This morning, many of my friends were surprised to see me post on Facebook that I am taking an indefinite leave of absence from that social media site. I have been very active on Facebook over the past few years and I have fabulous conversations with dear friends, wonderful colleagues, and friends of friends who I would not have met any other way.
I Love Facebook
One of the things about being an outlier is that local communities tend to offer small numbers of people who understand you. But, Facebook allows me to keep in touch with most of the people I have really clicked with in real life. I had 3 close friends in elementary school, 1 best friend in middle school, 3 deep friends at drama camp, larger groups from the congregated gifted program at my high school, the colleges I went to, etc. Every major stage of my life yielded at least one friend I was sorry to part from when life developed in ways that meant moving. It is astonishing how many of those people I manage to have in-depth conversations with via Facebook despite thousands of miles between us.
My husband’s family is all in England and we rarely see them but stay connected through Facebook. I have nephews I have only seen on video chats and Facebook. Because the extended family posts pictures and silly stories on Facebook, I have a relationship with folks I would not make the time to write regular letters to. Each connection may not feel like much, but I have a sense of who these people are that I would never have if we only met at weddings and funerals. This is my family. For us, Facebook is a tool for cultivating love.
I participate in communities with very specific interests and issues. For example, Facebook is fabulous for parents of twice-exceptional kids to connect. By definition, we are stressed. Our kids need crazy amounts of attention. We burn out easily. We find ourselves awake at strange times, exhausted and only capable of communicating in controlled fashion. And, our kids are rare in the population. One of my sons was described by the principal of his K-8 elementary school of 500 kids as “the most challenging kid in this school”, and they couldn’t remember ever working with a student that bright with that many challenges. I can log on to Facebook and talk to 20 parents of similar children who are seen as unique by their schools. I discover that I am not alone and hear about other kids like mine.
And then there is the intellectual stimulation. My friends post all sorts of fascinating articles. And I follow all sorts of organizations that post intellectually interesting material. Between them, I have a never-ending supply of stimulation for my intellectual over-excitabilities.
So Why Am I Leaving?
Facebook is Interfering with My Writing, Especially This Blog
I get a lot of my best intellectual stimulation from Facebook. When I turn around and forward things to my timeline or one of the pages I run, I move that idea out into the world without giving it time to mix with other ideas in my brain or my daily, embodied experiences.
My brain thinks it has dealt with the material and files it in “done” or forgets it. And I have fewer ideas to write about, both in my fiction and in my blogging.
When I post less on Facebook, I have more motivation and more time to blog, and I am better at it.
The number of half-baked, under-cooked blog posts I have failed to complete since my Facebook time became out-of-control is frankly inexcusable.
I need to leave ideas in my head for longer before I act on them or move them out. Less Facebook will help me do that.
I Need to Be More Present in My Daily Life
My life is stressful. I have 4 crazy, wild, wonderful, creative, brilliant, stubborn kids. According to the school district, they all have special needs. (Let me tell you now how awesome it is to live in a school district where all gifted kids are seen as having individual special needs, not just my obviously twice-exceptional kids.) My husband’s job has been stressful for years and got worse for a bit this year. I started a business last year. Over the winter, I got pneumonia and my husband broke 3 ribs. It has been a rough 6-9 months.
Given the combination of stressors in real life and the awesomeness of Facebook, it is not surprising that I have used Facebook as a way of escaping from the difficult parts of my life. The connections with people not connected to my daily stress and the intellectual stimulation have been an amazing distraction.
But, my husband has started complaining that I am on Facebook when he wants to be with me. And I have found myself in the habit of being on my phone chatting with friends instead of being fully present for my kids. These habits are bad. My husband and kids need my attention. If I don’t pay full attention to them, not only do they get upset with me for good reason, but I enjoy my time with them less.
I need to get control of my smart phone habits. I need to be more present with my kids. How can I know who they are if I don’t take the time to see them. Are my own kids in the room with me less valuable to me than nephews I have never seen? They shouldn’t be.
To the extent Facebook is damaging my family, I need to stop.
Why Don’t I Just Cut Back?
I have tried and I can’t do it.
You see, there is always something happening on Facebook. My most recent post or the conversation I have been having since this morning may be generating comments at any time. I find myself with a compulsion to check. And I can check from my phone anywhere, at any time.
That is too easy.
One weak moment and I have failed.
Changing habits is hard. It is much easier to replace a behaviour entirely than to moderate it. I don’t need Facebook. By cutting myself off completely for some time, I will be forced to replace my Facebooking habits with other things.
Once I have filled my time with non-Facebook habits, then I can see if my life is enriched by adding Facebook back into my life. I suspect it will be. But I have to replace the habits first.
How Long Will it Take to Make The Changes I Need to Make?
I don’t know.
Gurus say it takes 21 or 28 days to change a habit, but it isn’t true. Long standing habits in adults can take much longer to change. 60 days is not uncommon for deeply ingrained habits.
Changing a habit requires making new connections in your brain that are stronger than the connections that already exist. My obsessive Facebook checking has been reinforced to an unknown level. I cannot predict how long it will take to replace the craving for an update with the instinct of going for a run, laughing with my kids, watching them play, writing a few sentences, drinking a glass of water, calling a friend, or folding the laundry.
How will I know that it might be safe to test the waters again? When I no longer feel the need to. When it feels like an option, not a compulsion. Until I can make that distinction, I am taking a break.
I can’t wait to see how I fill the time. And I am looking forward to reconnecting with my family at the level that nurtures us all deeply.