It was early October and the 2016 election was only a month away. Every morning when I opened the newspaper the editorial section seemed to be exploding with angry opinions and fingers pointing in every direction. And if the paper was bad, Facebook was oozing with disgust, frustration, and banter from every political side. That particular morning I found myself, like most days, with a couple minutes to spare before four little boys came bounding down the stairs. And, like most days, I settled into my favorite third stair by the kitchen and mindlessly navigated my phone to Facebook.
As I scrolled through my feed, I felt my heart sink. Don’t get me wrong, I have opinions, and I know how important politics are. But these were my friends and family, and there was so much hatred being blasted on both sides, sometimes between two people I knew. I loved these people, and thanks to Facebook, I was seeing an appalling side if them I wished I hadn’t seen.
I turned off my phone and made a split second decision. Until three weeks after the election, I was taking a break. No more Facebook until everyone was back to posting those adorable pictures of their kids, funny memes, and explaining in mouth-watering detail what was on their dinner plate. I liked all these people, after all, and I kind of wanted to keep it that way. I uninstalled the Facebook app and decided to click on music any time I found myself picking up my phone without thinking.
I gave it a few weeks after the election before I decided to get back on, knowing feelings would still be raw for a while after the results were in. It had been almost two months since I made my dramatic (albeit completely unknown) exit from the Facebook world, and the idea of getting back on actually made me nervous! What friends had gotten married or had a baby while I was gone? Who had lost 47 pounds and had transformed into a supermodel? The Halloween costumes. I had missed the Halloween costumes! What if people thought I was terrible for not liking their pictures for weeks?
It didn’t take me long to learn that two months in Facebook land equates to an eternity of scrolling. Within five minutes my mind had gone numb and I realized it would be unrealistic to ever catch up. The idea of sifting through months of life for hundreds of people was completely overwhelming. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I was that I didn’t want the responsibility of Facebook every day of my life. I turned off my phone and never went back.
I really don’t think Facebook is all bad, and there are certainly things I miss. People have gotten married and babies entered this world while I remain completely in the dark. Friends have experienced miscarriages and loss, and I have missed opportunities to mourn with them as they’ve grieved on social media. My friends’ kids have grown up and in my mind they’re still toddling around in diapers. I’ve missed so many birthdays. Those things I do regret. I see the benefits and all the good that comes from staying in touch, and I certainly don’t want to condemn or discourage anyone who loves Facebook. It has a lot to offer. But, if you find yourself unhealthily comparing your body or accomplishments to others, feeling like it’s taking over your time, giving you unrealistic expectations of your relationships and the world around you, or making you dislike people you otherwise love, then maybe a break would help. Here are a few things that I’ve learned.
I stopped worrying about things that were out of my control. Maybe I’m totally weird, but seeing post after post about childhood cancer, families facing inexpressible tragedy, and all other manner of sadness weighed on me like I can’t explain. I felt so much pain for so many people, most of whom I had never met. It had started to consume me, and soon I began to think it was only a matter of time before every one of those horrible things hit my own home. Empathy is good. Letting empathy consume you to depression? Not so good. I was definitely hitting the not-so-good levels. Now I can face heartache in a much healthier way, taking it in manageable doses.
I compared myself (and my family) a little less to the people around me. It’s only natural to post your most flattering pictures for the world to see. We tend to compare our absolute worst (or our husband’s, or our children’s…) to other people’s social media best (which sometimes isn’t even real at all). Taking a step back helped me to appreciate what I have a little more with more realistic expectations.
I found myself calling, writing, or texting friends when they were on my mind instead of checking in on them via facebook. I completely admit, not being on Facebook has made me loose touch with so many friends. It’s a quick and easy way to get caught up and visit. But personally, I rarely communicated, just looked. It gave me a false sense of being in touch. Calling or emailing back and forth with old friends has been a much more real and fulfilling way for me.
I started taking pictures for ME. My mindset went from, “Oooh, I need a picture of this to put on Facebook!” to, “Hey, I want to remember this moment ten years down the road.” Maybe Facebook is a good way to record memories for some, but I never used it that way, so this change was good for me.
I started playing with my kids for THEM. I once witnessed a friend bribe and yell at her reluctant children to pose with her next to a snowman she had built while they cried on the sidewalk. The next day that same picture was on Facebook with the caption, “Just another fun snow day out with my kids!” I was dumbfounded. Had I done similar things too without realizing?? Possibly. I found quickly after getting off Facebook that my motive for playing with my kids no longer revolved around keeping up a pretence. I played with them because they needed me to, and because I wanted to.
I stopped feeling sorry for myself for being left out. This one is kind of silly, but occasionally friends or family would post pictures of them all together. And me? I was cities or states away, uninvited. I completely understood being left out, I wasn’t even around. But sometimes it really stunk. What I found when I got off of Facebook is that, when you don’t know you’re being left out, it’s hard to feel that way!
I had more time. Those little pockets of time added up. I decided to start practicing the piano again. I read about twice as many books. I attempted (and failed) a couple carpentry projects. It wasn’t anything huge, but it was something.
Most importantly, I finally remembered that my worth didn’t depend on anyone else. I didn’t need the validation of 42 people liking my post, a person I hardly ever talked to in high school telling me what cute kids I had, or the prideful satisfaction that my hair hadn’t gone gray yet. I started to realize that I could simply be me without all the fanfare. That was the best feeling of all.
Its not like I was on Facebook all the time, but even still, taking a step back from social media has been a surprisingly needed change for me. I honestly feel happier. I know there is good out there, and I know many people find joy in using it as a tool to stay in touch. I’m happy for you. Maybe someday I’ll go back, and I hope if I do I can use it for exactly what it is: a tool to communicate with those I love and not let it control me. But, if you’re struggling, I challenge you to take a little break. It might just change your life.