BEHIND THE PERFECT SMILE

Whenever you log on Facebook you see lots of inspirational posts. Self-proclaimed millionaires who post endless selfies dining at fancy restaurants or flying first class and a supposedly motivational quote. Religious fellas who post about every new shiny gadget they acquire plus a scripture claiming to be giving testimony about the goodness of their lord. And altruistic people who genuinely want to uplift and empower lives.

You sincerely love helping out people, and since you don’t want to be left out you also start posting a few nice quotes & stories offering hope to the downtrodden. With the economy in shambles and relationships crumbling left, right and center, you come off as a beacon of hope thus amass a cult-like following

Inspiring a bunch of strangers is easy, the actual challenge is trying to motivate people who really know you.  Family, friends, and acquaintances begin reading your posts devotedly. This forces you to occasionally reveal embarrassing truths about your life.

You are not exactly successful nevertheless life has accorded you with more privileges than most guys. You have a steady stream of income that allows you to travel a lot, wear designer clothes and afford to splurge on a few luxuries. This coupled with intermediate photo-editing skills and filters your life looks perfect on Instagram. Your offline life is not anywhere close to what you portray on social media but who cares?

Everyone is now referring to you as an inspirational personality. All you thought it would take is simply sharing motivational content twice a day. Far from what you pictured, the real action is in your inbox.

Every morning you wake up to loads of emails from people across the region. Half are messages of encouragement. They massage your ego, making you feel all important. The other half are cries for help.

You think you have seen it all until you read through a 2,000 words message from someone who has been dealt with life’s worst blows.  A teenage girl sexually abused by her biological father every night. A terminally ill man mistreated by his wife. A bright orphaned kid in dire need of a scholarship.  A young unemployed mother who has just been kicked out of her home.

At first, it feels good to be helping out those in a fix. The more people you help the more they reach out to you.  Some of these people haven’t had a decent meal in days so you send them some money. You know it’s unsustainable.  The futility of your help begins to chip away little pieces of your soul. Most of the problems you are asked to solve are simply beyond your control. You start losing sleep, checking your inbox every ten minutes as there are hundreds who need your help.

You get a front-row seat to human suffering. The real test is staying positive when every single day you get a glimpse of the worst in human beings. The messages continue to stream in all day long. Hopelessness sets in. Most of the folks reaching out are on the very end of the rope so you have to talk them out of suicide and offer them hope however bleak their situation is.

Meanwhile, your audience grows exponentially. You become some sort of celebrity.  Fame comes with lots of perks and even more responsibilities.  Anonymity becomes a mirage. You can’t take a walk in town, go for coffee or shopping without someone stopping you. Strangers open up to you about their problems the moment they see you. Since you have a heart of gold, you diligently offer all the support you can.  Nobody bothers to ask how you are doing. They don’t think you have any problems. If you do have problems then they are insignificant.

You are like a lake with many outlets and no intake. After several months of helping out others, you discover that your wells of motivation are running dangerously low. Your knees are buckling at the world’s weight on your shoulders.  It is you who now needs saving but nobody is offering a helping hand.

Speaking engagements don’t stop. People are coming out in large numbers with high expectations. Being a public figure you can’t ask for help. What would people think of you? The situation is aggravated by the fact that you can’t trust anyone. If you text someone about your problems chances are that they will screenshot the conversation and tweet it. The story of your fall from grace to grass will feature in all gutter press headlines.

The saddest part is that almost all new friends you make are looking to gain something from you. Some are looking to leverage on your network for their benefit while others simply want to take advantage of your kindness. The only people you can truly trust are either those you have known for several years or strangers who have no idea of what you do. You begin avoiding people and spend more time alone.

You are hurting inside but every time you walk out of the front door you put on a big smile. Everyone thinks your life is perfect considering how you always seem happy.  It is exhausting. The only time you can be true is when you walk back into the confines of your home. Like a dark cloud, sadness engulfs your heart. Loneliness and despondency are your only true allies. Depression is your bedfellow. Despite, what people think you too are human. You need someone to lean on.

Desperation soon forces you to seek solace in the bottle.  You promise to only drink when you are sad but since sad is your default mode, you drink yourself to sleep every night.

Constantly, trying to save the world pushes you into depression. You crave for genuine human connection but since that’s not forthcoming you start hooking up with random people. It gives you momentary satisfaction but that gnawing feeling doesn’t go away. You are without a support system. A rudderless ship.

Your life is quickly going down the drain yet not a single person knows this. They are all fooled by the picture-perfect mask.  Is there a single soul out there who truly cares about you? Will someone notice that you are not okay?  Or that the impression you give that your life is in order is all a farce?

Every time you feel really low you drive along Mombasa Road, Eastern By-pass then back to town through Jogoo Road. One Friday night after having one too many you decide to go for a drive.

Just after Nyayo roundabout, you turn up the stereo to muffle the sound of the annoying alarm reminding you to buckle up. Shape Of You by Ed Sheeran is playing.

Last night you were in my room, and now my bed sheets smell like you…

You don’t remember the rest of the lyrics.

