I suppose it started when an unsolicited PM appeared in my Facebook messenger inbox. It was from a woman I met briefly through a mutual friend. It began innocently enough:
“Hey, girlfriend (girlfriend?). Wanted to invite you to join my next challenge group – we’ll be focusing on fitting in 30 minutes of exercise, balanced nutrition and motivation. Let me help you reach your goals! Can’t wait to talk to you about this!
I laughed and closed my browser but the meaning behind the message stuck with me all day. At 5’8” and 155 pounds, my BMI is on the “fluffy but average” side but, more importantly, my blood pressure is fine and all the various things they test blood for come back within normal range. Somehow, though, I fit the profile of a woman who needs help achieving a healthy lifestyle. The more the day went on, the heavier her message weighed on me (ha!). I am certainly not as thin as I used to be, as the medication I take to tame an out-of-control panic disorder has the unfortunate side effects of extreme lethargy and weight gain, and there are many days I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and do a double-take on my double-chins. The insecurity about my body which had simmered quietly under the surface was brought to life by one little Facebook PM. That got me thinking about social media in general and how it took up too much of my time.
I had to step away from the mindless scrolling for the same reason I can’t buy Halloween candy before October 30 – no self-control. The catching up and reconnecting with old friends that drew me into social media has morphed into a daily stream of posts which sometimes make me feel bad. There are the “Vaguebook” posts which leave me scratching my head – someone I care enough about to have as a friend on Facebook posts about a struggle but “doesn’t want to get into it”. There are streams of photos from a #motheroftheyear that leaves me questioning whether I do enough for my son but those fears are quickly remedied by the “suggested posts” which fearmonger me into questioning if I do too much for him. Vacation posts are fun to browse but remind me that we only took two vacations this year (typing that makes me cringe). A plethora of multi-level marketing posts has me wondering if I should be buying all-natural cleaners and using essential oils to heal my son’s eczema. Fine dining, various shopping sprees and too many pedicure photos to count bombarded my eyes and taxed my already over-wrought brain. Facebook, which started as a distraction, had become a habit – a toxic habit that stole my happiness by magnifying every insecurity I have about myself and my (beautiful) life. It didn’t exercise my body or mind or fuel my creative juices. It took and took and took and added nothing in return.
The nail in the Facebook coffin came when I posted a photo to my page and five minutes later my son asked how many “likes” we got.
Cue the sound of screeching brakes, record scratches and every other sound that accompanies an epiphany.
His simple question led me into a thought tunnel: post a picture, wait for likes. Likes equal acceptance and approval. I had forgotten that acceptance and approval need to come from within and I had unknowingly set a dangerous precedent as it won’t be long before he has his own phone and the freedom to post his own pictures. I don’t want him waiting with bated breath for his peers to “like” them and, by extension, like and accept him. I don’t want him believing that his self-worth relies on what others think and “click”.
I tried to remember what life was like without Facebook. Surfing the internet was an occasional distraction and I spent a lot more time reading books and magazines. I printed out photos and put them in albums. Checking in with friends happened through brief text messages, emails or phone calls. The lexicon FOMO didn’t exist because we weren’t bombarded with photos of our friends having fun without us. Was life easier then than it is now? In an effort to both re-create the simplicity of those days and set a healthier example for my son, I deactivated my Facebook account for two weeks.
I felt lost at first. I missed the mindless scrolling I did while waiting in lineups. I got into the habit of checking Facebook first thing in the morning and the last thing at night, so I had to come up with some new habits. I carry a novel and a crossword puzzle book with me (which prompted the teenager sitting beside me at the blood clinic to comment “that’s so retro!”) I re-discovered crocheting. I started taking yoga classes.
Leaving Facebook left my mind quiet enough to remember a few important things: My body is fine just the way it is. My close friends will text or call me if they are struggling and I will help them. I do my best to be a good mother, our son is happy and healthy, and we are damn lucky to be able to afford our two vacations a year. I stopped watching events through my phone and photographing them like the suburban paparazzi. The results were almost immediate once the fog of Facebook lifted. Our happy moments as a family were enhanced because I was completely present and the break left me feeling better about myself, my family, my home and my life.
I have returned to Facebook, but with a clear mind and little desire to post as much. I look in on a daily basis, but not as frequently. I love seeing the photos of my friends’ kids growing up and treasure how it allows me to keep in touch with family far and wide. However, it’s not an addiction anymore. I understand that you can’t compare your behind the scenes with other people’s front page, and I’m much happier for that.
On a side note, I submitted this to a mental health website as a potential story for them. They outright rejected it AND recommended that I “Like” their new Facebook page.