There is Life After Facebook

Almost a year ago I did the unthinkable and pulled the plug on Facebook.

The momentous event was not without just cause – I ran my mouth off through my fingers for the final time, brought brimstone and hellfire down upon myself, hurt my company, and created a situation for my business partner that she did not deserve. I had lost perspective, lost control, and got so caught up in my entitlement that my judgement went out the window.

And so, that final straw motivated me to, without warning or much preconception, close down my account.

I pulled the trigger, and it was done.

I’d spent 11+ years on Facebook – documenting my life, my children’s lives, the decline of my marriage, my teen’s struggle with anxiety, my youngest’s hilarious commentary, my recovery from chronic illness – putting out more information about myself and my children for public consumption than I should have. I built two businesses, I ran groups, I connected people, I validated myself, I built followings, I lost followings, I made friends and I lost friends, and I threw HOURS of my life away due to…mindlessness. And with one fell swoop, I deleted that entire record.

I have not once regretted the decision.

When I left Facebook, I set the wheels in motion for a year long journey (and it’s far from over) of discovery about what mindfulness is really about. It’s one thing to read about a concept, to nod in all seriousness and say, “That’s what I gotta work on.” It’s another thing entirely to actually put the concept into practice. And for the first time in my life, I opened my eyes and agreed to finally take a look at all the excuses I had been making, all the self-victimization I’d been revelling in, all the time I’d been throwing away, and all the people I’d been impacting with my tunnel vision, and be with myself.

I thought I’d feel more loss. I thought I NEEDED Facebook to stay relevant, to stay connected, to validate my existence. Everyone who is anyone is on there. I have a friend who refuses to communicate with intention anywhere except for on Messenger or in real life. My followers needed me to navigate the minefields of their own lives. Without me to speak the truths they were shying away from, how would they find fulfilment in their lives, their families, their work, their sex lives, their creative projects? How would they know that they could question the status quo? How would they know that their pelvis floors could be fixed, that they could live without grains, that they didn’t have to love every moment (or any moment) of their parenting experiences, if I didn’t tell them so?

More importantly, how would I know that I existed if I wasn’t documenting, second-by-second, the inner workings of my mind?

If I thought a thought, and didn’t post it on Facebook, what value did it hold?

The first few weeks after leaving Facebook were exciting. No one was sure that I’d be able to stick to my guns. My friends were certain that I’d break and go running back. But when I make a decision of this magnitude, my tendency is to honour it, and this was one that HAD to be permanent. And not just for my sake. Yes, mental wellness was at risk, but my behaviour was affecting too many of my loved ones for me to continue as I had been.

The novelty wore off and I was left with time. But I had other challenges to navigate – my business was struggling, my daughter’s health concerns were eclipsing my vision, my relationship with my boyfriend was on the rocks – I was not at a loss for things to worry about. I did not have the groups I’d created or been part of to read my rants and cheer me on as they had for many years, and this proved to be a gift. It forced me to recognize my true friendships, that ones that existed in real time, in real life, face-to-face, in ways that truly nurture. I read Johan Hari’s Lost Connections and understood what social media does to the human psyche, and I understood the deception of Facebook and how much it has hurt humanity, and how happily I’d participated in that deception.

At the end of January, three months after I left Facebook for good, my relationship with my boyfriend closed its first chapter, and I faced myself as a single person for the first time in over 20 years. I didn’t realize until that moment how much more resilient I’d become as a result of my departure from the social media beast. I’d dealt with pretty big identity loss and lived to tell the tale, and I could do it again. While the loss of my relationship was incredibly painful, I was able to look at the opportunities it provided to dig more deeply into my mindfulness practice, to take stock of my reactive behaviours, to identify the messages that swept in to cover up boredom, sadness, loneliness, and fear. I became aware of how uncomfortable it was to sit with my own thoughts, and how quick I was to use dating apps as crutches so that the plethora of messages attesting to my beauty and my desirability would remind me of my value. I used the opportunity to cultivate the notion that I could indeed participate in the fun of making new connections but I could do so with intention, deliberately, on my own terms, and as distraction when I WANTED it, but not because I thought I needed it.

I read and read and read. On Instagram (yes, I was still there pretty much full time), I followed #mindfulness and #zenbuddhism and dipped my toes into the crystal clear waters of Buddhism, happily discovering that I was already embodying many of the intentions of the belief system. I adopted the hashtag #closetbuddhist . I sat with my thoughts, and when that became unbearable, I wrote positive little blurbs on IG, turned to a distracting tv show in a foreign language so I’d have to pay attention and read subtitles, or texted with a friend. My phone remained in my hand at most times, but I did feel that I was making progress.

