‘Don’t let my pictures fool you’: B.C. Instagram star talks mental health to 200K followers

Caitlin Fladager says she felt relief after puncturing illusion of perfection & disclosing depression

The first time Caitlin Fladager was recognized in public was four years ago at Costco. She was shopping with her mother-in-law when a trio of younger girls came up and asked to have their photo taken with her.

Fladager, just 21 herself and a mother to a toddler, was confused. Why in the world did these people want her photograph?

The answer was in the phone held up to take the picture, and in the social media accounts and profiles around which 21st century life – and celebrity – had begun to revolve.

If you don’t have an Instagram account, Fladager’s face does not regularly pop up on your phone’s screen. Neither do those of her children. You haven’t marveled at the decorated lunches she packs for her kids, or applauded the seemingly perfect high-school romance of her marriage. And you won’t have noticed when Fladager realized a photo can lie.

Caitlin Fladager is a child of the 21st century, so she grew up with a smart phone and all the social media apps you hear about. Six years ago, she met a guy named Noah at Yale Secondary. They started dating. Shortly after graduation, when Fladager was 18, she accidentally got pregnant.

Fladager says she is naturally introverted. The internet, though, gives shy people a way to share their lives, and when Fladager began posting about being happily pregnant, and then about parenting alongside a supportive and engaged father, more and more people started following her.

A media company would call it “Growing An Audience.” That, unbeknownst to her, was the route she was on.

Fladager would post pictures of herself, and about how two young people who met in high school and had a kid early were making life work. The number of people who knew her face, name and family only grew.

Four years ago, she was recognized in Costco. Three years ago, she had another kid. Two years ago, a big American toy company emailed her and asked if she would like to be paid to advertise their products. Also, she could keep the toys.

“It was really weird,” she said. “I’m just a girl from Abbotsford.”

People loved seeing Fladager’s smiling, attractive face, and her growing young family. And soon Fladager, who loved kids and dreamed of being a kindergarten teacher, had children of her own and, somehow, a job unlike any other in Abbotsford.

Fladager had 100,000 followers on Instagram. Then she had more. Tens of thousands more followed her Facebook and Twitter accounts. Several posts “went viral,” as the news likes to say. American TV stations – big ones with three letters – called to talk to her about her posts. Those people especially liked Fladager’s posts about the terrific parenting skills of Noah, who had since become her husband.

But people – and life – are more complicated than can be captured in an Instagram post or 280-character tweet.

Behind the photos, Fladager’s marriage wasn’t perfect and her life wasn’t perfect. None are. And slowly she began letting people into a side of her life that she hadn’t revealed.

Last June, Fladager stunned her followers by posting that she and Noah had broken up, although they were both committed to parenting together.

The written posts that accompanied her photos became longer. She began writing about how the social media image she and others carefully cultivate isn’t necessarily a reflection of reality.

Last August, she posted a picture of her in a less-than-glamorous condition.

“Don’t let my pictures fool you,” she wrote. “I mainly only take pictures when I’m dressed to go somewhere. Most of the time I’m in an old sweatshirt, no makeup, and with my hair not done.”

Story continues below

Not long after, she posted a pair of before-school photos. She and her kids were all smiling in the first. In the second, her toddler was stubbornly resisting.

“It can be SO easy, especially for mom, to compare yourself on social media, to other moms,” she wrote. “The second picture is my reality most of the time. It’s messy, chaotic, beautiful, honest, and the reality for many moms. Don’t compare your reality to someone else’s controlled online content.”

RELATED: Study finds rise in millennial perfectionism, parents and social media blamed

RELATED: B.C. teens struggling more with anxiety, depression: 2018 report

Fladager wasn’t just dealing with family difficulties, though.

Unbeknownst even to many family members, Fladager had found herself struggling with mental illness, including depression. Over the winter, she finally began to write about it.

“For far too long I have put off therapy because I thought of it as weak, where I couldn’t fix myself and needed help,” she wrote on Twitter. “But the truth is, everyone needs help sometimes.”