It’s 3 am, there is little traffic. You floor the accelerator. The car gathers momentum. White lines on the road appear continuous. By the time the speedometer hits 140 kph, it feels like you are riding a fighter jet. You grip the wheel tighter and hunch over to get a better view of the road. Cold sweat trickles down your armpits. The adrenaline rush makes you feel alive.

You move to the outer lane as you approach Cabanas interchange. The right wheels run over something on the road. A stray dog. This sends your phone flying off the cup-holder. You instinctively try to reach for it with your left hand.  It is too far. Since the road is clear, you quickly dip your upper-body and grab it from the floor.

On returning your eyes back to the road you spot a huge obstacle right ahead. You jump onto the brakes with both feet. You can smell burning rubber.  A huge dusty truck is stalled right on your path. The brake pedal is fully compressed, tires locked but the car still skids forward thanks to the rains earlier in the night.

The car rams into the back of the lorry turning it into a mangled piece of metal.  You can’t move. A Jarred piece of metal is sticking out from your chest. Your shirt is soaked in blood.  You can’t feel your legs. You struggle to breathe. It feels like a sumo wrestler is sitting on your chest. Surprisingly, you don’t feel any other pain. You have this strong urge to sleep. As you close your eyelids you see a white van stop and feet running towards you. You can hear people arguing in the background. Something about an ambulance. Your life fades away with every heartbeat.

You chuckle at the thought of what they will say about you. They will celebrate you like a saint maybe even trend a hashtag on twitter in your memory. A number of WhatsApp groups will be formed to fundraise for your burial. They will shed tears while reminiscing the good times you had. Flood your timeline with RIP messages you will never be able to read. You will be the greatest friend they ever had. A friend they thought was perfect because they never bothered to look behind the mask. They will never know about your internal struggles. Maybe you will have better luck in the next world.

We live in a world that demands perfection. TV, magazines, and blogs constantly shoving down our throats unattainable beauty standards so that we can buy selected products. Even those close to us place unrealistic expectations on us. We are cornered into trying to lead a flawless life. You can’t help but compare yourself to others on social media. Since everyone is only showcasing their unblemished side you end up feeling like a loser.

Guess what? We were never created to be perfect. It is our imperfections that make us human. Life is like a swing, sometimes you are high and other times low. There is no shame in that. Therefore, you don’t need to pretend that everything is all good when it’s not. Screw whoever doesn’t like you for being real.

Written by Mark Maish

34 Comments

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  1. 3
    Burton

    I could vividly see the images flash through my mind as i read this. beautifully crafted, the make believe life that’s social media is anything but social.

  2. 9
    Warima

    This piece is thought-provoking. A real issue at amongst young people in recent times. Your work is fantastic as always,keep up Maish!!!
    I have fell victim of wanting to save the entire world, one too many times to the point I feel desperate. But anytime that happens, whether I have fare or not, I get myself to Tearoom and board a matatu to Isiolo, my home. The sight of the place, I grew up calms me down coz at home, I am just my parents’ child. All they expect of me is to find a clean home and warm food. My heroic status ends at my parents’s doorstep. Point is when things become too much, go back to your roots. Where people knew you before you were anybody coz they will be real with you. This life can move too fast to a point of confusion, let’s never get carried away. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

  3. 13
    Lindal Omenya

    I agree social media can leave one feeling very discouraged but it is very expensive to live a fake life just to get along. Being you doesn’t cost anything, they might cut you from their social circles but this should not tear you down. We owe our allegiance to God alone.

  4. 16
    Lewis Martin

    Many people are seeking validation from the humans, the only problem is that the human needs are insatiable.
    If only we would learn to accept who we are, together with the faults. A real great piece.

  5. 19
    B. Kamotho

    You have tried 10/40…. I jumped over so many lines to get to the end because i hate opening a link and not reading through the whole page… Not captivating enough

  6. 21
    Enos chetambe

    we tend to make people feel that we are OK on social media but in real sense we are not,since you only need a smartphone and free WiFi or bundles, I know of my friends who borrow designer clothes to take selfies and borrow high HD camera phones for quality photos.

  7. 22
    Carol Wanjiru

    interestingly practical. That picture paints what many of us live out, too much “virtual” life too little reality. God help us.

    • 23
      Eagle

      You sir, have made my life easy. My boss just dropped the bomb today that I have to head the Online Marketing Team. And I just found your blog- I count my blessings that I found your page.I have spent, I don’t know how many hours, reading your posts. And I feel like an expert on these topics. (I know that this is just the beginning, but I don’t want to kill the buzz).Thank for your posts. Keep it up.eJgards,R. Smith

  8. 29
    Chelsea

    Behind that perfect matte lipstick, that wheel we all would want to have, that Instagram filter that sieves out real emotion and only lets out perfectly shaded smiles…there always is a person carving a heart to listen.
    This is beautiful Mark!

  9. 32
    Labosocj

    Great piece of work mark,true people seek other people’s approvals what they dont know is that no one cares weither you sleep hungry they only say you were good when you are six feet under

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