*** Trigger warning : depression, anxiety, mental illness, suicidal thoughts, death, pregnancy, miscarriage ***
This is the Long story of how social media triggered my mental illness. Specifically facebook and my experience with depression and anxiety.
*I have never been diagnosed with chronic depression or anxiety, but I have been treated for the symptoms of both. While I believe that we are allowed to feel sad without getting slapped with a label and a prescription, I do also know that there are cases when it is needed. Fortunately my pregnancy saved me from being medicated.
I noticed my habits for the first time in September of 2014...
John and I had just sold our home, and had moved into a temporary residence with our good friends.
I was making a lot of big decisions at that time, and the move made leaving the church a lot easier to do. Our records were still in our old ward, but we were attending a new ward as we looked for a new home. I took advantage of this and purposely slipped through the cracks, and started doing my own thing on Sundays.
I was also really unhappy with my marriage. Without going into too much detail, needs were not being met, which in turn caused me to put up a wall. We had many attempts at understanding but it usually failed.
I don't remember what sparked my decision to do a facebook cleanse. I am sure it had something to do with John saying I was addicted and wanting to prove him wrong, but I digress.
I decided I would do 6 days.
At that time I was involved with two different groups on a daily basis, and had developed some close friendships. These people understood me and saw my heart better than I thought I did. So needless to say, it was hard to go, even though I knew it would be a short 6 days that I would reunite with my kindred spirits.
The first 3 days were cake, and as time went on, it got harder and harder to not click on the little app on my iPhone screen. I opened it a couple of times, not intending to, and would close it down when I realized what I did, before I saw my news feed. that was my first indicator that i had developed a habit. day 4 and 5 went by slowly.... there was a miscommunication in the house that left me confused but I had nobody to talk to about it. Even John was not present for me at that time, and so I felt totally alone. Not just alone, but invisible. Nobody seemed to want to talk to me, and I didn't have facebook to fill the void. So I got low. really low. The isolation and invisibility went on for a few more days before I had to talk to John about it. I couldn't hide how this was affecting me. The downward spiral was getting more intense everyday. the negative self-talk was brutal.
"the only friends you maintain are total strangers. if they knew you in person they wouldn't be your friend"
"none of your friends in the flesh want to spend time with you because you are a know-it-all and have to voice your opinion about everything... nobody wants to hear that."
"you don't have anyone to talk to about your marital issues because that betrays your husband and the church doesn't like it when we gossip"
"every time you ask for help, nobody responds"
"every time you organize a party and send out invites on facebook, nobody cares. nobody likes you."
"nobody even notices that you have been off facebook for a week."
and so on...
Until I hit rock bottom. 6 days of isolation and not feeling connection to anyone or anything, and I was ready to be permanently invisible. 6 days without facebook, and I was thinking about what my husband would do when he found me dead. I never planned how or when. I never hurt myself. the thought lasted about half a second, when my children came in and saw me in a pile on the floor, crying.
I think I'm a pretty intelligent person, but it didn't occur to me that I needed help. I slowly re-incorporated my exposure and I had talked it out with john, and I was better overnight
Months rolled by. We bought our house, had more struggles- and then I got away. I went to Florida for 3 weeks without John and it was bliss. I did what I wanted, when I wanted and I was taken care of. If I needed a babysitter, I had multiple options. If I needed to eat, I someone always volunteered to take care of the bill. I had close, meaningful connection with each member of my family. I got to spend time with family members I haven't interacted with in nearly 13 years. I got to visit some dead people. I was able to feel alive in my surroundings. Florida is green year-round. the green was wonderful. the moisture was wonderful. The beach was wonderful.
I drank alcohol and "smoked" pot for the first and last time.
I was happy.
Until I had to come back home. John came for the last week and a half of December and it just wasn't the same. I was convinced that our marital issues were just going to continue. and they did. the whole way home, we argued or stonewalled. The icy roads in west Texas gave us some time and a reminder to chill out.
what was supposed to take 30 hours took us 4.5 days. We made it home, and my attempt to keep certain things private about my visit to Florida didn't work. My world crumbled beneath me. I was constantly worried that I was over-reacting or misinterpreting or crazy- and all I received was validation, which hurt worse than thinking I was crazy. I anticipated all the things that happened, in the exact sequence that they happened. People I love got hurt. I had to sever ties that I spent a lot of energy repairing. And yet I still felt like nothing would get better.
