Nobody Needs To Know

Graphic by Axelle Karam

Consider the following scene: you are at a party. Beer is being sloshed around, young adults are chuckling. Suddenly, one of your beer pong opponents sloppily mutters: “Guys, we need to take a group picture — it didn’t happen unless it’s on Insta!” What happens next is no surprise at all; the entire party comes to a halt and proceeds to take numerous pictures, ensuring to capture the “we know you want to be us” and the “we’re goofy but still cute” poses.  

It is interesting to reflect upon the psychology behind this phenomenon. Why do we feel a burning desire to post these precious moments that ultimately do not need to be shared? Some experts posit that we fall victim to oversharing precisely when we are trying to manage our insecurity on a subconscious level — be it trying to get someone in particular to notice us on social media or the agony of maintaining a perfect Insta feed. 

Yet, as we share our lives with our Twitter followers (or, with the readers of our student-run news magazine) we may also inadvertently be worsening our well-beings. Oversharing may exacerbate insecurity, and research shows that once a goal is shared with other people, it is actually less likely to materialize than if kept private.

For this feature, we decided to celebrate some simple moments that remain an essential part of our daily lives but that aren’t posted or publicly shared. While we do understand the irony of sharing these activities with our readers, we do so because we want to start a conversation about the importance of keeping things to ourselves and the freedom that comes with it. Indeed, there is something quite beautiful about doing things for and by yourself. Unfortunately, in the culture we live in, one in which we all hold onto our phones for dear life and feel the need to “story” every café we study in, the value becomes all too easy to forget.

If you were to ask me what my favourite part of the day is, I would most probably lie and say that it’s lunch time. However, the real answer is that it’s both right when I wake up and right before I go to bed — the time I allocate for my multi-step skincare routine. 

I start my morning routine with a gentle cleanser. With calm and circular motions, I wash my face from the night’s impurities and feel secure knowing that I am simultaneously prepping both my skin and mind for the long day ahead. I sip on my mint tea as I let the vitamin C serum sink into my skin; my mind is blank, but my heart feels at peace. I notice this weird feeling in my stomach once I pick up my moisturizer, the final step of my routine, as I realize that these minutes of pure bliss have to eventually come to an end. 

During school, my mind can’t stop racing. Days pass by both slowly and quickly, as I run from one building to another, buy exorbitantly expensive lattes, and make small talk with different people who cross my path. Sometimes, I find myself counting down the hours until I’m able to remove my makeup and embark on my night routine journey.

There is an intense feeling of satisfaction as I begin my double cleanse at precisely 9:30 pm — an oil cleanser to remove any makeup, and a gel cleanser to ensure both a clean face and a clean mind. I spoil myself with three different serums because it has honestly been a long day, and I am deserving. With every layer of product that I work into my skin, my mood shifts, as I feel myself becoming more sane and in control. An overwhelming sense of security overcomes my body, knowing that I am protecting myself from any free radical — or person — that I have encountered that day. 

For those fifteen to twenty minutes, I forget about everything that was troubling me and allow myself to only focus on me. Self-care is important, I cannot stress this enough. 

-L

Every other day in Montreal, generally in the middle of the afternoon, I will drop whatever book I’m highlighting (or Twitter thread I’m scrolling through) to venture forth on a thirty minute jog along the mountain. As the leaves of Mont Royal Park whiz by, in turn, the sparks of stress and panic in my mind decelerate. 

I will focus on the crunch of leaves beneath my feet, or I will tune into the frequency of the indie rock blasting through my headphones. My usual scatterbrained tendencies—the constant paranoia of having forgotten a book at home, having said the wrong thing to a friend, or having left a dirty dish in the sink—subside to the rhythmic tapping of my sneakers against the dirt. One leap at a time, my worry wanes, and as my feet fly forward, I catch my mind and root it in the present moment. 

University can be overwhelming, and it is easy to obsess over the superficial. Yet, during this thirty minute routine, the overthinking of the self-absorbed college kid takes backseat to looming maple hickories and smiling Golden Retrievers. During my runs through Mont Royal Park, the puzzle pieces of my disoriented head coalesce to form a clear and coherent picture, even if only in windy transience.

-S

At the peak of exam season, as I am curled up somewhere in Redpath trying to get another reading done, moments of solace come when I decide to take a five minute break and play on the electric piano. Once I put those heavy headphones on, blocking out the noise from the outside world of stress and anxiety, muscle memory seems to take over, and my fingers start to play pieces that make the world seem beautiful. 

Music has always been a big part of my life. I grew up doing musical theatre and singing in school talent shows. However, playing the piano has always been a skill that I kept to myself. While I never had a problem singing and dancing in front of strangers on stage, playing the piano is a different story. Indeed, there is something incredibly intimate about playing the piano — while my mind remains concentrated on the task at hand and my fingers do all of the heavy lifting, I feel secure. 

One of my favourite pastimes is to play around with chords and make up lyrics as I go. When I feel proud of an idea, I usually take out my iPhone and record it using the voice memos app. I probably have hundreds of 40-second recordings on my phone will never be shared with the world — and that’s okay with me. 

Writing and playing music is something that I do for and by myself. While it is a medium through which I can express myself creatively, in the same way writing is, I feel calm knowing that these pieces are intended for my ears only, and importantly, that I can escape into a world of beautiful melodies in times when the real world feels empty. 

-L

Last year, in the throes of my first Montreal winter, I felt the coldness and isolation of the city hitting me harder than I expected. I was away from home in a city where I knew very few people, schoolwork was piling up, and the daily darkness was leaving me outright dejected.

In this discomfort, I resumed a hobby that I hadn’t participated in since my early teens: journaling. Every night before bed, I would quickly scrawl three examples of gratitude into a tiny notepad. They could be moments as ordinary as an interesting comment in a lecture, a funny episode of a TV show, even laughing over Mac and Cheese with a friend in RVC. Whatever the moment, scrawling them down on a notepad brought me a tiny but pleasurable feeling of satisfaction.

Authors have traditionally used journals as a method of harnessing self-discipline and creativity. Virginia Woolf once wrote about her own journaling habits: “The habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments.” Journaling also has been proven to improve memory and soothe anxiety; clearly, this isn’t a habit relegated merely for angsty pre-teens. 

Virginia Woolf I may not be, but my gratitude journal nonetheless helped me survive my first Montreal winter. It is a routine that I hope to carry with me into this year’s round of cold nights and knee-high snow. As the days become drearier, I hope to continue to spill out positivity into my tiny notepad. These moments drill routine moments of warmth into my life, no matter the weather, and they are gifts shared with me and myself alone.

-S.

This semester, our writers have opened up about mental illness and menial labour, election hot takes and climate activism crusades. As we have helped them relay their thoughts to the McGill student body, they have also taught us important lessons about keeping some ideas private. After all, not everyone is predisposed to wanting to share and promote themselves, and not every moment should be devoted to pursuing some productive, extraneous goal. 

So, we want to stress how devoting little moments to yourself—no matter how much one fights the urge to share them on a Snapchat story or dole them out as juicy gossip with a friend—are precious and invaluable. By closing the door to the outside world, we recharge and refresh, so we can exit them again with a greater sense of agency and purpose.

Sylvia Plath once wrote, “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart, I am, I am, I am.” By spending time listening to messages from within, instead of broadcasting our thoughts out into the world, we cultivate self-knowledge. And, through this understanding, we also build ourselves.

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