Validation

Good Thursday to you, writers and readers. Apologies for missing last week’s blog. I could leave it at that. I could lie and say I was too busy. I could pad the truth and say I was feeling a ‘bit down’. But part of the problem with mental health awareness in this country is that we too often lie or lie by omission about it.

Last week I didn’t post a blog because I was recovering from an anxiety attack and suffering a depressive episode.

Wednesday, I couldn’t hold a solid thought in my head. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t predict when or how the next overwhelming wave of worry and tears would hit me. By Thursday, I felt like I had the emotional hangover of the century. The kind that leaves you with a raging headache. The kind that leaves you feeling empty and raw. Like you couldn’t bear to be touched, or spoken to, or even think of stringing together two sentences.

My anxiety was at a peak when I tried to voice my concerns and fears about the current state of our world. Some friends stepped all over themselves to shout out unsolicited advice, barrage me with guilt for not having hope and a sunny disposition. Tsk-ing their tongues at me for not being happy.

“Just smile” and “We’re all in this together” and all that bullshit.

If I had said I had cancer no one would tell me to take an Advil to cure it. No one would say I needed to re-examine my perspective to stop it’s growth. Yet, there it was, my virtual conclave shouting back all the answers I never asked for, simply because it helped assuage their own consciences. So that they’d feel as if they’d done their part to ‘help’ a friend in need.

And it got me thinking. About social media. About our current world. About what we do in our lives these days, as people, but also as artists, to find validation. See, I wasn’t looking for validation or rainbows or sunshine. I was looking for someone who was really listening, who was overthinking as deeply as I was. Who wanted more than a sound byte or click bait. Someone looking for a real conversation about our current addiction to opinions like ours. To admit that we’ve become so divisive that people are threatening others with guns, and running others over with cars, and all manner of horrible things because our individual perceptions of the ‘truth’ have been spoon fed to us by opposing sides in a virtual (read: NOT REAL) buffet of horseshit.

I’m not saying the truth doesn’t exist. I’m saying if you really want it, you have to make a concerted effort to seek it out. Know the perils of conspiracy theories and understand how to spot them, understand why they work on the delicate human psyche. Know that if something reads as degrading or judgmental of one side or the other, that it’s probably more opinion than fact and you need to get to the basic source of that pile of horseshit, not just take it at face value.

Where was I?

Validation.

Yep. So we get on the FaceBook and the Twitters and we read the sites and clips that these super-smart algorithms have determined make us salivate the most, and they keep feeding us the sugary Captain Crunch of news until we’re so assured of our ‘rightness’ that anyone not complying with our view is a contagious carrier of the ‘wrongness’. Then its only a matter of time before someone is whipped up into a frenzy and runs their car through a crowd of peaceful protesters or shoots someone with a MAGA hat, or shuts themselves into an oval-shaped office, a la totalitarian coup style, crying like a toddler about voter fraud.

Sounds like we’re ALL just a bunch of sheep. But why?

Well, darlin’, these systems are smart as fuck. These systems are designed to be addictive. They’re designed to validate our existence, our beliefs, our lives and choices. My God that like button is a sweet hit of virtual cocaine. The ‘heart’ and ‘care’ emojis? Ecstasy, baby. Someone out there LOVES you.

What in God’s name does it have to do with the writers and artists among us?

Well, as you know I’d left all that bullshit for awhile and was actually more calm and centered for it. I only recently returned because I wanted to have a space for my author platform. Because, and this is the professional side of this post, you HAVE TO have an online presence to write. Or at least that’s what we’re told. You HAVE TO build up an audience. You HAVE TO market yourself. Sell yourself. Get a following, if you ever hope to ‘make it’ as a writer. This is a new world. If you can’t roll with the changes, you’re destined to be left behind. You’ll never sell any books the old way, idiot!

What do you want to do? Just write?

Just write.

Just write?

Because you love it. Because you…never…started writing for the profit…you just liked to write….

Wait…you liked to write?

See it’s all a big system. We spend so much of our energy, our time, our lives, our hearts, trying to forge these connections in a world that–by all intents and purposes, DOESN’T REALLY EXIST. We base our worth on likes. On followers. On the number of hits our website gets. And then wonder why we feel so empty and disconnected and never quite enough.

I’m off social media; for reals. You may still see a profile pic pop up across the Internet-o-sphere, but you won’t find my content behind it. My website contract ends in February. I’m not sure I’ll renew it. I started my platform because I was told I had to, in order to reach more readers.

Do I want people to read my work? Sure, if they enjoy it…if it feeds their soul and serves their happiness, absolutely.

Do I want to expose too-big-for-its-own-good heart and threaten my well being to do that? No. Not anymore. I want to write. My time is finite. I will not be around forever. When I’m gone, my books, my poetry, my writing, will all remain. My Facebook account will be deactivated. I will stop being worthwhile to their algorithm when I’m dead. But what I write, what I put on paper will carry on (if anyone still reads books by then).

