A friend who I met through the chronic illness advocacy world messaged me the other day. Her question was something along these lines:

“I admire your ability to be so productive, but I don’t understand how you make that happen. What’s your secret?”

“How do you get it all done?”

“You’re balancing multiple illnesses, so how do you have time to accomplish all that you do each day?”

These are questions I get all the time from fellow ChronicBabes and friends. They know I have multiple chronic illnesses, and they wonder how it’s possible to be productive, to run a business, to be a crafty lady, and to be a social butterfly while managing all my symptoms and self care. And it doesn’t surprise me that I get questions like these; there are plenty of people I also wonder about.

Like y’all, I often find myself asking, “How does she get it all done?”

Let’s talk about perception in a social media-shaped world

The thing is, what you see of me online is only a tiny slice of my whole life. A couple photos posted to Instagram, a few items pinned to our Pinterest boards, a video here or there, a blog post… they are tiny fragments of my entire experience. So when you see an image that reflects me completing a new quilt block, or cooking a complicated meal, or speaking onstage at an event, it’s just a moment in time.

Social media is a wonderful way for us to connect. I love that it gives me the ability to keep building this huge online community, and the ease with which I can reach people on many platforms is kind of mind-blowing.

But what we often forget is that what we show each other on these platforms is just a slice of life. It doesn’t tell the whole story, not even close. So while you may feel like you’re getting a bird’s eye view into my life, in reality, you’re just getting a quick fly-by.

The things you see, and the things you don’t see

You may see me post frequently on our Facebook page, sharing items from other trusted sources and posting original content.

What you don’t see: The days when I am too tired to even hold my iPad, let alone post new items.

You may see me post a photo of a new crafting project, perhaps a tote bag or a quilt block.

What you don’t see: The many days when I am too sore to spend any time crafting, working, exercising or cleaning.

i like you

photo by Elizabeth McQuern

You may see a gorgeous photo of me, looking all snazzy, like the one to the left.

What you don’t see: The team of folks who helped make that photo possible, including my photographer, Elizabeth McQuern; a professional hair and makeup artist; a prop artist, who created that bouquet of felted flowers; the nanny who watched Elizabeth’s son so we could shoot the photos at her house; the hours of time Elizabeth spent photoshopping me so I’m all smooth and shiny in all the right places; the flare-up I had the next day from spending a couple hours being “on” and perky and smiley and doing five wardrobe changes for our photo shoot.

I adore that picture! It  is definitely an accurate representation of me. But do I look like that all the time? Helllll no.

just a regular day at the hospital

just a regular day at the hospital

Take a look at this next picture. It is also an accurate representation of me. It’s an elevator selfie, taken at the hospital on a day when I was having trouble breathing. I spent hours there getting checked out. And it’s not super-sexy to walk around in public with a mask on. But that’s life as a ChronicBabe sometimes, right?

I shared this photo on social media when it happened, but there are TONS of other days when I don’t post a thing. Take today, for example.

There’s no video to go with this AWAP Wednesday post. That’s because for the past five days, I’ve been covered in an insane rash that’s inflamed, raw and itchy. I’ve skipped showering today because I want to give my skin a chance to heal (a few days of meds are finally kicking in and it’s improving). I don’t have makeup on, I’m wearing the same PJs I slept in, my unwashed hair is in a ponytail, and I generally look and feel pretty slobby. And itchy, and sore, and tired. (I’ve also had lots of trouble sleeping because of the rash and the meds we’re using to treat it.)

Now, consider this: Would you want me to post daily update pics of my rash? Nah, I didn’t think so. Who wants to see that? Gross! And: Boring.

I tell you all this to show you an example of the great contrasts in my life. There are beautiful, colorful, bubbly, super-productive days; there are terrible, awful, horrible days; and there are days that land across a wide spectrum between those extremes. The flashes you see of me are just that, flashes.

And: the same holds true for us all.

I see all of you online, and I get little flashes. Some of you look like you’re whirling dervishes! Some of you look like you’re lucky to get a single hour each day of productivity. But who knows? What I’m seeing are just little snippets of your experience. So I try not to make assumptions based on what I see.

But it’s hard not to. Our society trains us to envy others, to compare ourselves with others. So believe me, there are days when I see some of my friends’ lives online and I feel a twinge of jealousy. Especially on those shitty days when I can’t get off the couch, when I have to cancel plans and then watch as people post cute pics from the event I missed. It’s easy to get trapped in feeling envious of the great time they’re having.

But if we can remind ourselves that we never know what else is going in that person’s life—that we’re just seeing a tiny, curated portion of their existence—it can break the spell and stop us from comparing ourselves. And when we stop comparing and contrasting, and instead enjoy the connections we have and the ways in which we are alike, things get a LOT more enjoyable.

Mudita

Finally, I want to introduce you to a concept that may be new for you (if not, consider this a review). “Mudita” is the Buddhist concept of joy that is completely devoid of self-interest; it’s finding joy in others’ joy. My friend Toni Bernhard has written about using mudita to cope during the holidays; I’ve talked about it as well, as seen in this previous AWAP Wednesday video on jealousy. Mudita is a thing that can allow us to see another person excel and think “YAY! They rock! That makes me so happy!” instead of thinking “Bummer! I wish I could do that!” When we focus on mudita, it can drive out feelings of jealousy and envy, and help us feel more connected with each other, instead of feeling separated by a difference in ability or experience. Give it a try over the next few days; it takes practice, and it’s worth it.

See you around the Internet!

So the next time you see me post a finished craft project on Instagram, or a new AWAP Wednesday video here, before you wonder at my ability to “get it all done,” imagine the long to-do list that is lingering on my desk. Close your eyes and picture the laundry piled up in the bedroom, or my unwashed hair in a ponytail… and remember that what you see of me—of anyone, really—is only a tiny slice of life. Don’t get caught up in comparing yourself to me or anyone else; it will drive you crazy.

And I promise to try to do the same.

Now it’s your turn:

How do you cope with feelings of envy or frustration when you feel like you can’t get it all done while others can? Fill me in—I want to know! Join the conversation in the comments below, and share your experience.

I missed being able to do a video this week. But I’m wiped out! And itchy. So it’s better for everyone that there’s no video. If you’re really missing watching me talk, check out our AWAP Wednesday video playlist, which has more than six hours of guidance, advice, and bloopers.

Is there a question I can answer for YOU? Add it to the comments below, or shoot me an email.

Until we meet again: Be AWAP! Smooches!

*AWAP = As Well As Possible