I find myself here at my kitchen table in a mid July thunderstorm, contemplating life, mourning current and past losses, and sensing my growing disconnection to the rest of the world. My brain continually forces the question: “what now?” My life is rich with unique, singular sometimes negative and sometimes positive experiences, yet I seem to be stuck in a cliché: Where has the time gone? At the age of forty, the question seems debilitating. I am in a treading water stage; these days I am a pretty good swimmer, still, treading, or worse idling, but never in a state where I am comfortable. I have had a tough few weeks, and I am acutely aware that I need to bring about some change. I liken it to the earth; how it seems like it isn't moving, though is spinning around on its axis purposefully and continuously.
Almost a week ago I gave up Facebook. I saw so clearly the lack of balance it brought on in my life. It brewed in me a kind of resentment that was immobilizing and toxic to my life. Yet, I regularly tolerated it. It started to feel like I was rubber necking at the scene of an accident, and I had to ask myself: “do I really want to see what is on the side of the road?” I am startled by what I can become addicted to, or dependent on. Perhaps it was the false security that arose from this constant connection. I have been a Facebook user for years, so when I deactivated my account it felt like a hard breakup with a boyfriend. It was a break-up that you knew was the right thing to do, but you have gotten used to the relationship, used to its flaws. Sometimes the relationship made you feel bad, sometimes you felt good. It served as an ego boost, and as validation. It was going to be difficult though because it meant a change in my habits, and change in my relationship, and change isn't comfortable. I found myself feeling ordinary, or worse, like a sheep in a herd, a role I have never played in my life. My Facebook experience was making everything common; the special things, private things, were being transformed into the dreaded ordinary, regular or expected. It wasn’t just about observing that rainbow stretching out over the quiet overpass late on a summer afternoon. You had to report it to others. I reflected on the pre-Facebook world where that rainbow meant something else: a personal significance. It was only meant for a few to see it, and only if you were in the right place at the right time. I have had some time to think about our new Facebook world, and the first thought that came into my head was that I wanted life to be more like it was before Facebook. I miss coincidence in my life; the simple act of bumping into someone at the grocery store and finding out then what was going on with their lives. Those experiences now lack their previous intimacy. When you run into someone who you have a Facebook affiliation with, the interaction seems lackluster. You find yourself continually thinking: “oh yeah, I saw that or I read that.” This computer connection seems to breed such a strong sense of familiarity, but not necessarily an authentic familiarity. There was just too much of it: too much information, too many photos, and, really, who has the time? Unfortunately, I found myself making the time. I am alone much of my days and nights. I like to be alone; I value and treasure it. I lived alone for most of my adult life, unlike so many others that I know. Many people avoid begin alone no matter what the cost. I like the quiet of solitude because the world (and my mind) can be rather noisy. As I have gotten older, I have experienced more bouts of loneliness. This is me being honest. As some of you may know, I write with an honesty that borders on recklessness. I am honest to a fault, even if makes others squirm. It is not only hard to say you are lonely, but it also had a kind of stigma attached to it. Everyone can be lonely. Everyone feels alone, even in a room full of people. Rarely does anyone want to admit it. I have noticed that when I say it, people react as if they seem afraid they might catch it; it makes them uncomfortable. Over the last few of years, I began to spend more time looking at Facebook, establishing acquaintanceships, chatting with people and posting items to my Facebook page. I would share events, quotes, and, more importantly, my opinions and my beliefs .We all in our own way are waving our flags of who we are or who we want people to think we are. Facebook is the ultimate reality show. I do not think it is any big surprise that we all became Facebook friends after the onslaught of reality television. Now, in Facebook land, we are all the unpaid stars, and sometimes, unknowingly, members of the supporting cast. I think that Facebook can function as a mecca for those of us with low self-esteem, or are in need of constant validation. I often fall into those categories. I have thought to myself while scrolling through all the content: is everyone really this happy? Why don't I have what they have? Why can’t I go on vacation? Why aren’t I married? In addition, everything is taken out of its context. Where are photos of the not so great things that happened on vacation? So I needed a change and considered a few things: limiting my time on Facebook, hiding others’ posts and people and not putting up so much information about myself. I have always had an all or nothing approach to my life. When I have gotten angry at people in my life who have hurt me, I cut them out. So I got angry at Facebook, and instead of cutting down on my usage and accepting that it is a sounding board for the more superficial and vane aspects of our humanity, I decided to deactivate my account. I shut down my account despite the fact that Facebook has reconnected me to friends that live across the world, across the state, or even in my own town that I genuinely love. I want to stay connected. This blog and its link will be published through the Facebook forum. Perhaps that is the point: it is about ultimately maintaining the balance, and recognizing what is important. It is also about knowing when I get caught up in anything that becomes too consuming, I need to take a few steps back and reassess. I have a strong desire to connect with people, to tell them what I am interested in, to be an inspiration and to be inspired. In the end, I have a desire to tell people what I have been through and what drives me. I also love to talk and write about my son and his accomplishments. Although do I need to be so public about it?
So I sit here, laughing to myself that I am proud that I made it thru the first 72 hours of being a recovering Facebook user. I see in just a short time how I have begun to return to myself and my own thoughts, and have been more present to my son. I am engaged with the now, the then and the tomorrow. I have read the pile of magazines and books that have been begging for my attention for the last several months. Previously, I would rationalize my time on Facebook because I did not engage in TV, not recognizing that they were sort of the same thing. I want to make time for things that matter and to learn to see social media as something on the periphery, where what I don't know won't hurt me. Will I return to Facebook? Probably, but after a much needed break, and I will lay down some self-imposed ground rules and discipline. I have many friends that have given up Facebook indefinitely. I ask them how it is, as if they are newly sober, as if they are the strong ones. They are the ones going out in to the world, meeting their friends for coffee, engaging with others in the traditional way. I have found my time off from Facebook very liberating. In other words, I feel good. I feel my life is sacred again. The distractions I once thought I needed were only serving as a barricade preventing me from actually become connected with what is in my own head, and what I need to do in my life to either move forward or stand still. It has strengthened my desire to find peace and have real-time, real- life connectedness to the outside and to the friends I love. As I write, I push away the disappointment and shock I have with myself over falling prey to the Facebook world. It was more one mishap in a life filled with them, and by leaving it behind, this all-consuming behavior was brought into focus. I am thankful for that. Something doesn't feel right and I listened. I am waking up in the morning and going outside with myself and not four hundred friends. I'm listening to the birds, looking at the sky and centering myself. I am disconnecting from one thing and completely plugging into the other and no internet connection is required.
Last Sunday I sat in the local coffee shop with my son. The air was heavy and humid. Late afternoon thunderstorms passed overhead. We looked out the window, scanning the sky. I have been on the search for a rainbow all summer. I have an affinity with rainbows; I always have. I like the way they are short-lived and nag for your full attention. They make me pause and see life, the world, the beauty in-between the chaos. They are the perfection of the calm after the storm, the unexpected peace. Finally, I saw the colors popping through the dark gray sky; a double rainbow clearly came into sight. I went outside. I saw a man smoking a cigarette under an umbrella. I ran under it with him with my phone raised above my head. He looked a bit surprised. I said to him: “Oh, I have to get a picture. This is the first rainbow I saw this year.” As I held the phone up, I looked at him and said: “I am off Facebook, so this picture is just for me.” I repeated: “I am taking this picture for me.” As the words came out of my mouth, I slowly lowered my phone staring at the colors bursting in the sky above. The moment was real, the connection was undeniable, and the fragile beauty of my life was unfolding.