Or, at least, this is why I’m trying.
For as long as I can remember, I have suffered from a habit of worrying obsessively about what other people think of me. Preoccupied with the opinions and emotions of others, I sacrificed my own feelings for the good of keeping peace, taking care of others, making sure that everyone around me was happy. I had come to the conclusion that I did not deserve happiness until everyone I knew or knew of was first genuinely happy. I won’t blame all the Catholic schooling because, you know, that would be cause for more shame.
The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages. —Virginia Woolf
Babies and toddlers cannot lie about their emotions. Adults can and do. I learned to read conflicting body language, words and emotions, and became very good at it, or so I thought, at an early age. At the same time, I developed a less useful sense of paranoia about all people and their feelings. The only beings who could be trusted to express themselves authentically were not human. Animals, birds, maybe babies—they were ok. Everyone else was suspect.
Oh gosh, so what the heck does all of this have to do with Facebook? (See? I’m worried about what you’re thinking and feeling right now. You’re bored, aren’t you? You’re thinking I’m a self-absorbed narcissist. Ok, so you don’t like me. Fine. I am pretending to accept that.)
The problem with Facebook is that, for someone like me, who is already preternaturally preoccupied with other people’s emotions, feeling obligated to make sure everyone is ok and liking me in order to feel at ease with myself, Facebook is a dangerous drug.
Facebook: the App of Codependency™
It’s true, see? I trademarked it. All trademarked things on the internet are true.
A psychologist friend of mine once shared a theory with me, that all people everywhere have the potential to become addicted to something. Her thought is that whether or not a person ever engages in addictive behavior depends upon whether or not they find their drug. Some people have multiple, readily accessible and findable drug matches. Others luck out with an obscure drug they never find at the serendipitous low point in their life.
Many people will overuse Facebook, maybe even become dependent upon it, but not everyone will become a Facebook addict. It was not a problem for me from day one. For six years I was an active to heavy user, but I retained some self-control. Then things changed. In order to meet an extreme deadline last year, I almost completely isolated myself from the outside world. Brian, now my fiancé, provided life support—food, wine, dog walking, and long hugs. Other than that, I was socially deprived, and to compensate, I got in the habit of checking email and Facebook before I got out of bed. Snooze iPhone alarm, read Mail, open Facebook, binge, binge, binge! Until I absolutely had to get out of bed. Get up, brush teeth, sit down to work until a dinner plate sat in front of me. Eat, work til 2, sometimes 5am. My mind and body suffered until I got the job done, and kept suffering.
Nearly a year after the start of that project, the pain is constant. I cannot sit at my drafting table or my easel for more than an hour without triggering level 8-10 pain, accompanied by muscle spasms and emotional duress. To be fair, I already had been diagnosed with a condition called cervical spinal stenosis going into last year. It caused me some pain and some numbness in my right shoulder, arm and hand during periods of heavy use, but I had found ways to manage it with acupuncture, exercise, a TENS unit, and anti-inflammatories. These no longer provide relief. I’ve been without insurance for over a year, so my medical resources have been limited for some time. On May 1st I’ll be added to Brian’s insurance. My appointment at the Rothman Institute is May 6th. It has been a long wait.
During that wait, I reached my breakthrough point, found my rock bottom. Not being able to create a drawing, a painting or a design without pain is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. The thought of this being a permanent problem is nearly unbearable.
Creation is my oldest, truest friend. Like animals, it is safe. Without it, who am I? I have always been “Katie, the artist.” From the time I was reading feelings, I was hiding up in my room with my box of art supplies, painting birds in trees. Back then art was pure escape. These days art also represents my independence, my livelihood, my identity, my true feelings, my self.
Back to fricking Facebook. I have come to recognize how much of my creative energy Facebook zaps. I throw hours and hours of meaningless attention to it every morning. And then again 5 minutes later. And then there’s a notification. And oh, who’s birthday is it? I wouldn’t want them to think I didn’t care. And oh, just the News Feed for a few minutes so I don’t feel so alone, just give me a fix of connection with someone, somewhere. Ugh. Not that girl. I didn’t even like her in grade school. Why are we “friends” now? Oh! A video! Yes I do need to know the top 12 reasons I should be doing something that someone else says on someone else’s page that came from a website that generates top # lists just so people share them like this until everyone has seen it and maybe 1/10 of those sharers clicked on an ad on that page accidentally, and so they’re making money, and OH MY GOD IT IS 4:47PM AND I HAVEN’T ACCOMPLISHED ANYTHING TODAY, AND I NEED TO START WRITING, BECAUSE WRITING IS ONE CREATIVE THING I STILL CAN DO WITHOUT HURTING.
In order to start my new career as a writer, I need to stop Facebooking. Hey, if you read this far, I might even have a chance. All I know is, if I spend the same amount of time writing Real things every day that I spend crafting status updates, uploading photos and leaving comments, I’ll get something creative done and be much healthier for it.
*In order to determine how long I had been Facebooking, I had to find the “Joined Facebook” life event on my profile. In the process of searching for it, I was distracted by 6 news stories, 1 video, and 3 notifications—equalling 20 minutes of more wasted time. I can justify it to myself by saying it was a bird video so that’s really research for my next book. Not.
You cannot find peace by avoiding life. —Virginia Woolf
Kate Garchinsky is an artist who draws and writes books about birds. Please do not Like her Facebook page. Instead, follow her blog at PenguinArt.com.