Social Media and Me

It’s Not That Bad

I’ve always been the kind of person who tells herself that my problems aren’t that big. I downplay my struggles. Tell myself that I have a roof over my head, food on my table, a day job that’s pretty cool, an author life that’s fun and exciting, and all the creature comforts any person could reasonably want. My basic needs – those things on the lower end of Maslow’s hierarchy having to do with physiology and safety – are more than met. Why should I complain? And you know, a person can get by doing that. They can stuff down the sadness. They can ignore their pain.

Maybe you do the same thing. I think a lot of women do that. That’s not me being scientific. I didn’t conduct a study or anything. It’s just an observation. Anyway, I digress.

My ability to stuff those negative feelings back into a dark hole was wearing thin back in 2019, maybe as far back as 2018, if I’m really honest. Last year, I had grand plans to finish all three of my book series, leaving me open in 2020 to pursue a new series of standalone paranormal books all set in the same world. I hadn’t realized I was already depressed and it had been slowly killing my creativity. (I had a lot of misconceptions about what depression looks like, so that’s my excuse for not understanding depression was already deeply rooted in my brain and body.) In the end, I didn’t meet my goal. I published two books in early 2019 and didn’t move any further on my plans to finish the three series. I felt like a failure.

Can you believe that? I published TWO BOOKS and felt like a failure. To some of my author friends, that would be a banner year. They even told me so. But it’s easy to compare yourself to others who do more. Seem happier. Look successful in ways you can’t possibly attain. And then depression becomes a vicious circle. You have no energy or excitement to do the thing that might make you feel better (whatever that is – work out, tackle a project, write, pick up a neglected hobby, text or go out with friends), and you feel like a loser for it. Your head tells you that you’re lazy. You should be able to do that thing, right? It’s an easy thing. You even like doing it. So, if you aren’t doing that thing that you love, that’s easy, something is wrong with you. It’s your fault.

Loser, loser, loser.

That was me last year and into 2020. I thought life couldn’t get any worse. Boy, I sure was naive.

2020 Can Kiss My Lily-White Ass

This is where I say, “Hi, my name is Paulette. I suffer from depression.”

How did I figure it out? How did I own up to it? From, of all things, a survey sent by my insurance provider. They were concerned that members were experiencing stress and depression from the pandemic, so they sent out a mental health survey. I almost ignored it, because what if they came back and said I was depressed? I’d have to admit the truth. In my mind, it was easier to say I was lazy. A negative person who should work on her attitude. Someone who couldn’t get her shit together despite having all the advantages anyone could want. And let’s be honest with each other. There’s a lot of stigma around mental health problems. We here in the States are a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of people and to some, depression is simply weakness. A lack of willpower.

I know. Stupid, right?

But I caved and filled out the survey anyway. Mostly, because I realized how bad the space between my ears had become. The results came back as, “Yup, you’re depressed. Set up an appointment.” They were more professional than that, of course, but you get the gist. I assumed I’d feel bad about the results. In fact, I didn’t. Finally, I could name my enemy. I had a target and for once, it wasn’t me. I was so used to beating myself up. Being able to say my feelings were a result of something I didn’t ask for and didn’t yet have the tools to fight was very freeing.

I’m working on ways to deal with my depression and all the “fun” that comes with it, trying to find things I can do to improve my mental health, my relationships, and my creativity. For me, it’s sometimes as simple as texting a friend or reading or playing the ukulele. It definitely includes giving myself a break and recognizing that I’m doing the best I can. Celebrating small victories and not beating myself up when I don’t meet my goals. A good friend gave me a breathing exercise that I use whenever I feel stressed or like I’m about to panic. (By the way, panic attacks. If you’ve never had one, I hope you never do. Crap on a cracker, they suck.) Of course, I plan to seek out professional help. And most notably, I’ve spent time looking at what triggers my depression or stresses me, and I’ve been figuring out what I can do to lessen if not outright remove that trigger.

Likes, Retweets, and Follows . . . Oh My!