Depression is a complex disease, with a myriad of causes and contributing factors. It would be wrong to say that becoming an Instagram professional had caused Fladager’s mental illness.

But she says now that maintaining a pretense of perfection wasn’t helping.

“I just felt so alone, and going on Instagram and seeing everybody else looking so happy and so perfect, I’m like, ‘What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with my life? ’” she said last week. “Then I realized it’s the way people portray their lives.”

Fladager’s own posts had maintained that unrealistic veneer.

“I looked perfect. Everybody constantly told me, ‘I am so jealous of your life.’ Meanwhile, I was going through a divorce, I was depressed and not leaving my bed and I had messages saying, ‘I wish my life was like yours.’

“I was just tired of that. I’m like, you know what, my life isn’t so perfect all the time and it’s not fair to other people to think it is.’”

In March, she published a first-person account on the website Love What Matters in which she writes candidly about how the life she lived was very different from the one she put forward to the world.

“One day, it just all got too much for me,” Fladager wrote on the site. “The pressures, people looking up to me, for qualities that I had basically faked. I wanted to look perfect for so long. And the truth is, that’s not reality. That doesn’t help anyone.”

The response was overwhelmingly positive, and Fladager said many people privately thanked her for being honest.

“I felt relieved. I felt I was being honest for once, and not just posting pictures that were staged or set up. I felt I was being me.”

Writing about her issues, and finding support from her peers, was helpful, she said.

“It didn’t make me feel good to know other people go through it, but it felt good to engage with people in a meaningful way.”

The posts also let her family in on her struggles, which she said has brought her more support.

That, along with therapy and medication, have all helped, she said.

“I know families aren’t as perfect as they look when I see one now,” she said. “I know everybody has their problems and that’s OK. It is OK, honestly; I feel everybody tries to hide it now.”

To find mental health support, information or resources, call 310-6789.


@ty_olsen
tolsen@abbynews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Maple Ridge man faces deportation over father’s honour-killing conviction

Father lied to immigration, was later acquitted of charges in Jassi Sidhu’s murder

Third fire along rail tracks in Pitt Meadows

Fire chief warns vegetation is dry and combustible

UPDATE: Police incident at west Maple Ridge mall

Save-On-Foods closed due to threat, police say

LETTER: The good and bad at Ridge Meadows Hospital

‘I drove to the hospital and paid $6.50 for parking.’

Maple Ridge outfielder back with Canada for Pan Am Games

Larissa Franklin one of four OFs on national women’s softball team.

Scorpion, first brought to Maple Ridge vet, gives birth after hitching ride in woman’s luggage

A Vancouver woman inadvertently brought the animal home from a trip to Cuba

B.C. teen killed by falling tree near Victoria

Second youth also injured in freak incident during field trip at Camp Barnard near Sooke

Elias Pettersson wins Calder Trophy as NHL’s top rookie

Vancouver forward first Canuck to win award since Pavel Bure in 1992

FVRD chair calls B.C. incineration plan for Philippines waste ‘disturbing’

Metro Vancouver ‘uniquely capable’ of safely disposing of waste coming back to Canada, say officials

VIDEO: Acknowledging skeptics, finance minister vows to build Trans Mountain project

Bill Morneau said he recognizes ‘huge amount of anxiety’ in Calgary over future of oil and gas sector

Shovels could be in the ground on Trans Mountain by September, CEO says

Ian Anderson points to weeks likely required for NEB to reinstate 2016 regulatory record

RCMP allows officers to grow beards

Members can now wear beards and goatees, as long as they’re neatly groomed

Girl, 10, poisoned by carbon monoxide at B.C. campsite could soon return home

Lucille Beaurain died and daughter Micaela Walton, 10, was rushed to B.C. Children’s Hospital on May 18

30 years later: B.C. woman uses sidewalk chalk to reclaim site of her sexual assault

Vancouver woman didn’t think her powerful story, written in chalk, would ignite such support

Most Read