How Social Media Almost Killed Me

Social media is no longer sucking the life out of me. Once ago I used to open up my Facebook and Instagram pages and feel regularly defeated as I scrolled through my account feeds. They inspired terrible feelings of stunned wonder and dismay about American life: Was this it? Was this what we as human beings were all about? Poking, chain-letters, staged photography and acquiring “likes” like marbles? Of course, there were also really interesting and engaging things to admire about social media— group chats, instant messaging, informative articles, reconnecting with distant friends and family, and insightful essays. However, there was not enough of the interesting to balance the bizarre, in my opinion.

For the few short years that I was obsessed with these accounts, I found I couldn’t stop tuning in, even when deep down I knew I wanted to stop. Similar to how I felt in old boozing days, I realized social media had become an addictive habit. And it would turn out, I had to trick myself into stopping.

When I made the decision to step away from social media— Facebook and Instagram in particular— I told myself I was only taking a thirty-day break. At the time I had recently quit my day job and was reading a book  about establishing daily rituals and disciplines as a creative. The author suggested identifying a habit or unnecessary ritual and abstaining from it for thirty days. I chose Facebook and Instagram. And as I chose them, I was actually wide-eyed, wondering how in the world I was going to get through my days without them.

In middle-age I found that I was frequently surrounded by people with whom, despite having nothing in common but the workplace, I engaged in frequent perfunctory conversations and, had less and less contact with chosen old friends due to lifestyle and/or geographic change. I relied mainly on my husband and occasional phone calls with our adult kids for social exchanges. I didn’t realize how sorely I was in need of authentic connections. During the first two weeks of the Facebook and Instagram diet, I journaled about how I was feeling in the absence of social media from my daily life. And then the entries about them disappeared, and were replaced with more important topics about my new work life.

I haven’t had a Facebook or Instagram account in over thirteen months. What I feared would happen when I took that thirty-day break, what I had pushed to the back of my mind when I first made the decision to abstain, was the fact that I would eventually stop missing the two media. I feared that once the thirty-day break from Facebook and Instagram had elapsed I wouldn’t want to go back to them ever again. That is exactly what happened.

And as a result, something even better happened. I found and embraced my true self. I swept this found self up into my arms, kissed her all over her face,  her neck and the top of her head, apologizing profusely for having shut her out of my life for so many years. Decades, actually.

Facebook and Instagram may have its perks. But for a woman like me, they were deadly to my soul. They crushed the life out of me. There are many of us living in this country (America), who, because of who we are, can never forget the way in which we are seen. Never. As a result, when we walk through society, we have to push through these otherwise distracting thoughts to get through our moments, and accomplish whichever task is at hand. For some of us it’s being black. For some of us it’s being a woman. For some of us it’s being Middle-Eastern or Latino or Asian or another of the non-white ethnicities. For some of us it’s being transgender. And for some of us it’s about our sexual orientation, while for others it might be about our disability.

When it comes to moving through this society, for me, it wasn’t merely about being black or being a woman. Yes, those things had always been there like shadows, following. But those didn’t harangue me mentally the way the demons of my past did. Being black and being a woman in America merely added to the complexities of my web of shame— not that I should have been ashamed, it was just how the culture made me feel. My demons were about my original family ties. I was embarrassed to be the daughter of abusive adults who, in my childhood, regularly committed atrocities against my siblings and me.

Once children like us become adults in our own right, there is no guidance for how we are to fit in with the rest of the culture. All we know is that we are now free to make our own way in the world and, according to the dominant culture, it’s best to leave the past in the past and just move on. And that would be acceptable and believable— maybe even lovely— were it not for the fact that the dominant culture is populated by so many hateful idiots, a number of whom hold positions of actual power and authority over the masses.

What does all this have to do with social media? Everything. The foot soldiers of our cultural and social lives live out loud on social media. Many of the foot soldiers don’t even know they are foot soldiers. They sound the alarm softly and loudly about the way others might choose to march to their own drum beat; and they cheer when we post acceptable group-think kinds of messages. The lovely quotes. The latest fashion. The family pictures. The must-try recipes. The holiday posts and links. The invitations to Candy Crush and Animal Farm (animal farm, for fuck’s sake!– *insert eyeroll*). And a plethora of other frivolous postings that I am no longer privy to. It’s all meant to be light, fun and fascinating time-wasters. Such a nice way to pass the time when we’re not working, taking care of home, or otherwise occupied.

Facebook and Instagram amplified the loneliness I would occasionally feel whenever I perused the feed, hungry for human connection. Not only was I frequently disappointed with both media, but I also felt like a child trapped in a vast dysfunctional family. It’s that weird, eerie feeling you get when Dad has blackened Mom’s eye on Thursday and brings everybody ice cream on Saturday. I may eat the ice cream, but it doesn’t hit my palate with the same goodness as it does the palates of the neighbors’ kids whose moms lack shiners. That’s how I have felt about so many of society’s rituals. As if, since everyone else seem to be having a good time, then something must be wrong with me if I’m not having a similarly good time. Heavy topics like black men getting “accidentally” killed by police or immigrants getting kicked out of the country and other acts of racial hatred are to be avoided in social media posts unless of course, all your “friends” are radicals or unless you want to be deleted (or blocked) by your non-radical “friends.”

Removing Facebook and Instagram from my world saved my creative life. I was dying, social media was really trying to kill me. Kill my dissenting voice. Kill my love of self. Kill my dormant genius. Kill everything good I was ever born with. Because the truth is, it’s not unusual to have parents who make mistakes at the peril of their own children. I’m a parent and I’ve made a few mistakes of my own, so I know this. Some of us find the humility to acknowledge our errors and make the necessary amends to our children. But if you are one of the unlucky offsprings (like me) of unrepentant progenitors,— especially ones whose conduct is noxious to your mental health— in a sea of basically loved people, you can tend to feel hopelessly lost.

As a formerly lost woman, social media was a soul-crushing, death camp. Facebook and Instagram are now things from my past life. Yes, I have Twitter, another superficial social medium which is not much different from the aforementioned. Perusing Twitter is like walking into a high school cafeteria during the last lunch period of the day: the natives are restless, the frenzied pitch of competing voices is deafening, and inside the cacophony hardly anyone is listening. But by the time I found Twitter I had already learned the truth about social media. I use it for business not pleasure. Since I’m better today than I used to be, I can handle Twitter, especially if I take it in small doses.

As for this newly found voice of mine? I find it mesmerizes me; I find that it’s quite spectacular. How’s that for a formerly broken woman who once thought herself so unloveable she should shrink in the presence of the more worthy people on the planet? Ha! Double Ha!! The longer I dwell in my own space— the kind of space which ignites me, is filled with love, is peppered with preferred authors and conversationalists— oh sweet life!— the stronger I grow and the better I become. My journey may have led to a voice found later in life than most, but lucky for the world and more importantly, luck for me, at least I can say, I finally found it. And it grows stronger every day. Better to be found later, than never. Amen.

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It’s never too late to be what you might have been.

—George Eliot