One Month and then Some

January 1st was the last time I posted directly onto Facebook. I still have my blog set up to post automatically on my timeline for some of my readers who get notifications there, but otherwise, I have not been using Facebook. I have checked the platform maybe half a dozen times, and none of those sessions were any longer than a few minutes.

In the last month, I have steadily weaned myself off the dependence of the site. There are many, many more reasons to stay off it than there are to return. The first two to three weeks were incredibly hard. I know it sounds silly, but I think it was a lot like what people who have quit smoking tell me their experience has been.

You don’t know what to do with your hands, for one.

I would find myself bouncing from app to app on my phone to kill time. TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, email. It was my daily ritual of catching up with others, getting that dopamine dump to propel you into the morning as you waited for the caffeine to work. Remove one of those elements and you are all out of sorts for a while.

You know something that actually hits worse for a dopamine rush? Jig-saw puzzles. I’ve been working on a 1,000 piece puzzle for the last week. I haven’t worked on a puzzle in probably thirty years. I realize now that I become a little obsessed with them. There is that trickle of reward, the dopamine microdose you chase. And before you know it, it’s 3:20am and your eyes are throbbing.

After two weeks, it got a little easier. The few times I did check Facebook I realized there was nothing I wanted to see there anyway. I read books. I wrote. I didn’t write on my blog because I was working through some stuff and rather than pontificate here, I decided to just give myself a break.

At week three, I got Covid. I was pretty sick for a couple days. Body aches, stuffy head, fever, cough. But everything I catch turns into a cough. Thanks, asthma! I rounded the corner after a couple days and I believe my vaccines kept me from getting worse. Why the hell not? The same people who probably created the damn virus helped create the vaccines, so I’m sure they are effective. The other day I went to the clinic in town for my allergy shots and a couple people wandered in looking like Death. They all had Covid. Omicron hit my town like a sack of oranges to the face.

The brain fog (Covid Brain) has been the worst part. But I’m over it now. It could have been a lot worse.

This time of year has been rough as long as I can remember due to the isolation and weather. It has been cold. And there are only so many books you can read or puzzles you can work out. I went to Dutch Bros. in Ft. Collins for my monthly Dutch sticker and my Americano. And of course some grocery shopping. It was nice to get out of town and lucky for me the only time the remnants of Covid still bother me is when I have to talk for a while or wear a mask. So I was happy to spend most of the day driving alone, just thinking through some things in life and enjoying being out of the house for once.

I have all sorts of plans, and I just need to keep my butt in the chair and work towards my goals. That’s the hard part sometimes. Today was a day that just sorta got away from me. It was 11:45am before I realized I hadn’t eaten anything yet and I hadn’t even had coffee much less showered. I was in a good place though. I felt centered. Present. Breathing easy. Lighter.

I think Facebook has exacerbated all sorts of unhealthy impulses. We keep up with the Joneses. We see everyone else’s finished, polished lives and we are ourselves working on a first draft. We see our regrets and what we don’t have and that hurts as bad as the microdosing of dopamine felt good. Peeking in on other people’s lives and wondering why yours isn’t that great. It inflames depression and anxiety.

Fear of Missing Out. Damn, you feel so alone.

At four and a half weeks (and a couple days in February now), I can say that like the city, I don’t miss much about Facebook. It’s more than a waste of time. It’s more like looking for that piece of the puzzle until 4 in the morning and not being able to sleep because if you just scroll a little bit longer, everything you hate about your life will feel that much better. Only your dog probably ate that piece of the puzzle and you just keep looking for it like a schmuck. You keep chasing that rush and it’s never any good. It just reminds you of how much better things should be, but you are wasting your time on an app instead of building a future that you will be happy with.

My blogging here isn’t much better. I really don’t want to broadcast my life like I had been doing, but my subscription auto-renewed and I’m out $96 for the year. So I might as well keep plugging away here. Besides, it’s a good place to just air my thoughts sometimes and it’s always good to hear from friends and other readers who stop by. I might live in the mountains, but I’m still not a total recluse! I’m just at that point in my life when I am tired of wasting my time on empty things. And sometimes I come back a year or two later and read what I have said and see how far I have come in life.

I’ll be curious to see what the next few months has in store for me. I honestly am beginning to feel the healthiest that I have in a long time, mentally that is. My worries are just worries. They aren’t amplified in an echo chamber and ignored by “friends” or compared with or validated by “likes.” It’s just life. You get over it.

Mental Health: Social Media Monkey on My Back

I’m as guilty as anyone else lately when it comes to using social media. I spent $700 on a smartphone I use as an actual phone maybe four times a week. The rest of the time is spent bouncing from Facebook to Instagram to TikTok to email. I think a big reason for this is the dopamine hit that I get when I get a like or a response from someone. It’s a short hit of micodosing the feel-good chemical in our brains. Social media is addictive.

Right now my social circle is pretty small. The reason for that (other than living in North Park and not having many people around) is that the algorithms limit whose posts I see, and it limits the ability of others I have known as friends from seeing mine. I have a bigger chance of seeing the posts of someone I have never met (or even spoken to) and interacting with them more than I would someone I have known for years.

The weird thing is that we are being weaned off the people we would normally be close to for the approval and validation of strangers. I don’t think that is really all that healthy.

