Let me start with this: I LOVE Facebook. I effing love it. But right now, I just can’t be there.
By now, you’ve seen all the articles out there about how Facebook can be a bad and scary place for people with depression, anxiety, or low-self-esteem. In many people, Facebook can feed into a sense of narcissism. In my opinion, Facebook can also be highly addictive, especially for people with low-self-esteem who thrive on external validation. (Here is one more article about some of the reasons we love FB and may not recognize addiction to it).
Over the past few years, I became something like a Facebook addict. I checked the site several times a day, and often wasted upwards of an hour on the site. I posted something and then logged off, only to return ten minutes later and log back in to see if I had received a response. Often, my Facebook interactions were the only interactions I had with anyone other than my husband during the day. I posted funny things, provocative things, and, yes, sometimes I posted about how depressed I was. I almost always went back and deleted the depression posts, but part of me wasn’t embarrassed to post them. I sometimes got down on myself for having no job, for having a less-than-perfect marriage (AKA the sort of marriage most people actually have), for being overweight, and for being less than well-published. At the same time that I wanted the positive validation of my Facebook friends, I often could not handle the criticism and brazen rudeness of many commenters. I found myself getting in fights with people who wanted to start drama. I made a few over-sharing mistakes about chronic pain and depression.
And then Sandy Hook happened.
Toxic Atmosphere of Facebook Towards People with Depression
After the Sandy Hook shootings, my feed was suddenly full of even more postcard memes, even more partisan opinion pieces, and, sadly, a lot more negativity towards people with depression or other mood disorders and the mentally ill.
There had already been plenty of “depressed-people-just-need-to-smile-and-perk-up” (mental-health shaming) type garbage floating around on Facebook before Sandy Hook, much of it in the form of picture postcards: phrases like “if you are depressed, you live in the past and if you are anxious you live in the future, so live in the present!” were typed over photos of waves on the seashore (um, so, if I have depression and anxiety, I’m just traveling through time Doctor Who style day in and day out?). It was either that or, “choose your thoughts, and you won’t be depressed anymore!” in front of sunflowers or unicorns or something. Gee, who knew it was that easy?
But as soon a Sandy Hook hit, we were suddenly in the midst of a “national conversation” about mental health. The shooter was depressed. Oh, no, wait, he was schizophrenic. Oh, no, wait, he had bi-polar. Now it’s something else. Status updates on my feed ranged from “let’s lock up all the crazies!” to “mentally ill kids should not be allowed in schools, period,” to “there should be a public list of everyone in the US who has a mental disorder.” The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre also advocated a public listing of the mentally ill. When I suggested in a post that we cut back on shaming and stigmatizing the mentally ill, let alone stop perpetrating a false correlation between a mental health problems and violence, one particularly non-sensical person wrote that I must think the mentally ill were possessed by demons (um, yeah, still trying to figure that one out).
Seeing Someone Else’s Facebook Addiction and Realizing How Ugly it Really Is
Anyway, there were a lot of reasons to get away from FB, the toxic atmosphere being one, but it took a trip home at Christmas for me to realize that I needed to be away from Facebook in order to help get my life back on track. While I was home for Christmas, I got to observe two relatives over-using facebook on a massive scale. These people got up in the morning and checked Facebook first thing. They updated their statuses four, five, and even six times a day, not to mention posting articles and making comments on other people’s posts. Their updates were attention-seeking, narcissistic, and made to either garner sympathy or praise. Seeing one of them watch a movie with an open laptop, updating his status all the while, and then go out to eat, updating his status all the while, made me realize how useless and destructive FB can be for people. Rather than doing something to change their situations, both these people were sitting and posting about how awful their lives were to anyone who would listen. In a word, it was pathetic.
I don’t want to be pathetic. I don’t want pity. I want to be strong, competent, and confident.
One of the main reasons people list for not liking Facebook is Facebook envy. That’s pretty much what happens when you see people, particularly people you don’t really like, posting about how AMAZE-BALLS their lives are. I admit to feeling this sometimes. When someone I like and admire posts that she has been published, I am incredibly happy and proud. When someone I like and admire finally gets a job, I am pleased as punch. But when my husband showed me a status update on his feed from someone I would rather not know boasting about an achievement, I didn’t want to look at it. I know it’s petty. Sadly, though, my mental response was to think, “Yuck. So Mr. So-and-So, who is a jerk, got that? Ugh! How unfair! I deserve that more than he does!” There is something very very wrong with that thinking.
I Don’t Have Time for That
When you have low-self-esteem, it is very easy to use social media for personal validation. It is very tempting to post “oh poor me!” statuses and “hey, hey, look what I did!” statuses. Right now, I really don’t want to be in the position to do either of those things. The temptation is too great. For now, while I’m working on myself, while I’m spending my time writing, reading, exercising, and eating healthier food, I don’t have time to deal with the negativity of Facebook. I don’t have time to sit around and wait for people, some of whom probably do not wish me well, to click “like” on my FB updates. Maybe in six months or so, but right now, I need real change to come from within, not from Facebook.