Facebook has the potential to do great good. We have the opportunity to connect with like-minded strangers, reconnect with long lost family and old friends, and share in the positive aspects of humanity on a large scale.
Facebook also has the potential to do great harm. The ability to hide behind a keyboard gives people the opportunity to say whatever they like without repercussion. Digital wars are started over science, politics, and religion. Words filled with venom and hate rapidly fill the comments section as individuals try to convert the other side.
My personal experience with Facebook has been less than positive in recent years. I developed what can only be described as an addiction to social media. I had a serious fear of missing out. I felt like I needed to be on Facebook all the time because I was worried I would miss something that could be important. I checked my notifications constantly. I was scrolling through my news feed constantly. I was looking for something to satiate me, but I was always left wanting.
Even more than that, my news feed was filled with negativity. Political videos inciting rage and chaos. Parties attacking one another. Scientists fighting skeptics. Ordinary people arguing anything and everything with strangers they’d never meet. People I knew (or thought I knew) to be Christians making openly hateful or judgemental comments. There was nothing there that was edifying. Slowly, a pattern emerged. I would spend a few minutes scrolling through Facebook, come across a post or a few posts that would make me angry or upset, read through the comments only to get angrier and more upset, tell myself that this wasn’t worth it and that I needed to just delete Facebook, and log off. Five to ten minutes later, I would be back on Facebook and the cycle would repeat.
For weeks I played with the idea of sincerely deleting my Facebook. But I had so many fears. How would I keep up with family? How would I stay connected to my friends? What if everyone just forgets that I exist and stops hanging out with me? Will I still be included in plans? I was relying on my own strength to take that step, and that’s where I initially failed.
Some of you may be thinking, well why not just clean up your feed? Delete people, unfollow people or pages, hide things from your news feed so they don’t pop up. I tried. I did everything short of deleting family and close friends. And I was still wrestling with this weight of stress and unhappiness.
But social media isn’t the only puzzle piece to this story.
In 2015 I was officially diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), although I’ve likely been dealing with it since 2013, and in 2017 I was unofficially diagnosed with adjustment disorder (“unofficially” here meaning it is something that my therapist says I have but does not want to document to spare me another label). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) characterizes GAD as the presence of excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of topics, events, or activities. Worry occurs more often than not for at least 6 months and is clearly excessive. Excessive worry means worrying even when there is nothing wrong, or in a manner that is disproportionate to the actual risk. This typically involves spending a high percentage of waking hours worrying about something. Adjustment disorder is characterized by low mood, sadness, anxiety, insomnia, poor concentration, anger, disruptive behavior, loss of self esteem, hopelessness, feeling trapped, having no good options, and feeling isolated or cut off from others in response to a particular event or situation, for example: a loss, a problem in a close relationship, an unwanted move, a disappointment, or a failure.
Now, all of that probably sounds pretty melodramatic, right? Except there’s one small problem. I literally can’t help it. That’s the problem with mental illness. It’s an illness. A disease. Without the right help it’s uncontrollable. It feels like I have this little monster sitting on my shoulder constantly talking into my ear and feeding into my every fear and insecurity. If I am out and someone near me is laughing at something that is not immediately obvious to me then I will assume they’re laughing at me. I will not go to events or social gatherings unless I know that someone I know is going to be there. Some of the simplest tasks strike me with such fear and panic that I almost can’t function. God bless my husband because he indulges my need for constant reassurance, without telling me that I’m overthinking things (even though I am) or that I’m acting silly for worrying so much. Because I worry about every little thing, and it is so exhausting. Even while every fiber of my physical being wishes it would go away, my mind is constantly finding new things to be worried about, and no amount of logic will make it go away. This is where a lot of my insecurities about leaving Facebook behind came from, although to an extent, anyone with an addiction would probably feel/think the same things when attempting to quit.
