Things fall apart.
“I am so happy I’m not on social media!” I practically yell it out. We are at our favourite spot drinking and chatting. I’m venting. I cannot believe my luck. In August, I left a life behind, a life I thought would last a lifetime. I don’t remember September. I got so scared by October I printed out a calendar and made a single promise to myself: All I needed to do for the next three months was get through each and every day by any means necessary; by all means necessary. I expected nothing else of myself, and nothing beyond. I put a big fat X when I woke up each morning. It surprised me, and at times delighted me, my sheer will to keep on living. You won’t die from sadness, that’s an important lesson, but unplugged, undistracted, and offline, I had no choice but to face my life head on with a trembling heart and shaky soul until I found heaven again.
I have been quitting social media since 2011, long before any of us realized the cost of a slot-machine in our pockets. Facebook was the first to go; fuelled by teenage love obsession. It is what it is. Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr followed a couple years later, in succession, in a fit of utter exhaustion and contempt for platforms that kept me up all night while pretending to write an essay due that morning. Twitter took three attempts. It’s not easy to walk the path less travelled but it is greener I learn as I go along the less beaten path, and always affirming.
That Friday evening, sitting across my friend, it hits me all at once. I haven’t had to be reminded of the life I left behind since the day I left it all behind. None of it. None outside of the memories trapped in a mind too stubborn to forget, despite my pleading, reasoning, and begging to get over it. I still see the old faces everywhere; at the train station, walking down the street, at the store. My heart skips momentarily before logic takes over; hundreds of miles away, this cannot be him, her. A stranger’s face comes to focus instead.
But I haven’t had to be reminded of the life I left behind since the day I left it all behind. Not on Facebook, nor Twitter, or Instagram. The last day I saw people with my own two eyes is the last day I saw them. The last thought I know from them is the one they told me themselves. No more, no less. The last time they existed, as far as I am concerned, is in the flesh back in August. I cannot believe my luck. I didn’t quit social media thinking that one day my world will come crashing down and barely able to stand under its weight, barely able to breathe, I would be thankful I won’t have to be reminded of the the damage left behind on Facebook or Instagram. Nonetheless, I am grateful. I cannot fathom how heavier it would have felt, trying to forget, trying to move on, all the while Facebook constantly reminding me of the remains of an old life. What good would that have done for me? For others? It is true what they say, “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Then there are the photos. Thousands of them. I want to delete them all, one by one. The thought alone exhausts me. Until I realize there is no rush to undo the memories right now, or ever. They are in my camera roll, not on Facebook; I can take my time, my phone has plenty of extra space for more memories. So I leave the photos alone. When I feel strong enough, brave enough, I will go through them one by one; delete, delete, delete. Even better than the photos, I didn’t have to delete anyone; unfollow, unfriend, be unfollowed, unfriended. How lame, I think. How cruel, too. Isn’t it devastating enough to lose it all? Do I have to go on Facebook and undo it one by one too? Do you know how heavy a loss can feel? Empty and heavy at the same time, can you believe it? What does Facebook know about that? It only cares to update me, remind me of a past I cannot care about anymore. I can’t believe my luck.
If you’re going through hell, it is better to not be reminded of other people’s paradise.
When I got accepted into my Masters program, my friend said to me, “I don’t know how you do it, I would be wanting to post about that all over my Instagram.” It was summer 2016; the summer of Bombay Sapphire mixed with cheap wine, really good music, and warm city nights spent making plenty bad decisions. I smile sheepishly. Despite the achievement of starting my postgraduate degree the following Fall, those carefree summer nights would be followed by the worst times of my life. I didn’t get to gloat about my postgraduate acceptance, but I was grateful to avoid comparing my hell of a life to other’s heavenly highlights on Instagram. This time around I feel the same sense of relief. I can’t fathom seeing other people going on about their days, posting the highlights of their days, week, life, as if life didn’t just end for me, like the world didn’t stop spinning. I avoid it all with one decision I made a long, long time ago.
I don’t have any desire to post either; Not for pity, nor to boast. I don’t need to prove how my life, despite the chaos that ensued, despite the price it cost me, despite, despite, despite, is going now. I cannot fathom to live another moment of my old life, but I would still hate to be reminded of it while going about my day, quickly checking Facebook on my lunch break to be confronted with a tagged photo of a friend of a friend of a friend. It feels cruel. Does the algorithm ever account for loss, sadness, pain, deep-to-your-core grief? Does it ever consider what wounds its never-ending curated content could open up, poke at, make bleed all over again? Is there a setting for ‘not now, please, not this, my world is falling apart’? Or would the algorithm only knows to, cares to, recommend you befriend the old life you left behind? Do you know this person? No, not anymore. What’s on your mind? I can barely breathe, I wish I were dead. I write it in my journal instead. I can burn it all when I feel better, when I know better. They say the internet is forever.
You are not alone.
I don’t have social media to comfort me, distract me, keep me company. I feel alone, I tell my friend, choking up because my pride is too strong to admit defeat, but I feel so goddamn alone. She says these four words that will anchor me from August until early November: “you are not alone.” I had no reason to believe her then, but with nothing to lose, I hold onto those words for dear life.
I reach out to everyone I know; “Hey girl, I’m back in Canada. Let’s hang out!” And it surprises me, and delights me; the tea party was the first invitation I forced myself to go to, then there was the mental health workshop my friend paid for and where I’d meet a really good friend that sustains me through October, then there was the jazz festival on an unusually warm October day, lunch with a friend that leads to a job, Thanksgiving dinners, birthday parties that lead to more friends, more invites, Friday’s at Kensington, brunch at restaurants I can’t afford, Halloween, live shows, museums, sleepovers, oh and the phone calls and texts: “I’m sorry,” “Are you okay?” “I love you,” “you are so strong,” “I’m here if you need anything,” “you’ll be fine,” “Let me know if you need anything,” “I’m so happy you’re back,” “we love you so much.” It surprised me, and delighted me, to learn I am not alone and all it takes it a tiny bit of effort, how one thing leads to another, how there are all these people all around me, caring about me, cheering on me, dotting on me, if only I pay a little more attention to my life, if only I show up.
“It’s like that quote,” my friend says to me as I sip on my drink “‘easy decisions, hard life, hard decisions, easy life.’” “Yes, yes, yes!!!!” I say beaming, and I feel it, I have made the right decision by getting off social media.
Until next time,
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