I quit reading my facebook feed about two months ago. I didn’t know what would happen, or if it would last, but I knew this for sure: it was making me sick. My anxiety was through the roof, I was angry all the damn time, and I was wasting hours of my time each day.
I’d tried to quit before. I’ve gone on Facebook “diets” where I only allowed myself to visit a few times a day. I used browser plugins that banned my ability to see Facebook during business hours. But here’s the hitch: I work in digital marketing and social media management. So staying away from Facebook was nearly impossible.
But one day I allowed something said to me on Facebook to ruin my day AGAIN and I thought, that’s it. That was the last straw. I’m fucking done. The actual thing that flipped the switch for me isn’t important, particularly. Because it wasn’t a big deal. My broken brain, though, MADE it a big deal.
And that, my friends, was the problem.
“Every outrage was becoming the exact same size. Whether it was a US president declaring war on a foreign nation, or an actor not wearing the proper shade of a designated color to an awards ceremony. On Twitter those problems become exactly the same size. They receive the same amount of outrage. They’re presented identically. They’re just as big. Twitter works like a giant depressed brain. It can’t tell right from wrong, and it can’t tell big from small. It needs help. The thing is, my brain works that way because it’s broken, so I get it treatment. Twitter works that way by design.”
This blew my mind wide open. As someone who also suffers from depression, this resonated HARD. I realized that Facebook had conditioned me to be on constant alert for crisis. My brain was always in a state of fight or flight. I, too, had lost the ability to discern small problems from big ones because they ALL seemed big.
Nowhere was this more evident than the lead-up to the 2016 election. I watched, wincing, as both my liberal and conservative friends shared outrageously incorrect info. Attempting to point out inaccuracies was impossible because I liked Hillary Clinton. This made me part of the problem, and since I was only voting with my uterus, my opinion wasn’t trustworthy. Everything was awful, and going to Facebook every day just confirmed it. And it only got worse after the election.
So I quit. Here’s what I’ve learned about myself and Facebook so far.
Have you heard of the Observer Effect?It means the mere act of being observed alters the behavior of the person being watched. What I’ve come to realize about my personal evolution online is that I stopped being a writer, and started being a performer. Every event in my life was carefully reviewed and reframed for maximum impact online, designed to garner likes and comments. There was no living in the moment. It was all about how the moment would look on Facebook.
This made me super fun to be around. I lost real life friends, and rightly so.Facebook is a near pointless time suck.
When I took the Facebook app off my phone, I was shocked to realize how often I reached for it. It was CONSTANT, often even when I was sitting in front of my laptop open to Facebook. I know, that’s just crazy, but I’ll bet you’ve done it too. I’d post to Instagram and then open the Facebook app out of habit. It was a hundred times a day, maybe more.
Once I stopped, I had ALL. THIS. FUCKING. TIME. In the first month I read nine books. I made it to level 100 in Oprah’s feel-good match three game.
There was just so much empty space in my brain.
Facebook’s short bursts of updates and photos fractured my attention span. I could barely manage to read an entire article, much less a book. This had a terrible impact on my professional work. I was so distractible I became careless. There were real, wallet-hitting impacts to these mistakes. Even two months later I’m still finding my way back to true, deep focus. But I can read books and articles again now.
After a month away from Facebook I briefly stepped back in when my town’s team won the Super Bowl. I was startled by the barrage of comments from people hating on my town. This is normal Facebook behavior, of course. Everyone is a bit combative and trying to get a reaction. Once I stepped away I came to realize that, for the most part, Facebook is what we used to call “harsh” when I was in high school. It’s clever, but it’s rude.
I was just as guilty. Here’s a typical post from me On Christmas Day.
“Dear eight “gurus” with “hustle” who sent me marketing emails today (yes, today): Fuck you. And Merry Christmas.”
This is what I chose to share. Not the lovely pics of my family waking up and opening presents. Not my house full of guests for Christmas dinner. Instead, I chose to insult people I don’t really know. Why did I feel it necessary to complain and insult people as part of the story I was telling about my life online? What value was I contributing to the Facebook conversation by posting about it?
Zero. All it did is make me look like a jerk. Three months after that post, I honestly can’t tell you why I posted it.
I don’t get any news from social media now. Sometimes I don’t even find out about a major news story for hours. This has been awesome; instead of it blasting through the middle of my productive time and unsettling me, I can focus on my work. This doesn’t mean I don’t pay attention. I listen to NPR, and read WAPO and the NYTimes. I’ve even started watching the evening news again.
But instead of scrolling through Facebook for hours after dinner on my phone, now I spend time with my family or reading books. Lately, we’ve had these quiet evenings where my husband and I sit and listen to our daughter play her ukulele as we read books or play games. It’s lovely, and I’m plugged into my family in a way I couldn’t be when Facebook was dominating my brain.
I’m a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, so I don’t say this lightly. Those first few weeks after walking away felt almost exactly like my first weeks sober. I felt like there was a huge part of me missing, like a phantom limb. There is a constant voice in my head telling me to go back. Even now, a couple months in, I feel emotionally raw and naked — which is ironic since I pretty much aired ALL my shit online. I swear, Facebook is just as seductive to my brain as heroin was. Yes, really.
I miss hearing from all my friends (because that’s the only place we’re connected these days). It doesn’t help that I have to visit Facebook daily for clients, and it’s all too easy to click on my notifications alert. But I’ve kept the app off my phone and avoid it most days, although I also still take part in a handful of groups that I love. I have friend lists I use so when I do log in I see what matters to me most.
None of this makes me a better person, of course. In fact, it’s made clear that the opposite is true. There’s a bunch of stuff I need to work on (more revelations that have come regularly since I quit blogging back in 2014). But by freeing my brain from Facebook drain, I now have the energy to find the willingness to tackle those issues.
Over the weekend I read this piece from the NYTimes from Farhad Manjoo where he talks about only getting his news from print. He said, “It has been life changing. Turning off the buzzing breaking-news machine I carry in my pocket was like unshackling myself from a monster who had me on speed dial, always ready to break into my day with half-baked bulletins.” That’s what quitting Facebook has been like for me. It has been life changing, and life without Facebook is simply better.
But you can still find me on Instagram. What can I say? I’m a work in progress.