For a few weeks now I’ve been struggling. I felt some kind of cloud hanging over me, a weight baring down on me. I have started dreading going to work (something I have never before experienced in this career). I’ve started worrying about myself and wondering if I am suffering some kind of depression. I’ve been unusually tired and lacking energy. But, worst of all, I’ve had no idea why I am feeling this way. Is it seasonal depression? (We have had a lot of bleak, gray days and it is winter in Northern Ontario). Is it all in my head and I just need to pull up my socks, think more positive, and try harder? Is something physically wrong with me? (I went to my doctor, got blood work done, and go for a sleep test at the end of this week.) Do I suffer from mental illness (like 1 in 4 Canadians?)
Today, I was feeling so rotten that I stayed home to rest and take a “mental health” day. I slept in, watched mindless television for hours, had a long afternoon nap, and finally dragged myself out for a short walk. But all day, I felt like I was just barely holding it together. I was teetering on the edge of an emotional breakdown, and at any moment I’d go crashing over.
And then I did.
My 13-year-old son was acting as all teenagers do from time to time, and had a small moment of defiance which on any normal day would have been nothing but a small disagreement. But today, I broke. I sailed over the edge I had been hanging precariously close to and came crashing down. I screamed and yelled and shook with rage, and hurt, and fear, and sadness. I cried, and cried, and cried….
But before you go feeling sorry for me, it’s okay. Because throughout all that, thankfully my husband – my dear, wonderful, loving, supportive, and intelligent husband – was by my side. He didn’t say a word, he just stood there. He listened. He let me get it all out. He called my son into the room and calmy and gently explained to him that the argument he and I had had, had nothing to do with him but everything to do with the kind of day I was having.
“She’s having a really hard time right now and we’re her family, we need to be here for her,” he said softly to my son.
So the two of them stood beside me. They stood there watching me cry, and sob, and break. I kept apologizing, always worried about my emotional fraility being a burden to my loved ones. But they continued to stand there, in solidarity. And even though they didn’t say a word, their simple act of being there spoke volumes to me. The fact that my husband knew immediately what was wrong and exactly what to do was the most comforting and amazing feeling. Some days I don’t know where I’d be without him…
Then finally, after I had calmed, my husband spoke to me. He spoke gently and lovingly, his words full of concern and care. I stood up, and threw myself around him, hugging him tightly and crying some more into his shoulder.
“I’m scared,” I told him, “Why do I feel like this?”
He let me cling to him until I let go and then we sat down to talk. And what he said to me was mind-blowing. His insight is always so spot on (I joked with him after that he really should have been a psychiatrist).
So here’s what I discovered during that heart-felt, eye-opening talk with my husband:
I have become lost.
My abilities to cope with life’s realities, with stress, and with everyday emotions has been numbed and broken down. I have inadvertently trained my brain to escape these things, so much so that when I have to face them they seen unbearable. Instead, I have lost myself and have become disillusioned……
……by social media.
I know. I can’t believe I am saying it. But, guys, it’s so true. And my husband probably woouldn’t have been able to identify it so easily except that he realized it about himself recently too. A few months ago, he discovered that the amount of time he spent playing games on his phone was interfering with real life. It was starting to skew his vision of what real life is and he was starting to look at his own life as less impressive and less exciting in comparison to the things he saw and experienced online.
Before I explain further, let me be clear: it’s not that I think all social media is bad. I’m not about to delete all my social media apps and never use them again. It’s just that I can no longer let it consume so much of my time. Let me explain….
My husband (God bless him) described it like this: you find this escape (social media, video games, or in more extreme cases gambling or alcohol) and it feels good because it’s an escape from the stress and banality of everyday life. When you “escape”, you create a bubble around yourself and no one else is allowed in. You subconsciously turn off whatever you may dealing with in your life and get lost in a world of (mostly) meaningless distractions. After you do this for a period of time,eventually it comes to the point where you crave the escape. All you can think about is the escape and how you would rather be doing [insert activity that serves as the escape here] then the other things you need to do in day-to-day life (your job, household chores, family responsibilities, etc.). Eventually, your everyday responsibilities begin to feel tedious and wearisome because they take time away from your escape. And the irony of it is, the more time you spend escaping, the more your brain forgets how to cope with real life. Eventually, you find yourself where I found myself ~ sad, confused, lost, and just generally sucking at life.
Guys, I am almost ashamed to admit that this happened to me. But now, I can see it so clearly! This is exactly what had happened to me. Every day, I can’t wait to get home, get through dinner, and be able to curl up on my chair with my blanket and my social media…. to escape….
And one of the reasons it happened, is that without even realizing it I pretty much became addicted to social media (which, if we are looking at social media as an escape from reality, makes sense). For instance, whenever I see the little red bubble that notifies me that there’s been action on Facebook, I feel a compulsion to check to see what the update is. When I’m home, even if I am doing something else, I will pick up my phone constantly, to see if there is anything new on the feeds. When there isn’t much new (most likely because I just checked it ten minutes ago), I actually feel disappointed. Alternatively, when there is too much that’s new on the feeds, I sometimes feel overwhelmed because I feel that I have to scroll through everything that’s new. I can’t just scroll for a few minutes and then stop. Some weird thing inside my head tells me that I have to keep looking until I get to the stuff I’ve already seen, until I have consumed all the new stuff. This is frustrating because sometimes there is a lot of new stuff and it takes a long time to go through it all. And even as I am doing this, I can be sitting there thinking about how this is taking too long and I have other things to do, but yet I continue scrolling, utterly and totally consumed by the images on the screen….Wow….