It wasn’t until I went to Hillsong’s Colour Conference in 2016 that things really started to change. One of my favorite Hillsong worship songs is called “Oceans,” and there’s a line that goes, “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me.” It’s my favorite line of that song. It was on the second night of conference that we were singing this song during our worship and I started singing that line with the intent of it being a prayer. We repeated the chorus at least a dozen times so I had plenty of time to just focus on the lyrics. It was during then that I first heard God’s voice telling me, “If you trust me, then delete your Facebook.” I didn’t want to believe it. Throughout our two hour session, I fought it. I was having such an intense internal struggle with this simple request of trust that I honestly couldn’t tell you who was speaking or what the topic was that night. So many fears, so many questions. I’m going to miss out on what’s going on with family. What if my friends start to forget about me? What if I miss out on events and announcements during bible study? How am I going to keep up? By the end of the session I was so tired of fighting. I didn’t want my anxiety dictating my decisions anymore. After finally letting go, I felt the most indescribable peace flood through me. When we got back to the hotel, I called Dallas to let him know my decision. I messaged immediate family to let them know that I was okay but taking a much needed break from Facebook. Then I pulled the plug.
The months that followed felt so freeing. I soon realized that all of my fears and questions became irrelevant. My family still kept me in the loop, sending pictures through text or messenger and letting me know what was going on in the day-to-day. The true friends I had remembered to check in on me and make sure I was okay or make plans. If there was information I needed to know, I knew the right women to ask and they did their best to keep me updated. Nothing was lost. Life became simple and undemanding.
In the fall, I managed to convince my doctor to give me a referral for a civilian psychologist (which, unfortunately, took more convincing than I anticipated). By this point, I hadn’t seen any sort of mental health physician in about a year and felt like I was ready to take back control. I had let anxiety micromanage every thought, every action, every sentence spoken and I felt drained. Letting go of Facebook allowed me to stop pining for acknowledgement and be content in myself. With that portion of my anxiety diminished, tougher issues had come to the forefront and I needed professional help.
One of the bigger issues I needed help with was my anxiety related to taking my medication. At this point I had been taking Neupogen twice a week for nine months and every injection was a huge source of fear. For the first few weeks, I had a panic attack almost every single time. There was a steep learning curve for my husband (administering my medication) and myself to learn what made the experience more tolerable. We finally settled on a routine of reciting scripture, but I tried to stay as detached as possible. The complication that came with that, was that every time Dallas went out of town it became stressful to find someone I trusted who could be there consistently to give me the injection. My therapist helped open the door and started me down the path of completely overcoming this fear and moving toward being able to administer my medication on my own.
I’m proud to say after a year of cognitive therapy and a session of hypnotherapy, I am well on my way to reaching that goal hopefully by the end of 2017. Having a therapist I connect with and trust has been paramount in getting me this far. I think not having Facebook as a distraction also played a role in my progress.
In April 2017, after almost a year exactly, I reinstated my profile. It had been on my mind for a few weeks, that I felt like I was ready and could do a better job of regulating my time and protecting my mind. The main reason was that we had finally gotten our next set of military orders, and Facebook has become the best networking tool for spouses to find out anything and everything they need to know about their new duty station. I still have not decided if I will keep Facebook open after we have arrived and settled.
Throughout this journey, I have wondered many times why God called me to do this, especially during periods when I thought I was missing out. At first, I thought maybe He was going to call me to do something big and important for His Kingdom and getting rid of Facebook was a good way of getting my attention. Looking back, I realize that while I was still doing something big and important, it was not in the way I would have anticipated. He removed a distraction so that when He placed someone in my life who could help me heal my mind, I would be open and aware. I can recognize now that Facebook would have been a hindrance in my walk toward better mental health. God can work through any insecurity. He can work with any illness, physical or mental. He doesn’t need me to be 100% healthy and fit to showcase His glory through me, but He does want the best for me, and I don’t think His best for me would include silently suffering with mental illness for the rest of my life.
I would encourage anyone who’s considering taking a social media break to do so. It was a very liberating experience and one that I will always look back on with joy. I hope my story is one of inspiration and comfort to those who choose to read it. Our mental health is not something to be mistreated or diminished, and if you are struggling I urge you to please seek help. There is someone that exists for everyone, but don’t be discouraged if it takes some trial and error to find the right specialist (I had seen three other mental health doctors before finding my current therapist; it can be a process). You deserve more than to suffer alone.
Thanks for reading!