When we use the word ‘addiction’ we imagine drink, drugs, smoking, gamboling; things that lead to what we call “serious health issues”. But being addicted to something is simply experiencing the impulse or desire to do something even if, ideally, you would rather not be doing it. It’s that need factor. Big or small, many of us have addictions of some form, eating chocolate, texting guys we know aren’t really good for us, our phones, making lists…they’re not all terrible.
For me, Facebook was exactly that. I didn’t enjoy it particularly, it was just about ensuring I had covered everything ‘new’ since I’d last been on. I needed to keep updated (or what?) A bit of boredom, or feeling unsettled: open Facebook, scroll scroll scroll, put it down again. And for me, it wasn’t even so much the content that particularly affected me; it was more the monotonous, depressing action of opening the page to scroll through in that repetitive way, through pictures and words, none of which particularly interested me. It wasn’t that it made me feel super low, it just never made me feel particularly good. Then reaching the post that I had already seen in my last visit, bizarrely left me with another sort of disappointed lull (oh I’ve seen this already, I want something new). A seemingly harmless addiction, but an addiction all the same.
Or is it harmless? It’s not harmless when you consider the time lost. It’s not harmless when you consider what you could be doing in that time. It’s not harmless when you consider the mode your brain switches into when you start scrolling, which, however short term, is not a healthy, happy mental state to be in. For me, the mindless scrolling and clicking numbed my mind and gave me a mild sense of anxiety, I think partly because I felt like I had very slightly lost control once I started. Sounds mad, but it’s true. Add to that an insecure day you may be having and you’re inevitably going to gaze at somebody’s tanned, toned bikini body (however filtered) and generate negative, self hating thoughts of some form.
When I made the decision to leave, it was after many failed attempts over the previous year. A halfhearted effort became a committed effort to end the brain numbing. I’d also started to see fewer and fewer benefits to it. When I was a bit younger, showcasing everything that was great about my life seemed to make sense; it was all an ego boost, a confirmation that I was doing ‘well’. After I went through a very depressive/anxious period, I realised just how pointless it is to post this stuff. It’s like throwing something out into a vague conceptual space we call our “Friend” group or perhaps more accurately, our captivated audience. When in fact there’s no one there is there? In truth what we are reaching out for is some kind of validation, wherever it may come from. Our own mental state reflected back at us, our egos feeding our egos.
I’ve got news for you people, no-one cares what you had for dinner, or what your new haircut looks like. Everyone is too busy worrying about themselves and their own lives. And they care less and less the more you thrust it in their face. It’s a hard lesson but a good one to learn because when you let go of the belief that anyone cares, your priorities become much more healthy. You start looking after yourself more rather than trying to appear in a certain way.
It’s not really our fault, it’s just something that has become the norm so it’s very difficult to spot how utterly pointless and egotistical it is. And it’s not that being egotistical is wrong or bad – we all love a boost – but it just doesn’t bring us long term happiness. And that is not an opinion, that is the truth. Nobody gets long term happiness from these things, they’re temporary highs. That’s why we have to post again and again, and if we have 20 Likes we are high for a few minutes but then we want more Likes. Just like any addiction, we need more and more each time because we become desensitized to the buzz.
When I left Facebook, gradually my world became both smaller and more spacious at the same time. It was magnificent. A whole load of clutter just dissipated, totally and utterly fell away. People I was hanging onto through the medium of Facebook suddenly didn’t exist to me in day to day life and they fell into the bank of memories that faded in a healthy way, as they always should have done. Ex-boyfriends I would look up dropped out of my mind as I had nothing new to cling to and the old images became boring. The truth is, these people are MEANT to fall away when the natural progression of a friendship or a relationship leads you in different directions. If you break up with a guy, you’re MEANT to not see him anymore, you’re meant to start forgetting his face, the sound of his voice (violins…). That’s how emotional healing works. Painful but necessary.
Having access to an update of his life via Facebook is like having him walk into your house once a week with a different outfit on, or him sitting in your lounge cuddling his new girlfriend, or to look out to your garden and see him partying with new friends every weekend.
Of course you wouldn’t get over him because he’d refresh in your memory every time. It’s just not healthy. Every time you see him in one of these updates, the emotions rush back and you experience the hurt all over again, coupled with new hurt at the thought that he’s happy without you, meeting all these new people. Whilst you’re scrolling desperately through a computer feed…
So I left and the effect was much bigger than I thought it would be. It wasn’t just time that was gained, it was psychological space, acceptance of what is, new ideas, inspiration, creativity, a sense of peace. What also happened was in those moments where I was bored or quiet – because I didn’t automatically reach for Facebook – the part of my mind numbed by the scrolling came alive again and I started to feel fresh and more energized, inspired by little things I noticed around me or people I spoke to (face to face). I started writing again (my book will take some kind of sensible structural direction at some point….) and I slept better, exercised more, found other more productive things to do like scrap books, cooking, reading.
And bigger than anything, lots of people dropped away. And I just let them. What was left were my real friends.It may shock you how few there really are.
Work on those, because it turns out true friendships require hard work and commitment. Things like proper Birthday cards in the post and phone calls / regular face to face time spent together. Takes more effort but real friendships and the fulfillment and happiness they bring are so worth it 🙂