I urge you to examine your life. Examine your addictions. Do you control the content of your life, or is it being controlled for you? Is that content controlling how you live your life? What you believe?

Blog posts here will continue until February. I’ll be re-running old favorites as well as interjecting some poetry here and there. I already paid for the year, I might as well use it to share the things I love.

Take care. Really…I mean that. Take care of yourself. Your real-life, human self. You are one of one. You’re more than just 1’s and 0’s in a giant marketing scheme. Go be a real-life human. Do real-life human things. Walk outside, go for a run, read a book, write something, nap, work, make love, eat amazing food–and don’t post a goddamn thing about it to anyone else. I assure you, it still happens even if your social media sites don’t hear about it.

Happy living.

Life Without FaceBook

Let’s admit it, the last fifteen years have been a time of experimental growth for humans and their technology. Zuckerberg and his pals in Social Media Land rolled a tiny pair of dice and took the house. It is in everything we do. Its how we communicate, how we share, how we learn about each other (or at least what we choose to tell people in our half-truth screen life). It’s also how advertisers find us, how personal information is given out to people we never intended it for, and how the dangerous Echo Chamber was born.

I decided, last week, to step off of that particular merry-go-round. Yes, it hurts my online presence as a writer. But let’s be honest, not many people read my work anyway, so its not like I’m at a huge loss there. Yes, I miss seeing pictures of my friends and their funny posts, or catching up with my mom via Messenger. I miss seeing my nephew grow like a weed, and laugh at the geeky memes from my writer and nerd friends.

But one of the biggest reasons I left was that I realized how much I would miss the immediate gratification of a thumbs up sign to the comments, or pictures, or jokes that I used to post.

You see, FaceBook didn’t just sell us “connectivity” with our friends, family, and community. It sells us self-esteem, self-empowerment, even self-justification. And it reinforces those things by allowing us to filter out the people and sites we don’t agree with, and keep us comfortably surrounded by our already accepted beliefs.

Fifty likes on a post made me feel like I was some sort of rock start writer, or that I was cared about after a rough day.

Three made me feel like no one was listening and I didn’t matter.

None at all, I admit, somedays made me wonder if I existed at all…

I became a person who measured her self-worth by how many people were paying attention to me.

I became a person who was in need of the treat, like a dog who’s been clicker trained. Combine that with the perfectly filtered photos of friends, their lofty career accomplishments, their ‘humble’ retelling of good deeds done and I often felt self-stigma as to why I was not doing, being, having more. I teetered on the edge of what was real. I dove directly into self-loathing on more than one occasion.

Then, life threw in a few major world-events, the dividing lines between friends and family started cutting deeper and deeper and every post became something that set you apart from or joined you to one side or the other. Just like the Kardashians, FaceBook thrives the most when it’s got a healthy plate of drama in front of it.

We are a nation and world in the midst of a health crisis as well as sitting on the precipice of FINALLY understanding what America has been doing wrong since the creation of our country. I began to realize that no matter how loud I shouted on-line that racism was real, that being white and poor is not the same as being black and poor, that white children will never know the fear and limits that have been placed on black children, I would never change the minds of people who were not ready to accept it.

And watching that disheartening ignorance was just as bad as seeing well-MEANING friends post the trendiest slogan and know that that was the extent of their epiphany on the matter.

So I left. Not because I don’t love pictures of toe-headed babies and Star Wars Memes. I didn’t leave because I don’t like reading well-thought out and civil discussions on hard topics (a few of those do exist). I didn’t leave because I didn’t want to connect with all kinds of people from all spectrums of the scale.

I left because it’s not real. There’s always an angle, even from the most well-intentioned person.

I left because I don’t trust Zuckerberg to fact-check if it doesn’t suit his bottom line.

I left because most of the conversations I read or engaged in, have devolved into ugly name calling and personal attacks that have nothing to do with compassionate communication or the intention of trying to understand.

I left because in the last week I’ve actually connected on a personal level with friends I hadn’t talked to in years.

I left because I want to be more real and not just someone hiding myself  behind a glossy filter of anonymity.

I left because I know that all those perfect people out there aren’t so perfect.

I left because I am enough and I don’t need someone else’s approval to justify my worth.

I left because FaceBook is fucking addictive and I don’t need another addiction in my life.

I left because I can’t change the hatred driven opinions of anyone, and I’m done trying to at the expense of my mental health.

I left because my time is better spent working towards a new, hopefully better, future for every human in this country.

I left because I want to make a difference, not just crow about it for the ‘likes’.

I don’t have a writing exercise for you, but I would encourage you to give up FaceBook for one week. (They even have a ‘take a break’ option if you’re not ready to throw in the towel completely like me).

See how much time it frees up. See how much mental space it frees up. Enjoy a meal without having to share a picture. Enjoy a song and call the person who it reminds you of, instead of posting it. Try being a real person for a bit, and see how your mental health improves. Remember, we actually all got along pretty well before it came around, you won’t die without it.