered a salad, or said no to a piece of cake. I was tired of receiving a hard time, and it didn't feel like people were supportive of me, even before I told them what was going on.
I now look back at these moments and wonder what would have happened if I would have been honest. I may have gotten more jokes thrown at me. But it would have felt good to be myself, to be honest and to not feel like I had to hide something. I may have lost a friend or two, yet now I realize those are not the friends I need in my life. I wish I would have been honest, and I'm glad I am now. I am a bit older now and have worked through the depression, and social anxiety, but the hate for myself is still a real issue I deal with.
Sharing this with you is not fun. Being honest about who we are is scary. It’s difficult to admit that you aren't perfect. But after years of depression, anxiety, and self hate, I have come to realize this: I am tired of people LIKING the Kenny I want people to see, and I really wish people LOVED the Kenny I actually am.
We are all lonely, broken, and in desperate need of authentic love. We are a generation of people who don't know how to be themselves anymore. We are so used to showing the "me I want people to see," that we really don't know who our real selves are.
I believe that if we would be honest with each other about our struggles, we could help one another. People wouldn't have to internalize things, letting the painful issues deteriorate them. I also believe that we can learn to love our true selves if we stop trying to impress others.
When you obsess about what other people think of you, that is the quickest way to forget about what God thinks of you. But being obsessed with what God thinks about you is quickest way to forget what other people think of you.
From now on, I am promising to be the me God created, and not be afraid to show it. With this freedom, I don't have to worry about what other people think, because God is the only one who affirms who I am.