I discovered that one of my triggers is social media. I’m often hurt, upset, or perplexed by what I see there. Sometimes even outraged. More recently, what I’ve seen scares me. It’s not great for stress levels. Sure, there are good things about social media, but lately, I found a correlation between my time spent on those sites and me having nightmares, trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, and panic attacks. Meaning, on days my phone was glued to my hand scrolling through social media, I was sure to have some sort of episode.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time looking at how I use social media . . . and how it uses me, because let’s face it, those sites were created to make money, not provide a public service. I don’t begrudge them earning a profit, but I owe it to myself to step into their world with my eyes wide open.

I think social media is a blessing and a curse. For quite some time, I’ve told myself that I’m on social media – mostly Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – for my author life. Namely, to promote my books, to connect with readers and other authors, and to learn. But was I really doing that? And how was all that social media engagement working for me?

The answers to those were, respectively, not really and not much.

I was torn. On the one hand, I felt that if I committed to an actual social media plan, I could realize the benefits of it to my author life. On the other hand, my depression pumped the brakes because for the meantime, a social media plan is beyond my capability. If I have any energy, I want to spend it on writing.

Then, there was the knowledge that organic reach on social media (the number of people who see my posts without me paying for it) was a thing of the past. I’d have to pay to reach people and I questioned whether social media marketing was worth my efforts, because you have to spend a fair amount of time figuring out how to craft a paid promotion that works and you still have no guarantee that you’ll sell books based upon those ads. I barely had brain power to write, much less spend hours researching how to make the best Facebook ad, track it, analyze my investment/results, tweak my ads, and then start it all over again.

That’s a whole other job, and I salute authors who can do that. I can’t. At least, not right now.

While I was busy struggling with my social media use and what to do about it, Netflix released a docudrama (a hybrid documentary with short, acted vignettes to illustrate points) called The Social Dilemma. One of the people highlighted in the film is Jaron Lanier, who wrote a book called Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. This was a Silicon Valley trailblazer and the father of virtual reality saying we should cut the cord with social media! Incredible, mind-blowing stuff. If you have Netflix, I highly encourage you to watch it, if only to be aware of how you and your data are treated by big tech.

Anyway, that was the straw that broke my internet camel’s back. Nearly all the repercussions of near-constant social media use that Mr. Lanier and others in the film outlined were exactly what I was feeling and experiencing. I spent some time looking into ways that authors can still engage with others – particularly readers – without social media. And let’s be honest, I investigated how to market my books without social media. Truth is, I have to sell books to continue doing what I’m doing. I know you understand this, but it has to be said. Creatives gotta eat too. And that takes money. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.

What Does This All Mean?

Very long story short, I’ve decided to scale down my social media use dramatically. I’m deleting some accounts outright. Others, I’m keeping and will be active but in a smaller, targeted way. And others, I’ll keep open for now, but won’t use. Most importantly, I’m going to use this site more. It’s mine – it’s got my name and everything! I control it. I pay good money to make sure it’s all about me and not what a social media site wants to promote. And I kinda like it here despite having neglected it for so long.

So what does this mean? More blogging. More newsletters. No action on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Some Instagram posts because that’s actually one place I truly enjoy. So many pretty posts! Mine are kind of silly, but I’m a sucker for accounts that have a talent for visual presentation. And so far, Facebook hasn’t messed up Instagram’s ads and “suggested” content algorithm. Meaning, I only see the stuff that actually interests me, and the ads aren’t totally obnoxious. Whew!

I hope that for you, my social media move means we can interact in a meaningful way. I hope people comment on my posts here. I have to confess to not responding to comments in a timely fashion and promise to change my ways. Maybe we’ll get to know each other better without the newsfeeds filled with unwanted ads and videos and suggested content. Or maybe this site will be quiet as the grave. I don’t know. But I’ll feel better about my presence on the internet and I hope you will find it beneficial.

I want to say in closing that no one should take my “I’m leaving most social media” manifesto as a judgment on them. It’s just me understanding my limitations, and taking my mental health and creativity into my own hands.

If you’ve made it to the end, you have my sincere thanks for giving me your time and attention. In our busy lives, the best gift we can give each other is time. I appreciate yours. Take care, and know that I want the best for you.

Now, go read a book!!

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