“I don’t do Facebook.”
When folks told me that in the past, I’d inwardly harrumph, interpreting their choice as just a tiny bit snobby. What, they were off reading Heidegger and ending climate change while I was pissing my life away, taking quizzes to see which 1980’s heartthrob I should have married, or arguing about politics with people whose minds will never change? I took the fact that they seemed to have better things to do with their time as a minor personal judgment.
That’s because I did not have better things to do with my time. I spent hours a day on Facebook, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. It was my go-to boredom buster while on hold with customer service, as a passenger during long drives, or when I needed to escape the everyday chaos of family. I found it relaxing to scroll through and find out what people were reading, Netflixing, and caring about.
The joy of knowing that other people saw what I saw going on in the world was both grounding and uplifting.
Plus, I am a rare non-introvert—for those of you who “don’t do Facebook,” a common thing to do on Facebook is to post about what an introvert you are—and I love engaging with people. Even with the knowledge that much of what I saw of their lives was highly curated, I genuinely wanted to hear about friends’ everyday travails and triumphs—the funny, absurd, annoying and awesome. I love seeing your son’s prom pictures (are these kids going to the goddamn Oscars?), your marathon finish-line selfie, even the picture of the unnaturally blue cocktail you ordered on your boondoggle business trip.
On a practical level, I appreciate knowing that it is someone’s birthday or that a parent has died, so I can send a note. Whether it was crowdsourcing tech questions or finding people to talk to me for an article, Facebook was my happy place.
When the Fun Stopped
Until it wasn’t. About four months ago, as soon as I clicked on the blue “F” bookmark tab, my breathing became shallow and my throat tightened, a sign my anxiety level was rising. As I scrolled and read comments, my left thumbnail made its way into my mouth and I started to gnaw on the cuticle—a self-soothing move.
As I clicked on the blue ‘F’ bookmark tab, my breathing became shallow and my throat tightened.
I’ve always had problems with anxiety and take medication for it, but the sense of community on Facebook used to have a calming effect on me: Friends’ support and participation with my posts made me feel seen and heard and understood, which gave me perspective and reminded me of all the love there is in the world when I was having a hard time. I have brilliant and funny friends on Facebook, many of whom found me through my writing and still more whom I’ve accumulated in real life over the years. The joy of knowing that other people saw what I saw going on in the world was both grounding and uplifting, a giant, virtual support group.
Suddenly, though, the bad outweighed the good by a long shot, and not because everyone’s life seemed better than mine, as some research has found contributes to stress on social media. There was simply far more that stressed me out on Facebook than was soothing. I’d scroll past posts asking for money for incredibly worthy causes (so many truly worthy causes—impossible to support them all!) and articles about the bad man who lives in the White House and the bad people around him doing bad things to hasten the end of the world.
I agreed with most every one but suddenly felt like it amplified the horror rather than banding us together against it. Invitations to #resistance groups that I’d previously found inspiring and energizing (I’d even started one such group!) overwhelmed and paralyzed me. And the hilariously prescient ads for anti-aging creams and elastic-waist pants and vaginal lube (generated from keywords in my posts) seemed less funny and more sinister, especially in light of the privacy breaches Facebook was reluctantly owning up to.
Social Media and Mental Health: Maybe It’s More Than We Can Process
To be clear, I am in no way arguing that people should only post panda videos and Meghan Markle news—authenticity is everything and people should post what they are most interested in, of course. But I am already too steeped in and too worried about what’s going on in the world that I can’t bear to know even more about it, especially via Facebook. If I read the news (or go on the hellscape that is Twitter), I expect to hear scary news, people trashing each other, or marketers trying to get me to buy something. But when all of that comes directly after a lovely video of a friend’s daughter opening her acceptance letter to her dream college or someone’s dog making friends with a baby chick, it feels like emotional whiplash. Right now I can’t handle it.
Maybe we’re not meant to know the details of so many people’s lives.
Dropping off Facebook mostly has less to do with the platform and more to do with my own life. I’ve got two teenagers, my boyfriend also has two plus a young adult, and we each have aging parents. Every one of them has big stuff happening—good and bad, exciting and stressful. Keeping track of their comings and goings, deadlines and finals, love interests and personal achievements and struggles is plenty.
As a friend at work, who is also off Facebook, put it, we are simply not meant to know the details of so many people’s lives. She’s right: Evolutionarily speaking, we lived in relatively small groups—while our big brains are wired to be social, this is social on steroids, and I, for one, am not equipped to experience all the emotions that come with feeling intimate with so many people, even if that intimacy is virtual.
So these days, I am breathing easier, staring into the void that Facebook once occupied. I took the app off my phone, where I reflexively checked it at every pause in the conversation. I still have it on my computer, and dip in maybe once or twice a week to lurk—I miss my peeps. Now I’m one of those people who basically “doesn’t do Facebook,” no snobbery intended. For me, it’s self-care.