Social media has changed us. We have become more self-absorbed and isolated from our friends, family, and loved ones than ever before in history, making it more difficult to form genuine connections with one another. It’s not uncommon to find individuals spending hours on social media every day, losing track of the time they spend in front of their computers and phones, looking at all of the meaningless likes and empty unfriending activities that come with being on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or any other social media platform.
Facebook was yet another unnecessary reminder of who I really am; a misfit who doesn’t belong anywhere. It was a place where I could go and see what my friends were doing, when all I wanted to do was be left alone. I never post anything on it because there is no point in being social online if you don’t have anyone to be social with in real life. And even if I did want to post something, I thought only about the negative repercussions. If I did decide to upload a photo or some kind of status update, the first comments would always say how much they miss me and how they wish they had more time to spend with me.
I knew they were lying, as throughout the years there were numerous opportunities to catch up in which these people blatantly avoided. It made me feel like an outsider looking in at everyone else’s lives instead of just my own life unfolding peacefully. All these thoughts led me to believe that it was not worth sacrificing my own peace for a few likes or shares from people.
I had been using Facebook for so long that it felt like my whole world was there—my family, my friends from college, all of my high school friends—it was all there. Leaving Facebook seemed like an impossibility until I visited my old summer camp and no longer felt welcome. It’s not that people were being mean or judging me; they just acted as if I wasn’t there. Nobody said hi to me or tried to talk to me. I didn’t feel loved, wanted, or even acknowledged by anyone.
For a long time, I tried to maintain friendships with people who didn’t care about me. When it became too hard to keep up with all of those relationships, I cut myself off from the world. At first, it was refreshing to feel like there was no one judging me and that nothing could hurt me. But after a while, I began to feel more alone than ever before. I had isolated myself from friends and family whom I believed might have cared about me but were never around when I needed them most. My life revolved around other peoples’ schedules, not mine.
The years of isolation finally caught up with me, depression returned as darkness brings the wonders home. There are so many things that I miss from before social media, including the joys and sorrows in my own life, where above all else, there was always a sense of community.
I realized that for many years, my exposure to others was largely through a screen and not in person, making it harder for me to remember what a hug felt like or how much difference laughter could make in someone’s day. My interactions had become shallow as well-meaning friends would post or comment about current events without even realizing that they were oblivious to what really mattered to people who read their posts. It felt like our society was falling into this dark abyss of forgetfulness, losing sight of what we once had—each other—and what made us all human, compassion.
I was tired of feeling judged, scrutinized, and criticized by people I thought were my friends. They would make fun of my career, my intersex body, and even my lesbian marriage. I felt like I was getting attacked just for being me. All these years later and I still got that same criticism when people comment on an old photo or status.
Whenever someone posts something about me, I have tried to defend myself. But, the only thing they do is double down and criticize me more intensely. The worst part is they don’t have any real argument other than their firmly stated belief that I am wrong. Then, rather than address my reply directly, they move onto something else without addressing what they said before.
With the obvious disconnect between people’s social media lives and our own real lives, I began losing sight of who I was. I was becoming a different person, someone who spent most of her time on social media, and only interacting with people through a screen. Managing my online identity was now my job, as it has become for so many others, an unpaid occupation in which I needlessly struggled to become successful and happy, not so much in reality, but in the eyes of others. But, this wasn’t who I wanted to be; it’s not who I am.
I decided to delete my Facebook account after reading about their new feature that aims to provide personalized content. For example, they might show you an advertisement for your favorite restaurant while you’re reading an article about cooking healthy meals at home. It all sounds harmless in theory but when you think about how much power Facebook has over everything we read and see online, it’s alarming. The world is already so polarized by opinions that are posted online for everyone to see; adding even more ads into the mix would just make things worse.
After quitting social media, I became depressed and grieved the loss of my so-called friends. I felt lonely and cut off from the world. All of a sudden I didn’t have a window into people’s lives anymore. It was like being in a prison cell with no idea what was happening outside. The more time that passed, the worse it got; it took a toll on my mental health and well-being to be isolated like this.
When we’re not connected to other people, our minds can get dark and twisted quickly. We might start imagining worst-case scenarios for our family members or inventing reasons why they don’t care about us as much as we care about them. We might imagine ourselves dying alone or being rejected by everyone in the world because we’re unworthy or too sensitive. And without those connections, without any real foundation for our own reality, it can get really hard not to believe these thoughts are true. That’s what happened after I quit social media—depression and grief over losing my friends started getting twisted into an overwhelming sense of loneliness that left me feeling both scared and terrified about the future. It wasn’t just physical isolation, though—I missed the ability to feel connected to others when life happens.
Despite my successful career and eventual retirement, I still don’t know what I want. I’ve had a lot of time to think, and in that thinking, I concluded that all of my pain was coming from self-isolation. As much as it may seem social media connects us, it’s not at all a replacement for in-person interaction. With so much time spent alone, I had nothing but time to dwell on the past, and it became clear that there are things about me that have never changed.
After some reflection—and no small amount of angst—I came to terms with the fact that worrying about the concerns and desires of what others want from me is not what my life should be about. As part of this realization, I became aware of how much social media was affecting me in the poorest way possible. Facebook allowed me to see posts by people who, despite having been hurt or even abandoned by me in the past, were just trying to catch up. In hindsight, it’s easy to understand why they wanted a connection; many times they didn’t even know if I was alive anymore. And yet it would devastate me every single time.
The image used in this piece is called One Eye To The Future.
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