It’s not like I was completely naive to my compulsion to check social media. Part of what makes it even more disturbing is that there are times that I’d be on it and I’d be telling myself I should be doing something else. For example, nearly every night I go to bed with the intention to read before going to sleep. But the temptation to check social media one last time all too-often wins and my book gets left untouched.
Furthermore, how many times have I been in a room full of people and only half-listened to conversations because I was busy scrolling? (And this is a behaviour I see often amongst so many people!) It brought me to tears to realize how many times I’ve been in a room with people I care about, my family and ignored them while I paid attention to social media. My precious, beautiful, sweet nieces have played on the floor in front of me while I’ve ignored them to scroll through social media…. my son has complained he’s bored and my husband and I have told him to go find something to do, while we stare at our phones…. my husband and I sit side by side every evening, not talking, just zoned into our screens…. Wow…
Then my husband asked me this, “Does it cause you anxiety if I tell you to just leave your phone closed on the kitchen island for the rest of the night?” I instantly responded yes.
“Does it cause you anxiety to know that if you use your phone you’ll sit in the living room with me tonight and we will barely talk to each other?”
Tears rolled down my cheeks. Wow…
But not only is all the time I spend on social media taking me from time with my family, but it’s causing the same effect it had on my husband ~ I’ve started looking at my own life and feeling less than impressed. I’ve started seeing my day-to-day activities as burdens I have to carry… as things that I need to escape…. Wow…
Which, by the way, is totally ironic because often on social media, I’d see people post messages cautioning others that the photos we see are often highly-stylized and not a depiction of real-life (particularly on one of my favourite apps Instagram). These posts warn that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to these images and fall into the trap of disillusionment.
“Well, duh,” I would think, “as if we need to be told that. Obviously!”
Which just goes to show you how blinded I was. This “fog” I’ve been feeling, this depression… It’s not because something is physically wrong with me… it’s because I’ve fallen into the trap of disillusionment that is so prevalent on social media. I fell, without even realizing it. In fact, I became so disillusioned by the fantasy worlds on social media that, in comparison, my own life seemed so dull and unberable that I could hardly make it through the day without feeling dissatisfied and sad. Wow….
Now that I am beginning to see what’s happen, I am gaining some insight into some of my behaviours recently. I can see why I was gravitating to certain feeds and topics online. For instance, I had started following all kinds of free-spirit-type photographers who travel the world and make a living taking stunning images of nature and the places they travel. I had started following women who live like gypsies and do yoga all day in Bali. I started following mountaineers who get paid to travel, stay in sponsored log cabins, and spend their days exploring the wild and quiet solitude of the back-country. Escape. Not only was I using social media as my escape but the very notion of escape itself was the ongoing theme in so many of the things I was consuming! I even noticed that I started gravitating to books with this theme. Girl in the Woods – the story of a girl who drops out of “life” and hikes the Pacific Crest Trail alone for months on end to find herself. Big Magic – by none other than Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love – the memoir of a woman who leaves everything behind and travels the world to find herself. Does anyone else sense a theme here?
And so there it is. By filling my mind everyday with images and stories of escaping, suddenly that’s all I wanted to do. Suddenly, my life didn’t measure up. My day job became tedious. My life overall became unsatisfactory. I had romanticized the social media messages so much that I was beginning to believe there was a diffent life out there. Something that could be better…. Wow…
It’s no wonder, I’ve felt terrible lately. It’s no wonder my everyday tasks have felt so cumbersome, so uninspiring, and so mundane. It’s no wonder I’ve felt so sad, lonely, and lost…. Wow….
So here’s what I did. I immediately logged on to my Instagram account and unfollowed every single person that I felt was feeding that notion of me needing to escape. I went from following 222 people, to following 100. I kept my real-life friends and family and my most favourite bloggers (mostly just fashion bloggers, or health/fitness bloggers). I did the same on Facebook (pretty much the only people I follow on there now are my closest friends and family. Side note: while doing this, I also realized that we often say how Facebook is great for keeping in touch with friends and family. While this may be true, I would also argue that it makes us lazy in our relationships with friends and family. How many times have I picked up the phone to call my long-distance friends/family? To have a real chat and hear their real voice? It’s so much easier and faster to shoot a message online…. Wow…
Of course, as I mentioned above, this isn’t to say that I’ve written off all social media and will never again use Facebook or Instagram. There’s no need to be that dramatic. But it’s definitely a relief to have some insight into why I’ve been feeling the way I have lately and to know that social media has more of an impact on my life than I truly realized. It’s absolutely critical to realize how easily we can become disillusioned by the images we consume every day, without even realizing it, and to make ourselves aware so we can do something about it. In other words, when you know better, you do better. And now I know, that if I am not careful and conscious of the time spent on social media, it can easily consume me. It can give me a warped sense of my own reality and cause me to become disillusioned and depressed. Most importantly, I can now see that my life is not mundane and wearisome. I definitely don’t need an escape. My life is wonderful and the moments I spend living it are worth paying attention to. It’s time to put down the phone and do just that.