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I suppose it started when an unsolicited, private message appeared in my Facebook Messenger inbox. It was from a woman I met briefly through a mutual friend. It began innocently enough: “Hey, girlfriend. Wanted to invite you to join my next challenge group – we’ll be focusing on fitting in 30 minutes of exercise, balanced nutrition and motivation. Let me help you reach your goals! Can’t wait to talk to you about this!"
I laughed and closed my browser but the meaning behind the message stuck with me all day. My body is on the fluffy but average side but, more importantly, I’m healthy. The more the day went on, the heavier her message weighed on me. The insecurity about my body which had simmered quietly under the surface was brought to life by one little Facebook message. That got me thinking about social media in general and how it took up too much of my time.
I had to step away from the mindless scrolling for the same reason I can’t buy Halloween candy before Oct. 30 – no self-control. The catching up and reconnecting with old friends that drew me into social media has morphed into a daily stream of irritation: The “Vaguebook” posts which leave me scratching my head – someone I care enough about to have as a friend on Facebook posts about a struggle but “doesn’t want to get into it.” The streams of photos from a #motheroftheyear that leave me questioning whether I do enough for my son. Then there are the fear mongering “suggested posts” which make me wonder if I do too much for him. Vacation posts are fun but remind me that we only took two vacations this year (typing that makes me cringe). A plethora of marketing posts have me wondering if I should be buy all-natural cleaners and use essential oils to heal my son’s eczema. Fine dining, shopping sprees and far too many pedicure photos bombard my eyes and already overwrought brain. Facebook, which started as a distraction, had become a habit – a toxic habit that stole my happiness by magnifying every insecurity I have about myself and my (beautiful) life. It took and took and took and added nothing in return.
But what drove the nail into my Facebook coffin was when I posted a photo – and five minutes later my son asked how many “likes” it got. Cue the sound of screeching brakes – his question was an epiphany.
Likes equal acceptance and approval. I had forgotten that acceptance and approval need to come from within and I had unknowingly set a dangerous precedent as it won’t be long before he has his own phone and the freedom to post his own pictures. I don’t want him waiting with bated breath for his peers to “like” them and, by extension, like and accept him. I don’t want him believing that his self worth relies on what others think and click.
I tried to remember what life was like without Facebook. Surfing the internet was an occasional distraction and I spent a lot more time reading books and magazines. I printed out photos and put them in albums. Checking in with friends happened through texts, e-mails or phone calls. The acronym FOMO (fear of missing out) didn’t exist because we weren’t bombarded with photos of our friends having fun without us. Was life easier then than it is now? In an effort to both recreate the simplicity of those days and set a healthier example for my son, I deactivated my Facebook account.
I felt lost at first. I missed the mindless scrolling while waiting in lineups. I carry a novel and a crossword puzzle book with me (which prompted the teenager sitting beside me at the blood clinic to comment “that’s so retro!”) I’d been in the habit of checking Facebook first thing in the morning and last thing at night, so I had to come up with some new habits. I rediscovered crocheting. I started taking yoga classes.
Leaving Facebook left my mind quiet enough to remember a few important things: My body is fine just the way it is. My close friends will text or call me if they are struggling and I will help them. I do my best to be a good mother, our son is happy and healthy, and we are damn lucky to be able to afford our two vacations a year. I stopped watching events through my phone and photographing them like the suburban paparazzi. The results were almost immediate once the fog of Facebook lifted. Our happy moments as a family were enhanced because I was completely present and the break left me feeling better about myself, my family, my home and my life.
After a few weeks, I returned to Facebook. I look at the photos of my friends’ kids growing up and treasure how it allows me to keep in touch with family far and wide. I look in on a daily basis, but only once with little desire to post as much as I once did. Facebook is not an addiction any more. I understand that you can’t compare your behind the scenes with other people’s front page, and I’m much happier for that.
Interestingly, after writing this essay, I first submitted it to a mental-health website as a potential story to post. They rejected it, and then recommended that I “like” their new Facebook page.
Angie Elliott lives in Bolton, Ont.