I have a select group of friends, however, that I rarely see their posts. But these are people that I would regularly hang out with. Though I’m not getting the dopamine fix from them liking or commenting on my posts these are people that when we do meet up, we have a lot of fun. It fills my buckets. This microdosing of dopamine doesn’t fill anyone’s buckets. How could it?

I have one friend who is watching her mother decline from alzheimers. She has completely gotten off social media. She has gone dark, so to speak. Am I mad or upset with her for shutting people out? Hell no. Because social media is not equivalent to friendship. I know we will keep in touch when conditions allow. I wish her the best, and am glad she is dedicating her time to spending it with her mom instead of scrolling. She’s still my friend, even if there is no analog of social media in place.

Every moment we spend with our face stuffed in a phone is another sunset, love letter, pancake breakfast with the kids, or chat with a parent we are throwing away.

A couple weeks ago, I was going through a rough patch. My TikTok algorithm flooded my FYP with psychology and healing TikTok. I reached a point of burn out on it and even through multiple attempts to reset my For You Page (I was just so sick of being reminded of how damaged and broken and traumatized we all are) I eventually just stopped looking at TikToks. The validation was nice for a little while, but after that, I just got tired of wallowing in the grief it was perpetuating. When I did that, I actually got some of my energy back. I didn’t get the dopamine hits (I can actually feel that shit when it happens) but I got something real back in return.

I’ve been going to therapy weekly. There is such a stigma related to therapy in our society. Even though we all know we have our faults and flaw and cracks, going to therapy is seen as admitting that you are damaged. It’s a lot like walking around with a broken bone and refusing to go to the doctor because other people have it worse or because admiting you have a problem might mean that you have a problem. Yes. Your goddamn bone is sticking out of your arm. You have a problem.

If you were to walk around with a bone sticking out of your arm and telling everyone you encountered that you were fine, they would be right to think you needed a second opinion.

Are you depressed? Are you not sleeping? Are you sleeping all day? Are you anxious? Do your thoughts veer into self-destruction? Do you have no energy to function? Are you crying yourself to sleep? Do you wish you could cry? Are you drinking too much? Are you not eating well? You know what? You have a mental health issue (it’s not uncommon. It doesn’t mean you are a bad person. It just means you need some help). So get off the fucking social media and talk to a professional. If they suck, you can always switch to another professional and talk to them. Do this as many times as you need to heal yourself.

I go weekly. Some weeks are better than others. Unlike friends, they don’t give you shitty advice. They are trained to see past their own lens of beliefs, prejudices, experiences, etc. They help you see around the corners of what is blocking you (in my case, it’s myself, most of the time). If they don’t do this, get someone else.

TikTok, as I discovered, was NOT therapy. It made me feel worse after a while.

I go to therapy weekly because my insurance covers it. I know a lot of people who won’t go because going means they are admiting that they are crazy. No, it means you love yourself enough to want to stick around. Struggling with mental illness and not wanting to fix it is actually crazy.

Social media has put me in a place sometimes that I know isn’t healthy. It stirs up the fires of the Fear of Missing Out. It leads me down the rabbit hole of comparing myself to others. Wondering why one person’s post was like-worthy, heart-worthy, etc. but mine wasn’t. It inspires jealousy. Animosity. I think one day they will find that straight dopamine dosing will show to be as harmful as heroin. Because when the hits stop or slow down, jeez, do I feel like a mess.

Friends I have had with eating disorders have explained their disease in much the same way I see social media addiction. They really got into anorexia or bullimia when someone they liked acknowledged that they had lost weight. The story they told themselves was “so and so thinks I’m pretty”. You cannot quantify beauty and it has nothing to do with weight, and even less to do with external validation!

When I post on my blog, I get maybe six likes. Sometimes I read the stats and wonder how I can get more readers. Why aren’t people flocking to my blog like they do others? Then I remember why I write here. It’s a personal journal. Sometimes I come back and read it, years later. It’s a way to mark my progress of personal growth. Writing is how I process. I could give a fuck about likes.

The few times, however, that someone has reached out and commented or sent me a text about content I have written here, I get more than a dopamine fix. I have touched someone’s life and I have helped them. I’m glad I’ve helped them. I’d rather help than harm. But I didn’t do it for the glory or the credit. I did it to get my thoughts down, and if I helped someone else, awesome. If I didn’t, then I organized my thoughts and was able to carry on with the rest of my day.

As Facebook changes into “Meta” or whatever it is, I plan on stepping away from it more and more. You might see links to my posts there. But Facebook does NOT determine how much I care, it doesn’t encapsulate the breadth and depth of my cosmos of friends and family. It was just another method of contact like phone calls or notes passed in class. In the grand scheme of things, it is the equivalent of putting a drawing up on your grandma’s fridge.

Real effort is reaching out to one person and saying hello. Instead of just blurting out your thoughts for all 23 people the algorthim allows to see your posts. Some of those people don’t care, and some of them don’t have your best interests at heart. I think somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten that. And that makes me sad for what happens next in this world.

Walking away from social media is like being the alcoholic who decides to quit drinking. Only all of their friends are at the bar. It’s going to be lonely. It’s going to suck. But I think it will be worth it. I’m just watching how we all are running down the rails at top speed and I have a suspicion we have just about run out of track.

If you follow my blog, Thank you. Comments are welcome, tips are encouraged ;), but you aren’t obligated. I enjoy the experience of writing, and hope you enjoy reading. And if you are too busy being out there and living the best possible life you can, instead of reading this, then I am perfectly happy for you!

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