One of my favorite classes to teach is Media Literacy. I snuck it into the curriculum last year as my way of giving back to these kids that I love. I want them to learn things I wasn’t taught when I was 18. I want them to see things as they truly are, beyond how the world packages them to be. The way I see it, if I manage to broaden their critical thinking skills, if I can sharpen their perception, fill them with healthy skepticism and a penchant to question everything that matters, then perhaps I would’ve done enough in this lifetime.
I grew up with a very skewed view of the world. I believed everything and I’m paying for it now. At 27, I find myself going through a daily process of unlearning.
I was a pre-teen during the Internet’s awkward stages, when blogging was just a space for casual word vomit, when the concept of content curation was a myth. Everything was new and it felt, back then, that the future was here and happening. How else could one explain the newfound power they had to connect with someone halfway around the world with the mere click of a button?
I got to see the evolution of social media and, fortunately enough, I got to experience a life before Facebook.
But when everything started gaining traction, I also got sucked into the hype pretty quickly. That’s when my own version of social anxiety began.
I am hesitant to use that term. Social anxiety. It’s a real condition that I would never dare belittle or take lightly. I do not have it as bad as others. But I also know I wasn’t always this way. In the middle of the Internet’s great rise, a switch in my brain got flipped. Something happened inside of me and I am still trying to recover.
It started with jealousy.
Envy is not a tendency of mine. One word people have used to describe me is ‘calm’. I guess the more millennial term would be ‘chill’. But the more I kept my eyes locked to a screen, the more I felt it — that gnawing sense of discontent — grow in irrational amounts. It is interesting to note that this only started a year ago.
Nothing made me feel worse about myself than watching people’s lives unfold fabulously before me while I remained so miserably the same. I wanted so badly to Walter Mitty the heck out of my own life — but how can you do that when you’re committed to a job, to bills, to the responsibilities that come with adulthood?
I felt trapped by the life I had built for myself, which was not at all bad. It just wasn’t exciting. Which led me to believe that I was doing something wrong. I know that this is a very common epidemic for anyone who, like me, is deeply connected to the cyber world but the dangerous part was that it forced me to seek isolation. It made me afraid to face people. It made me afraid of what was real. And it tricked me into believing that the illusion was far better than the gritty truth of being alive and human.
The jealousy grew and festered and, honestly, the thing it made me feel the most, especially when it got too overwhelming, was sad.
And the people who know me best know I don’t do too well with sadness.
It got to a point where I caught myself mindlessly scrolling through Facebook one day, putting off all productivity just so I could watch what people were up to, then feel bad, then sulk, then work a little bit, just to do it all over again. I was going against everything I was teaching my students. Self-awareness, critical thinking, raising a giant middle finger to anything that forced you to conform — man, I was failing my own class, the very curriculum I myself had designed.
I kept seeing all these things I wasn’t a part of, kept watching all the ways in which my life seemed so plain and dry by virtue of comparison, and I felt this whirring madness. I felt it multiply and explode in my head and I remember thinking, at the height of it all, that nothing should ever have this kind of power over me.
It’s hard to explain it without sounding a little crazy. And I think, in all honesty, that a part of me did go a bit crazy. I firmly believe that anything that drives you over the edge messes with the one thing worth striving for: wholeness. I had lost myself once. I couldn’t let that happen again.
So, after a lot of hesitation, I finally deactivated my Facebook account.
When friends find out about it, they congratulate me and ask how it’s been. I give the same automatic response: it’s been great.
It seems like a much easier response than I feel like I can breathe again or I feel free to settle into the life that I have because I no longer have a measuring stick to judge it by. There is still Twitter (for the news) and Instagram (which seems to be dying now that everyone is on Snapchat) but I feel, for the most part, more connected to my joy.
I feel like this time around I’m going to actually pass my own class. I am finally left out of the loop and that, for the first time in a long time, is something I can — and would like to — live with.