My boyfriend recently deleted his Facebook account. No fanfare, no drama, just didn’t need it.
So. Freakin’. Cool.
It had this subversive and radical quality – there was a “how could you” type gasp in my throat, a sneaky feeling of being a co-conspirator to something naughty, and then I felt giddy when I briefly considered doing it as well.
I’m not ready to pull the plug just yet. I still like seeing what my friends are getting in to, peeking at their adorable babies, and sharing with the interwebs what I think is neat or funny or interesting. It’s still a decent way for me to stay connected, so long as I keep it in its proper place, which is a small, seldom checked place in the distant sidelines of my awareness, and I’m the boss.
I’m pretty proud that I’m not a slave to checking Facebook all that much. I maintain a healthy relationship to it (these days) But sometimes I’ll catch myself mindlessly scrolling through and I start to get sucked into a black, stenchy pit of comparison. I realized I felt like shit sometimes and I didn’t know why right away. My friend list is pretty intentionally cultivated and groomed so I don’t have to see hateful bullshit, ignorant politics, or negative garbage. And my friends are creative, witty, fiercely intelligent, big-hearted badasses. So they’re not the problem.
Surprise! It was the stream of thoughts I had scrolling through my head. The problem was with the stories I was telling about my amazing friends and then the matching story that I paired with it to shit-talk myself. “Oh she’s pretty!” (prettier than me) “His life is so awesome!” (better than my crappy life) “Ooh, they went to Croatia!” (I’ll never go anywhere)…These thought were just humming along in the background , and they picked up quite a momentum. (They roll on a well-grooved track, laid down and maintained with more than 20 years of low self-worth, and funky, busted-ass belief systems.) I was feeling like a miserable worthless loser but I barely understood why.
I wasn’t aware of these background thoughts until recently. It’s a practice to spot ’em, and it requires a lot of patience and love to start laying new track for better thought systems. It was frustrating as this first came to light: I knew intellectually that what people post on FB is just a snapshot of a part of their life, no one’s perfect, everyone has their challenges and heart breaks, and I have a lot of stuff to be happy with in my own life….I KNEW this, but it takes time for me to catch up in my deep-down.
I know I’m not making a new observation here, but I felt compelled to add my take on the whole thing. I read something recently (but enough time has passed that I forget the exact details so forgive me if you also read this and realize how much I’m fumbling with the retell) It was about someone struggling in college, feeling depressed, lonely and disconnected. This person would look at Facebook and believe everyone else was feeling better, doing better, living happier lives, having more fun. Apparently this belief contributed to the individual choosing to end their life. At the funeral, their friends shared the real story behind each “perfect” picture. One friend shared how her picture was taken on a terrible day; her grandmother had just passed away and she was feeling devastated, despite the happy face that she showed the world.
I thought this was a powerful point for those friends to make. We are all aware, hopefully, that what you see in social media feeds is often just a carefully arranged presentation of the good stuff. We mostly know, logically, that we can’t measure our worth or happiness based on someone else’s life, however awesome it looks from the outside. And I’m definitely not saying that everyone’s Facebook photos hide lurking secrets and pain; they just don’t tell the full story. It’s important to get really real about the story you are telling yourself as you browse around online, especially if you notice you feel like dooky afterwards. Comparison could be the culprit.
I thought of all this as I uploaded photos from my excellent California vacation. I had a wonderful adventure, it’s true, and I grabbed a few shots to share that good time. But what you don’t see is that I was struck with a nasty bug the day I got there. (It turned out to be pneumonia). All I knew was that I felt feverish and worried most nights, and in the mornings my throat was so sore and closed I was in tears from the pain and lost my voice for hours.
I also mulled this over as I ate lunch the other day, at a counter overlooking a patio. Two women sat there with their own lunches. They hardly spoke and neither one smiled once. They looked uncomfortable and angry. As I wondered about them, one gal pulled out her phone, leaned towards the other woman who took the cue. Each one suddenly tossed her hair, widened her eyes, slapped some smiles on, and they got a few selfies. The phone went back in the purse, and the smiles disappeared as quickly as they’d been formed. Both women went back to their meal in a tense and pissy silence.
I don’t know anything about these ladies. But I imagine if someone saw those pictures, it would be reasonable to think things like, “Look at those pretty, well-dressed friends, eating and enjoying life.” And if you had my wacky brain you might also think (less reasonably) “I don’t have any friends, my hair never looks that good, I hate my clothes, and I’m too broke to eat fancy salads on patios.”
I’m so much less of a sad-sack today, but it’s taken work and time and energy to take charge of my brain. It can be tempting to fall into a worry of comparison and negative thought patterns. If it happens to you, back away from the computer or turn off the phone. Take a deep breath and realize what’s going on. Take some time to honor what the feelings are telling you. Maybe your life does need some tweaks, and you can work on that. But first, focus on what’s great in your life and get into a place of gratitude and appreciation, for who and where YOU are. You are YOU, and you’re awesome.
Trust that. Quit worrying about everyone else’s life, and go live yours.