Removing the Filter from my University Days

Though I sometimes can't believe it, I graduated university almost a year ago. And if student life taught me anything, it's how to procrastinate. So, naturally, I hadn't dealt with any of the thousands of pictures I'd taken over the course of my four-year degree. And my last year of high school. And my first year post-grad.


The other day, I was sorting through photos on my computer. Moving them from iPhoto to your hard drive will be easy, I thought. It won't take long at all.

Well, technology being technology, it took more than a few hours. That was unexpected. But what was also unexpected was the way I felt about my old photos.

I came across so many pictures that captured memories I'd completely forgotten about. Some were great – the time my friends and I went to the sketchiest dairy bar ever for 2:00am ice cream. There was the time we baked a pie with nothing but apples, sugar, and eggs stolen from the cafeteria and someone's leftover bag of flour. We used a baseball glove as an oven mitt. The time my roommate and I forgot our jackets in Moncton, only noticing when we'd crossed provincial lines back into Nova Scotia. We shared one jacket for weeks. The exam periods when I was working as an RA and my coworkers and I camped out in the meeting room, only emerging for the occasional muffin and not-so-occasional cup of coffee.

There were some amazing memories that made me laugh. The time I accidentally (yes, accidentally) ended up walking in Atlantic Fashion Week. The time I went on a first date in the dining hall because student budgets, am I right? But there were also memories that I thought I'd forget. The times I captured what I thought was a perfect picture. Added an awesome filter and posted it on Instagram. Thinking that everything was perfect. My life looked perfect. So I could be perfect, right?

Looking back at these photos the other day, I was surprised that I felt really sad. Because the girl smiling so hard in some of these photos... she was not okay. I can see the hurt in her eyes, even though she thought she hid it from the camera. I see each photo and it brings me back to the events that weren't captured by any photographer.

I can remember the ways I'd put concealer on my face just before going out, to hide eyes that were puffy from crying. I remember the constant escape plans I'd make just to go out to a pub with my friends. My doctor's crumpled phone number left at the bottom of my backpack. Even the photos of one of the proudest days of my life – opening night of the play I worked on for my honours thesis – had a backstory that wasn't captured on camera. The smiley, small brunette sitting in the front row had, just hours earlier, been shaking, hyperventilating, and coming in and out of consciousness with (the most amazing, aware, and patient) honours advisor during a panic attack.

These photos were hard for me to go through because they reminded me of the time when what I showed the world on the outside was so different from what I felt on the inside. And that gap hurts. I didn't take a photo of my hair when I hadn't showered for three days. I didn't take selfies with my psychologist, or share photos of my therapy group. I didn't put a #babeswhobrunch next to the spoonful of peanut butter I ate for breakfast because the cafeteria felt too overwhelming that morning. But those parts of my story are real too.

Going through these old photos reminded me that we may not be able to forget our past. That our past is a part of us. Perhaps we'll always carry it with us, knowingly or not. But our past leaves marks on our hearts much like growth lines on a tree trunk. We take a closer look sometimes, and perhaps then we can see the whole story. And yet we keep growing.

Written by: Ally Geist

#selfcare #recovery #anxiety #mentalhealth #wellness #therapy

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