Recently, I hit a wall with social media, particularly my news feeds. I don’t know of a time where I’ve been more afraid of, more frustrated with, and/or more loathing of those constant streams of information and opinions. It’s loud, it’s angry, it’s deceptive for the most part, and it’s quite frankly destroying my nerves.
Between politics, personal opinions, body positivity, personal updates, back-to-school updates from friends with kids, and people reporting the latest tragedy or celebrity battle on Twitter, it’s really loud out there right now. I tried dipping a toe in here and there, interested in having some participation in some of the discourse, only to find myself either nervous about the update number when I would check my phone. Did someone leave a combative comment? Do I have to block that person? Did anyone agree with me? Do I care? Watching the strongly opinionated battle it out, I found myself withdrawing more and more, wanting the noise to die down just a bit.
I am someone who suffers from PTSD, Anxiety and Panic Disorders, and Chronic Clinical Depression. I’m also an addict in recovery. I know this about myself. I am aware of my conditions, and I practice daily behaviors that keep them manageable on a daily basis. I exercise, I get sleep, I practice recovery behaviors with other sober people, I’m in therapy, I meditate. But when I start checking social media updates regularly with a level of high anxiety, I’m reminded of what that is: hyper-vigilance. I’m thrown into a situation where I think someone is going to come after me (it’s happened before,) and I’m on high alert for conflict. That’s behavior that can cause all my other symptoms to go completely out of whack. Which is why I’m on a mandated break from social media.
That’s right: I’m not tweeting, Facebooking, Instagramming, or Snapchatting. I’m on vacation from social media right now. As a matter of fact, last week I took it one step further and decided to stop watching the evening news as well. I watch a morning news program for the last half-hour segment before I start working, and then I’m cut off.
I can’t tell you how liberating this has been for my nerves. It was hard at first, but after about three days, I didn’t miss it anymore. I didn’t have to get involved with everyone else’s emotions. I didn’t have to impress my opinions upon others. People who wanted to tell me news had to actually pick up the phone or send me an email to get my attention. But the world didn’t stop turning because I was blissfully unaware. The social media void closed around my absence like grains of sand at the beach; I wasn’t there, and nobody missed me.
There are aspects of social media that are incredibly important. Watching the Olympics has been incredible, and the connection we feel with others around the triumphs of the athletes has been amazing. For awareness of global issues of suffering and injustice, for breaking news from around the world, for connecting with others over shared interests — all of these make social media the incredibly powerful tool that it is today. But the verbal violence, the antiquated practice of throwing anyone and everyone into the court of public opinion to the point where they become afraid for their safety, the gang mentality around what’s right and what’s wrong, and the vitriol and hatred that can sometimes come forth — all of that makes it a great party in a dangerous neighborhood for some of us. Which is when we know it’s time to leave for a while.
I’m not saying I’ll never get back on social media. My self-enforced exile will end sooner than later. But for right now, I’m sleeping better than I have in months, and I’m happy to report that the hyper-vigilance has ceased. My addiction to social media updates has been replaced with the active practice of getting outside, taking long walks, working in the park, and catching up with friends in person so we can have productive discussions where we can hear tone and sense voice and intent. The discussions are quieter here in the real world outside the social media space. You can hear the other person’s tone and intent. You can also hear yourself think, and that’s rare in this loud, social media-driven world. Sometimes, it just takes a little time and space away to rediscover one of the greatest joys of this thing called life and the most healing force on the planet for people like me: silence.