Stories of Hope and Grace: How I Learned to Unplug For Better Mental Health

May 12, 2017

Our friend — we’ll call her “Carrie” — wanted to share her story of how the constant need to stay up-to-date with the media and social apps turned into an addiction that almost ruined her life:

“I feel like I should just come clean: my name is “Carrie” (obviously, not my real name,) and I am legitimately addicted to social media. Well, all of it to be exact.

I know this for a fact. Honestly, I don’t know when it started. I didn’t even want a Facebook account, but about three years ago I created one because my husband and friends were pressuring me to get a profile. “It’ll be a fun way to catch up with people you haven’t seen in years!” was the final push. I’m not someone who has a lot of friends. I’m pretty shy and introverted by nature, so the appeal of reconnecting with high school and college friends without having to leave my house was what finally sold me on the whole thing. I created a Twitter account after that to follow some news sources during the election in 2016, and then an Instagram account to look at some of the photos from some design blogs. Well, and then I started following some news sources. Threw in some celebrities for good measure because, hey, I am a woman and I like pretty people doing lavish things here and there.

I should also mention that I have a triple diagnosis of chronic clinical depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. That will come in handy as I keep going.

I didn’t realize how much I was checking social media until friends started commenting on it. Well, my best friend and my husband, actually. I mean, I’m a concerned citizen and I have a right to know what’s going on in our government, right? I had alerts set on my phone, but it only took a second during lunch with my bestie to check it. I was annoyed when my yoga instructor told me to take my phone out of the room because I didn’t think she supported my ‘need to know.’ My best friend started demanding I put my phone away during meals or anytime we were together. My husband started hiding my phone from me so I’d stop checking Facebook during time with our kids. I was mildly annoyed when he caught me sneaking out of bed at night to see if someone had commented on a comment I had posted on something. Someone was wrong on the Internet somewhere. I had to be there to defend my opinions.

Oh yeah, guess I forgot that part. I like to comment on things.

Well, mostly to support the opinions that I agree with, but I have been known to get in there and fight with other people in comment threads. I also like to comment on pretty pictures and show support for celebrities and authors and designers I like. I’m passionate and I like to make sure that I’m heard. That’s what it’s for, right?

Well, that’s what I thought.

During the election was when the fights started with my husband. He got really annoyed that I wanted to spend more time on Facebook or Twitter than with him. I would get in a mood if someone had been particularly nasty with me and, yeah, I took it out on him because he wasn’t being ‘supportive.’ We never really had sex anymore because I would take my phone or laptop to bed. I also had the news on at all times. He said that being informed was one thing, but I had taken it way too far. I said that he was ignorant and ill-informed. We had fights about politics all the time. He started sleeping in our spare bedroom once the kids were asleep. Honestly, didn’t bother me: more time for me to stay active online.

I had no idea what was happening to my sleep patterns or my life. Through the holidays, I walked around with my phone attached to my hand. I had to post everything about the holidays on social at all times. My best friend started asking me to get help, that I looked sick and tired and stressed out all the time. I rarely slept, I ate whatever could be consumed in front of the computer, and eventually got caught on Facebook a couple of times at work. I got a written warning for that one. Did it stop me? Not really. I just took my phone with me on bathroom breaks.

I spent a lot of time in the bathroom.

Two months ago, my friend offered to take me to lunch for my birthday. When she came to my house, she completely freaked out. Every television in our house was on, tuned to a different channel. I had my computer open in front of me and my phone on the kitchen island next to it. I was racing from room to room trying to catch stories and looking to post them immediately on Facebook. I had multiple threads going on Twitter. We were late to our reservation because I had to craft a response to something someone said to me on Facebook. And that’s when she took my phone out of my hand and lunch and said, “You need to get help. You’re addicted to this, and it’s killing you.” She handed me the number of a doctor, and I just cracked. I started to cry. I was so tired, so stressed out all the time.

I called the doctor the next day and got the diagnosis I needed. Evidently, my ‘need to know’ had morphed into a full-on addiction. That’s the thing nobody really talks about: the apps, the programs – they’re all designed to be addictive. They light up your brain and keep you wired to come back for more. If you have anxiety and PTSD like me, fear will keep you coming back even more regularly because you’re on the defensive at all times. As hard as it was, the only cure for it is to get off of it.

60 days later and life is very different now. I haven’t opened social media since I saw my doctor. I deleted all my accounts and took the apps off my phone. I’ve started reading the newspaper for information, but I’ve also started doing things I had neglected in my hyperactive state: I take walks and talk with friends, I go to yoga, I spend time reading books and attending lectures. The withdrawal was Hell; I’m not going to lie. But my husband is so proud of what I’ve done, and so is my best friend. He’s sleeping next to me at night now, and we’re both happier as a result. Even our kids are happier, and they’ve started taking a page from my book and reading real books more than staying glued to the TV like they used to do.

I see my doctor once a week and I take my antidepressants as directed. Slowly but surely, I’m releasing my need to be informed in exchange for being alive. I’m a happier person as a result. Look, I can’t change what’s going on in the world. I know that now. Nothing I say on social media is really going to change anything. What I can do is talk to my kids about what’s happening and make them better citizens. I focus on being a better friend, co-worker, and neighbor. It’s amazing: I wish I’d known earlier that by simply unplugging from my electronic devices that I would get so much more plugged into real life. It’s better this way…and I’m happy and calmer as a result.”

It’s amazing: I wish I’d known earlier that by simply unplugging from my electronic devices that I would get so much more plugged into real life. It’s better this way…and I’m happy and calmer as a result.”