When my boyfriend and I resumed our relationship four and a half months later, I had built myself a brand new toolbelt, and I deleted the dating apps without second thought, excited to be back with my growth partner, and to continue on the next leg of my journey. I knew I was capable, finally, of being in the present moment for at least a small portion of my day-to-day. And I was determined to extend the time that I could sit quietly in the presence of another without needing to ping constantly for mental stimulation.

I learned that I am fully capable of validating my own existence, and that I can sit with my thoughts, think them, and NOT share.

I learned that it’s advantageous to meet a new person who doesn’t know everything about me before we meet because there’s no detailed record of my thought process on social media. I get to decide which Ilana they meet, and I choose how much they get to know about me.

Boredom was a big problem for a few months as I committed to not taking on any projects unless I felt desire in my bones, and as I learned to feel the yearning for distraction but not respond to it. I was deathly afraid of becoming an uninteresting, invisible person, and I sat with that fear until it told me that I was still living in search of validation from extrinsic sources.

I had learned that I was capable of delaying gratification. I had identified the areas of my life in which I was reacting out of perceptions of scarcity. I’d looked at my relationship with my family and accepted it for what it is. I looked at my children and become grateful for them rather than resentful of the workload they impose on me (spoiler alert – I still do not like parenting at all, but I realized that they are finally old enough that I could implicate them in the care of themselves. So now we’re more or less on the same team, which makes me feel a LOT less like I’m in this thing alone, and allows me to enjoy them as the beautiful humans that they are).

I learned that I have limits. I learned that there are MANY areas of life that I suck at more than I care to admit, and that there are others who do things much better, so I learned that I can ask or pay others to do those things. I learned that I don’t want to be the best at everything, and that appearing to be for the sake of image crafting takes an enormous toll on mental health.

I am working on becoming the Queen of Healthy Boundaries. I am working on building interdependent relationships, not co-dependent ones. I am working on meeting people where they stand and resisting the temptation to do emotional labour for others, because that is something I am REALLY good at, but it’s not good for any of us.

I am working on co-steering my business into a future than absolutely needs it to be big and thriving and impacting on how people consume. I am working on structuring my processes and being efficient with my time and training my brain to concentrate on one thing at a time again. I’m releasing dependence on distractions.

Three weeks ago, on a trip to Boston for a wonderful weekend with my boyfriend, I lost my taste for Instagram. I left my phone in my bag except for when I needed to navigate around the city or respond to one of my children, and I was present with him. We took a few perfunctory pictures. I posted one or two, days later, without any real sense of conviction.

I check Instagram once a day now, at most, and there’s nothing there I really want to look at.  I’ll post a photo every few days, without much taste for it, because I do still love the power of Timehop to remind me of how far I’ve come, year to year. If I don’t post, it doesn’t record my personal history. I open the app, start to scroll, and then my shift kicks in and I feel bored to death by the mindlessness of the action. I wish my favourite psychology accounts wrote newsletters that would deliver by email to my inbox, like the good old days. But I also feel like I’ve learned so many of the lessons that they share that I no longer need the hits of info bytes to keep me aligned with my mission.

The last time I sat down to write on Medium was in March. Today, I sat and wrote out my thoughts in a structured manner without interruption, without picking up my phone, without dings and buzzes and whirs to give me that dopamine hit I used to be so dependent on. Today, I could sit for many more hours and write newsletter content for my business even though it’s a Sunday, because I can focus, and it doesn’t feel less exciting than posting on Instagram and checking for likes.

Life needs to be a process of regularly and periodically identifying and tearing down the structures that no longer serve us, of clearing away the rubble and commotion, and sometimes of letting the landscape of our mind lie fallow for a bit so that varied species of imagination can gain footing and re-invigorate the soil.  As a life-long perpetual motion machine, I never believed in the power of stillness, and that was fair because it didn’t serve me to be still. Until it did.

Mindfulness practice needs to be accompanied by vigilance. Habits take time to stick. Patience is always a virtue but never more so when we are working towards critical change. Some shifts happen overnight and some come after repeated failures and redirection. There is no one way to do things, but every direction brings lessons.

I’m still tearing down old structures but I’m not in a hurry to rebuild. I trust the foundations that I’ve built, and I’m allowing them to hold and nuture me for a while before I get up and walk with determination again. There is doing even in the undoing and the idea of being now feels just as fulfilling as the idea of doing once did.

If you’re considering departing from Facebook once and for all, I support you. If you feel you want to stay but need to work on better boundaries, I applaud you. My choice was necessary for me, but it’s not necessarily a universally applicable one. But if you do make the choice to leave, know that time marches on outside of that virtual world. I’m proof that there is life after Facebook.

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