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Stephanie Hanrahan with family

A Peek Behind the Picket Fence

things aren't always as they appear

Do you ever feel like you’re portraying a side of you or you and your family that isn’t quite real? We understand, Instagram and Facebook are there to share your favorite pictures and your victories. But when does that start to feel fake? One of our mommy bloggers started to feel that way. Read on to see how she handled it.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what exactly are those words? What’s the worth of something that’s carefully curated, filtered and posed?

I’ll tell you. (I’m a recovering pretend-post addict, after all.)

Our most recent family photos were met with many words of praise:

Your children are beautiful!”
“You look so gorgeous!”
You have the perfect family.” (The most gutting.)

No one could’ve known I was reading those comments with a pit in my throat from the comfort of my bed—the one I refused to leave, even for meals. It would be impossible to predict that behind closed doors I was crumbling—a woman on the verge of a mental break. One who had spent the last few years trying to save that very same “perfect” family.

You see, a picture is only worth the story behind it and no one knew mine. I was a wife, mother, sister and friend to the outside world. I smiled on cue. I showed up to play dates and performed accordingly.

I dressed my kids well and exercised. I had a husband with a good job, a pretty home, plentiful vacations. So people saw what I projected: A life tied up in a nice little bow.

But here’s what was really going on behind our picket fence.

Let’s start with my husband.

He’s traditionally handsome and hardworking.  A provider, a sacrificial and serving man. He doesn’t always have a lot to say, but I suppose it works well for us since I’ve been given the gift of gab. He’s a former athlete, in his early thirties, and on any given day if you saw a photo of him you’d have no idea he has a failing heart.

That’s right. My husband has flat lined—twice.

In the summer of 2016 I found him unresponsive on our bedroom floor. His heart had stopped and—unbeknownst to us—it is broken beyond repair and will require a transplant. Another fun fact? His condition is genetic, meaning our young daughter and son both have a 50% chance of having it as well.

No way to see that in a photo.

And then there’s my children.

My daughter (now 5-years-old) reads on an eighth grade level. She spoke in sentences by 13 months. She remembers every statistic from every show, book, movie, or random conversation you’ve ever had with her. While other kids cried at new people or places, she ran in with ease. She’s an open-armed, loving and intelligent girl.

Who also has autism.

No way to see that in a photo.

Then there’s my son. He’s 3-years-old with a size 12 foot. He’s physical and coordinated; he can kick a ball well into a scholarship future. He’s the happiest kid I’ve ever met, and handsome—oh, so handsome. He likes donuts, parks, putting things together and thinks his sister hung the moon.

And yes, he also has autism.

No way to see that in a photo.

Finally, there’s me.

It hasn’t just been a few years of hiding in plain sight, its been my entire life. I’ve always wanted to blend in, but that came at the cost of never knowing who I truly was. I considered myself a chameleon—always blending in, never truly belonging. Very few people actually got a look behind my veil, and that is probably why very few people have lasted in my life.

So here’s my real self-portrait:

I’m a child who was abused by her father at 3-years-old. I’m a girl from a small town who developed a great imagination and used it as an escape into the world of reading and writing. I’m a teenager who was the victim of statutory rape.

I’m a young woman who hopped from relationship to relationship, loving everyone except myself. I had a stalker, a professor who propositioned me; and I had cancer, twice. I moved to a new city on a whim, knowing no one, and was single for the first time in my entire adult life when I met my husband.

I married, settled into suburban life, tried to start a family and had two miscarriages. Then I had my daughter, my son, and found my husband flatlined on the floor.

Anxiety and depression have cycled through my veins my entire life, but now they are back with a vengeance as I parent two children with autism. (Right along with low self-esteem and body image issues.)

Glamorous, huh?

There’s a lot of beauty sprinkled in there too, but chances are that’s already public knowledge. I had no problem sharing my highlight reel. It was all this other stuff I kept hidden for far too long.

So why can I say all of that now without breaking a sweat?

It’s because of that perfect photo.

The day my daughter was diagnosed with autism, I opened a private Instagram account that no one (not even my husband) knew about. For almost two years, I used this space as a journal—a place to share my gritty, while publicly I kept up the pretty.

When the comments rolled in on my public page about my “perfect” family, I felt so icky about my half-truth life I decided to make my Instagram journal public. I was shaking as I hit the submit button, but as I began to see thousands of responses, all with a resounding message of “Me too,” I knew I was home.

Releasing my truth didn’t bring judgment, it brought me my people. It freed me.

We all have a private versus public image, and that’s OK. There’s things we show the outside world, and there’s things we keep close.

But the problem becomes when there’s no overlap. When you lead such a duplicitous life that you start saying (or posting) things you don’t even mean, feel, or believe. That may get you a million likes but, in my experience, humans desire more than that.

And there’s just no way to get connection through carefully worded posts and perfectly filtered photos, believe me.

Not all stories need to be told on such a grand scale, but if there’s a private image you want to make public, do it.

Share it on a stage, share it on a private Instagram page, share it with one person or a million. It only matters that the true you has a place to land.

Glennon Doyle said, “We can choose to be perfect and admired, or be real and loved.”

Choose love. Every single time. Admiration means nothing if you can’t claim your truth.

And I promise when you do, not only will you feel less alone, the picture of your life will be worth way more than a thousand words.

Stephanie Hanrahan was just your seemingly average housewife until she grew tired of pretending and took an axe to her white picket fence (also known as making her private journal public). Learn how she traded her pretending for a panty liner on Instagram, Facebook, and her blog Tinkles Her Pants, where she chronicles her journey as wife to a husband with chronic illness, mother to special needs kiddos, and a woman who often unravels then finds her footing again.

Photo courtesy of Ashley Wright Photography.