HONESTY... THE SOCIAL MEDIA PARADOX
There are no photos of me after I sustained a broken neck when I was seventeen. I was flung into a new body, a body I didn’t ask for, a body I didn’t want. It was broken, it didn’t fit with the life I had prescribed for myself.
I felt numb, not just physically, metaphorically too. I didn’t want to exist, not in that state. I was Claire, not ‘the tetraplegic’. I attempted to eliminate myself periodically with little success, but a string of comas hung around me like a unwelcomed stink, invisible… but I could see them, suffocating me, egging me on to try again. I just wanted to go back to my old body, the one I knew. I didn’t love it, but it was mine. Now, all I was, was a big old heavy head, the rest of me was irrelevant, pathetic, ugly.
I completed my degree with a sense of false integrity. Did they know it was my mother, my sisters, who would hold my hands steady? I’d quietly take my Uni projects home, to do when none of the students could see me, with my wasted hands fumbling away, steadied and guided by my patient whanau. It wasn’t MY degree, it was a group effort, an effort I denied because I was ashamed, I couldn’t have done it alone.
Twenty-five years later, I crawled from the wreck of a devastating neck surgery that left me more paralyzed. I had to give up my beloved career as a designer. I had time, my worst enemy. Too much time to think. Consequently, I fell into the world of social media and found myself pouring over images of other women like myself, using wheelchairs. I was shocked to discover they looked amazing, beautiful in their different bodies. I started to question my own body-dysmorphia.
So began my social media journey. The unspent creative juices I had poured into my former job were supplanted in my new social media accounts. I utilized my skills as a designer, an artist. I created a new version of myself. I embraced my wheelchair, yet still held deep insecurities regarding my body.
I churned out images, dusting them off as I would have done as a designer. I created a new version of myself, positioning my body in ‘normalizing poses’. To an untrained mind, that was my first mistake. I wasn’t the girl in the photo, confident, unafraid. I was still traumatized but I could hide that trauma, and in the images, I thought if I looked long enough, perhaps I’d become that girl. The polished version of 'Claire - the tetraplegic'.
My account grew and I found myself in Milan, Italy, on the Versace catwalk in my wheelchair, it seemed surreal. Yet I felt like a fraud. I was old, I was short, I was ugly… I was confused the agency who claimed me were oblivious to my ‘faults’.
I also found myself critiquing life, inequalities, and the media seemed to love me. I was reliable, well groomed, I could smile on command. I learnt how to act from an early age, it came easily as I’ve always preferred playing another character other than my own. I could even talk like I was normal - but I felt anything but normal.
Fast forward a few years and I’m in a strange place. I cultivated a version of me that I couldn’t sustain. I withdrew from life, setbacks that I might have dealt with better threw me down a dark hole. I found it hard talking to people, engaging with friends. I wasn’t a model, I was still that ugly girl. I could still ‘fake it’, but afterwards, I would crash and burn, away from the spotlight.
I feel my burns are now becoming visible. I created a ‘better’ version of myself, but she wasn’t me. My social media persona helped me accept my body to some degree, but the dirty, old trauma remains inside, and all those instances, those moments where I crashed within the situation I was thrown into, they have manifested, grown and become cancerous. I’m at a loss as to how to treat my broken mind. I painted over my broken body, I created a new happy confident Claire, but she was never real.
So I sit here in my lonely little world. Exhausted with human contact yet craving it too. I’m confused. I feel like a failure. I thought I healed my body, but my mind has been abandoned. I’ve fucked up relationships with others like me. I am addicted to drugs to dull my pain, both physical and emotional. And I have no idea how to heal my mind. Is it even possible after the kaleidoscope of trauma I’ve been subjected to? Suicide; my own attempts, friends, and family? Post traumatic stress that kick started my drug addiction so I could sleep through the earthquakes that rocked and broke the city where I live; rape, abuse, abandonment, bullying, infertility, miscarriage, distain… when does it stop, I wonder? When does it become 'too much to handle?'
I don’t want to be happy, that’s too elusive. I want peace. I want to feel content. I want to love like he loves me. He deserves that, my best friend, my adversary, my pain, my one true love. I want to help others, yet I know I can’t while my own self is so utterly fragmented, unsettled, irrational, angry. I want people to know I’m an artist, I create art and use my body as a subject. What I am not is confident, an advocate. I am lost, I am damaged, I need help, but I don’t know how to help myself.
The social media Claire I’ve created is not me. She’s a fantasy. I am different, shy, insecure, empathic. I find it hard talking to people socially. I’m spent you could say.
My hope is that in time, I can heal my mind too. Until then, please don’t hate me. I know I’ve fucked up so many times, I’m only human and I’m sorry. I can only do what I’m capable of. I am an actor, yet acting, talking to the media takes its toll. A toll I hide. A burden to bear.
I just ask one thing. Please don’t judge me. It’s easy to create stories about people, but if you’ve ever walked in my unspent shoes, perhaps you’d see a little of the blackness that envelopes me sometimes. If I disappear from your life, it’s because I’ve become too comfortable hiding from the world, it’s because I don’t want to fuck up any more relationships. I seem to be good at that. I’m just being honest.
Despite the darkness though, I hold onto hope. Hope that one day, I can be the kind of friend I need right now.