I was spending all my time on facebook. I was talking to 2 other men, because I couldn't talk to John or anyone else in my family, really- about what I was feeling. It proved to get messy when family gets involved and those feelings are hard to recover from. facebook was the buffer that kept me from interacting with John and trying to fix things, but it was also my source of comfort when my attempts to make it work failed. I was starting to feel off and thought it was the emotional turmoil manifesting in my body, but got a positive pregnancy test on day 47 of my cycle. That pushed me over the edge.
I knew the pregnancy was one of two things. 1. a blessing that would save my marriage. or 2. a burden that would make single motherhood HARDER. I favored the second up until I could feel the baby move. In my heart I prayed I would have a miscarriage.
I feared for this unborn child. I thought I was going to set her up for failure in life due to the amount of stress hormones she was being exposed to. She is the main motivation for me to get outside help.
As the nausea and other first-trimester symptoms rolled in, I spent all my time on facebook. by this time I was involved with more groups, but one in particular required a lot more attention and energy to maintain. I sunk deeper and deeper. It was not uncommon for me to think about death in some form, daily. Whether it was the loss of my unborn or my own life.
John and I sought marriage counseling after I asked for a divorce. I still have bitter feelings towards this and get triggered by it constantly. I work hard to remember all the apologies we have exchanged in the last months, but things are still freshly healing.
We attended over 8 weeks of counseling, up and downs, successes and failures, and I still felt like things were not improving. I cut communication from both men I had been talking to, in order to help facilitate healing and communication between John and I.
I had my first panic attack. Then a mental breakdown the next day. Fearing John was the cause of the panic attack and anticipating more of them with his presence, I told John I needed him to leave, and so he packed his stuff. I could not live like this anymore.
The day he was supposed to leave, was the day that changed everything. I took the kids grocery shopping, like I always do, and a song came on the radio- I don't even remember which one it was. but I started crying. Tears streaming down my face, while driving. Paxton asked me why I was crying and instead of telling him I was sad- like all the other times he has caught me crying and asked why, I told him " I just love Daddy so much." and he said " I love daddy too." and that was it. I realized that even though I was hurting deeply, the only reason it hurt that bad was because I loved John. I loved him with my whole heart and it was broken.
I didn't want him to go, I just wanted to feel better.
We re-connected for the course of two weeks, and got better quickly. But somehow I was attached to my phone, on facebook.
It had become compulsive.
Even after I had checked my notifications for the day, I would somehow end up back on facebook 9 to 10 times more that day, and not remembering how I got there. I would mean to check my email or respond to to a text message, only to remember that I needed to respond to that text message after 10 minutes cruising facebook. It had gotten bad. It was like I had no control. I would drain my battery and let it sit on the charger long enough to resurrect it, and then check facebook again before letting it charge halfway and checking it again.
I noticed that even though John and I were doing a lot better I was starting to wallow. I wasn't motivated to do anything. I wasn't feeding myself. I rarely got out of bed. My poor kids came in to see me when they needed me for food or poopy diapers, but the automatic forward to the next episode on netflix came in handy and kept my kids entertained when they weren't in the backyard right outside my window playing in the dirt. Not many of my behaviors changed at all. I was stuck and didn't know how to get myself out. That is when I knew I needed to really get some help. I didn't know how to help myself. I had my second panic attack after realizing that I needed help and I was in a crisis.
Instead of going cold turkey, my goal was to abstain from my phone completely until noon. I experienced longer bouts of anxiety in the evenings on the days I spent more time on facebook. One day I didn't get on at all, and it was like magic fairy dust was sprinkled over me. I had virtually no symptoms of depression or anxiety that day. so I tried again the next day. and the next day. Then I got on facebook for 10 minutes and felt the anxiety again. I was convinced.
My theory is that facebook has become a trigger.
I used it to distract, buffer, and escape the things I was feeling for months- even years, but I still felt them while I was on facebook. my brain had been re-programmed to associate facebook with turmoil and no control. So I am now facebook free for 3 weeks. My goal is 42 days, but there really is no guarantee that the trigger will not be permanent. I may eliminate instagram as well.
It's been harder the longer I go without. so many things happen that I want to "update" about, that it gets overwhelming. I couldn't stop thinking about my accumulating notifications, until I had John change my password and deactivate my account.
I still have a long way to go. I still have bad days. I still have weepy days, but I have hope that I will be better soon. Pregnancy is hard and I try to give myself some grace due to the work my body is doing right now. I am also learning a lot. Mostly about myself, and it's HARD. I thought I knew everything there was to know about me. I havent had sugar in almost a month.
With the help and support of John, my family, my doctor, therapist, midwife, and our bishop, I am finding the strategies to get better.
one day at a time.