At the time of writing, I have been social media free for exactly 34 days. I hit the big D (for deactivate), on the first day of 2019, and the experience of being Facebook-free for over a month now has been surprisingly mind-blowing!.
On reflection, I had become a slave to the big blue F, and over the years it had become a big part of my life. What had started off as being something fluffy and innocent, had become toxic and insidious and it hit home recently when I had what you would call an epiphany moment -more about that a bit later…
So lets roll the clock back to 2007, March 2007 to be precise. I was aged 23, a first time mum to my then 2 month-old daughter. “Social media” as we now know it, was still in it’s infancy, internet forums were still the “go-to” to communicate with others online, being a teenager of the late 90’s-early noughties, I was familiar with internet chatrooms.
So when my first baby was born, I dabbled a bit with MySpace (remember that?), with the intention of meeting other new mums, and also to connect with “real life” friends who I could chat to and show photos of my baby whilst I was on maternity leave (this was pre-Messenger and WhatsApp).
Then one day a friend suggested joining a new thing called Facebook, which was apparently even better than MySpace, so off I went and joined the big blue F. Back then, Facebook was not too dissimilar to MySpace (apart from having a continuous loop of music playing on your page!), it was fun, you could take quizzes and fill out silly questionnaires about yourself and post them to your page, “emojis” were still pixelated and primordial, there was still only the like button then. It was still fun to have a bit of a stalk through people’s photos, but back then it was all still innocent and lacked the -dare I say it, narcissism. It is alarming how quickly Facebook has evolved in such a relatively short amount of time.
For many mobile phones back then, the Facebook app still did not exist, therefore we could disconnect ourselves from this enticing magical realm once our computers were shut-down or when our laptops were closed. It failed to have the grip on us when it was still safely tucked away in cyberspace.
Once I had moved to a smartphone at the beginning of 2010, the Facebook app was most likely the first one that I downloaded and then things changed rapidly, faster down the social media rabbit hole I travelled. I could post a photo or a status any time that I wanted, and scroll through everyone else’s show-reel 24.7.
It was so easy to pick up my phone and check, keep checking, and check some more. But I still believe that by the early “teens” -I’m talking 2011, 2012, etc, it was still relatively innocent.
I was a mum of 3 by then, and I wince as I recall my eldest daughter, being about 3, asking me to play with her and saying “please put your phone away mummy”. It pains me to admit that my children have literally grown-up seeing me on my phone constantly.
I think things really started to change once the selfie gained enough recognition to enter the Oxford English dictionary.
Selfies, filters, cropping, photoshopping these all started to take up residence in our consciousness. For me personally, what had started off all those years ago as being an online meeting-room for new mums to discuss weaning and colic, had evolved rapidly into a show-reel of desperate validation. Photos which I had posted only a few years before suddenly didn’t seem “perfect enough”, previous statuses that I had posted made me cringe, no wonder only 3 people had hit the love button…
What had I become? what had we become as a society?. I found myself reminiscing over the days long before social media, when a photo was never a bad photo, the idea of filtering or cropping wouldn’t have even crossed our minds.
My eyes and mind had become so warped by the expectations of the perfect photo, that even my favourite photos which I held sacred in my battered-but-loved old photo album from my teens/early twenties suddenly came under scrutiny, that photo of me in Ibiza sitting outside of a bar which I had always loved, suddenly changed in front of my eyes -thank goodness it was never on Facebook -my hair was not smooth enough, my eyebrows not perfect…
Now, for that epiphany moment that I mentioned earlier, last year my husband and I had a weekend away just the 2 of us, in one of our favourite cities to watch a concert of one of my life-long favourite singers. As we travelled to our destination, aside from my excitement I also had the usual “pre-selfie anticipation”, I’m not sure how many other people are familiar with this, but it’s a feeling that if the perfect photos are not posted to social media then the whole experience is basically ruined! (yes, how sad is that?).
Well basically, on this particular weekend, no photo was good enough to post, I looked “ugly”, too fat. That familiar sinking feeling took hold, I needed to document this weekend on Facebook, it was my show-reel right?, so I was forced to post the photos that I was deeply unhappy with. The selfie with my nose looking huge, the full-body photo posing in the doorway of the hotel room where my jeans were too tight and my bum looked awful, and at the concert of course I wasn’t permitted to just take in the moment, I had to film a “live” not just of one song, but of them all.
When people asked me if I had enjoyed this weekend away (the one I had looked forward to for so long), “it was amazing” I replied, but I was actually lying, it wasn’t amazing, in fact it had been soul-destroying -I had received the wake-up call, the realisation that at 35 years old I was living in a repressive state of poor self-image, trapped on a merry-go-round of social media slavery, a validation whore.
I felt cheated, people had told me that my thirties would be amazing -I would be brimming with humble self-confidence, acceptance and happiness, instead I felt more self-concious and body dysmorphic than I ever did as a teenager, how sad.
I knew that the only logical step would be to leave social media, but I honestly did not know how to do it. I had been attached to it for as long as I had been a mother, how would I break free?.
Without any hint or any grand announcement of my intention to leave Facebook, I silently deactivated on January 1st 2019, and within hours started to feel a subtle change. A bit like a smoker when they first quit -with each passing hour, day, week and month positive changes happen as the toxins leave the body and the health improves, the addiction becomes less and less.
In the time that I have been gone from social media, I have enjoyed 2 weekends away -once with friends and the other with my husband. I have had coffee dates, playdates, takeaways at friends house, fun with my kids, achievements, new hair styles, birthdays, hard days and happy days, and not one of these experiences have been documented on Facebook -no photos, no posts, no live-streams, and it has been absolutely glorious!.
I thought it was a bit of a clichè when ex-social media addicts said that you live in the moment more, but you absolutely.truly.do. Life is so much more richer, the good times and even better and the hard times are easier to cope with.
My mental health has been the best it has been in years, and I feel like shouting it from the rooftops.
I want to add that social media isn’t all negative, there are many good things associated with it, and if you are a person that can control their time and content spent on there then that is great too, unfortunately for me I was unable to and it became an addiction.
There are things which you have to learn to get around, such as information which you would usually get from social media. For me it’s things like school information, pages that I subscribed too, etc, but these days everything usually has a website or YouTube channel, so there are always other avenues to go down to gain information. Also, it is still possible to have a “platform” for yourself, such as blogging, YouTube, etc.
And as for friends, if they are true friends, you will still find ways to communicate with one another -even via an old-fashioned text message, email, or be brave and make a phone call!.
My liberation from social media is still in it’s early days, but I honestly do not miss it, I am enjoying “laying low” and feeling like I’m living off-grid. I am relishing living in the real life, being a strong 35 year-old woman, having more time for my family, a better connection with my friends in the real world, and being able to look at myself holistically and seeing the good rather than fine-picking all of my unfiltered “flaws”.
I will have to return to Facebook at some point to retrieve all of my 70+ albums, but until then, I am almost-smugly enjoying life without it.
If this blog resonates with you, then I urge you to be brave and consider giving yourself a social media break, even with the intention of it being just a few weeks, I guarantee you will be surprised by the difference it makes to your life!.