Someone once wrote me that scrolling through Facebook on a Friday afternoon made him feel low throughout the weekend. Everyone else seemed to be having so much fun, it made him "feel like a loser". He'd been recovering from severe depression following a HIV diagnosis, and felt powerless over how Facebook affects his mood. His story isn't dissimilar to that of my clients and my friends. In fact, one of my friends calls rebuilding life "climbing out of a crater and realizing there's a mountain ahead of you." And Facebook can be that mountain in our lives. Here's seven points we can reflect upon to make that mountain less daunting.
Know: Facebook is the highlight reel
The more we use Facebook, the likelier we'll feel depressed and/or unhappy- if we compare. Our brains fill in the blanks from snippets of someone's life, based on their highlight reel. At the same time, we're so caught up in our mundaneness and what's lacking in our lives, it's hard not to feel bad about ourselves- more so when we're feeling vulnerable from depression. When our friends live-feed their holiday, their whole day seems wicked. Multiply this by a 300+-size friends list, and we'll see at least two blow-by-blow holiday fun each month. The whole world always seems to have fun.
Know: We have different motivations for posting (or not)
We've silent stalkers, people who don't touch their Facebook accounts, those who post sporadically, and then people who post all the time. Personality studies have found that those who are more narcissistic post to brag; open personalities post on intellectual topics; whilst others may whine for attention. There's nothing wrong with you if you don't post much.
Know: The "Truth" is distorted, or an outright lie.
This week, teen Instagram star Essena O'Neil made headlines for re-captioning her previous posts. She outed them as carefully-engineered photos involving hundreds of retakes and filters. Today's filters and apps are perfect for Photoshop-on-demand without advanced technical expertise. Even then, skills make the difference between a Wow! shot and a What-is-this?shot. Years ago, I made my friend's head look like it was chopped off and served on a platter. The lighting was atrocious. Her photograph of me on the exact spot, using the same camera, was divine. My take? Skills and technology create the "Truth" we think we see. We're our own PR directors on social media.
Know: Life is what we create
When we feel depressed, everything becomes an effort. Sometimes we spend our days curled in bed or finding solace in the bottle because the day is too painful to face. Then we rage with ourselves for wasting the day. The cycle repeats itself, the future feels hopeless. I know it's difficult, and could you try telling yourself "The day isn't over yet". No matter what time you start your day. Life is what we create, when we step out of that certainty of what depression brings. What can you do today that makes you feel good or proud of yourself? It doesn't matter if what you're doing isn't as big or wonderful as what's going on on your Facebook wall. We're not comparing here. A good thing is a good thing.
Ask: Does engineering photoshoots for your Facebook wall make you feel empty?
We live in an age where photographs tattoo the impermanence of our existence. I disagree that life is what happens only when you put your camera down. But if you find yourself planning agendas, holidays and meals to revolve around what you can post on social media, perhaps ask yourself if this really satisfies you. Because many have confided about how empty it feels. That said, if you're having loads of fun with your friends in a photoshoot that might end up on your Facebook wall, and you're all going with the flow whether in front of or behind the lens, then life is happening. Whether you're taking photos, confiding your secrets or laughing together, Facebook shouldn't be the primary objective.
Ask: Is it time for a Digital Detox?
I'm guilty of occasionally cocking a myopic eye open at 230am when my phone buzzes, squinting at my lock screen. It's my personal testament to technology as an appendage rather than an accessory. Its level of embeddedness can create psychological, sleep, and physical difficulties. Perhaps the easiest way to know if it's time to detox is to track how you feel before and after you use Facebook. If it's always making you feel worse about yourself, then you could go cold-turkey or limit your Facebook use to a frequency that you set.
Dig Deep: What is your "Why?" for using Facebook?
Humans are meaning-making creatures, and the meanings we give to our choices can change the way we live our lives. For me, Facebook is my Gratitude Journal- my virtual bank of happy memories. Therefore, I've chosen not to write about things that bring me down; I'll talk to my friends or deal with it separately. Instead, I muse about the things that make me happy and post pictures that trigger good memories. Whilst this can be mistaken as a "Brag Wall", I know its purpose fundamentally. Therefore I'm happy spending months there quiet or active, without saying "Facebook makes me depressed". Back to you, do you like your "Why" for using Facebook? If you don't, could you find a new "Why"?
Does Facebook make you depressed sometimes? Leave a comment and share your story to help someone with the same experiences. Original article "Ask a Therapist: Facebook makes me depressed" here. Or, visit here for a growing series on how to get out of depression.
Images: Author's own