Writings

Scrolling is dopamine

For the past few years, I have been attempting to eliminate toxic elements in my life. One of my biggest detractors was Facebook.

Earlier this year, I began deleting all my social media accounts. Instagram was easy. I only ever uploaded six photos and rarely logged in and disliked the platform. I had three twitter accounts. One of those accounts had more than 7,600 followers. I originally joined in 2009, but, as time progressed, I found Twitter to be increasingly toxic and stopped logging in. By the time I deleted the accounts in the Spring of 2021, I only logged in to keep the accounts alive for nostalgic reasons.

Facebook was far more difficult. The account I deleted 10 days ago was my third. It had its hooks in me even when I tried to walk away.

Despite an extreme downturn in my mental health over the course of August and into early September, deleting Facebook was still on my mind. The thought of why I wasn’t able to take that final step worried me. Toxic people were unfollowed some time ago, but it didn’t help. I still found myself aimlessly scrolling.

Those terrible days also led to something else. I was becoming something I didn’t like. My posts had changed. I was no longer posting things for me. There was a thought of “will so-and-so like this post?” Then, I would sit and wait to see if the person like the post.

When I began reflecting on what I was doing, it caused a cascading affect in my brain and I recognized this was why I hadn’t made a blog post in two months. There was a fight going on internally to not write anything on my blog because it might make someone upset. This is not me. This is not why I write. The only person who ever should be made happy with my blog is me.

Facebook is designed to either speak to an echo chamber or scream a lot. I found myself sad and/or angry whenever I logged in. This is intentional on Facebook’s part even if you read the studies or felt it yourself. It is why we need to isten to what Facebook whistle blower Frances Haugen has been saying.

One of the main things she revealed, and I’ve known for a long time, is Facebook has an extremely complex algorithm, one which studies what a person posts, likes, shares, and comments on in order to profile each individual. They are then fed similar content to remain engaged on the site. Even with this knowledge, I couldn’t stop logging in.

While I was completely alone in battling my mental health, by the time the anniversary of the worst day of my life passed, something else had broken – in a good way – in my brain. Hiking for two days at Fort Robinson provided me the time to not be on the internet and reflect on where I wanted my life to be going. When I returned, my therapist was relieved at the positive change in my mental health, but, more importantly, I didn’t want to log online at all anymore.

I deactivated my Facebook account and logged out on September, 27. It will “officially” be deleted in 30 days. Facebook has always felt like an addiction.

Last Tuesday, the day after I left Facebook, my therapist asked me how I felt, I asked her to ask me again in a week because I didn’t know. A mix of euphoria and “fear of missing out” were competing in my brain. Now, I feel relieved and free.

I know I’m going to miss out on things, but that’s okay. My mental health has to come first and Facebook was slowly destroying it.

The human brain is not designed for the amplified socialization which Facebook enables. It’s too easy to end up in an echo chamber. It’s also too easy to demoralize and dehumanize others and treat them like garbage. The ability Facebook has to addict people to anger has divided society and I want no part of it.

There are some who will say I will be more isolated without Facebook. Quite the contrary. I never felt more isolated than when I was on Facebook. I moved to Scottsbluff as an adult. I had less than five friends, all of whom lived in other countries. At age 37, it is difficult to wedge your way into other people’s lives, especially in a small town where everyone already has their friend groups in place. I didn’t make a single friend until I was 43 and found a copy editor at the Scottsbluff Star-Herald who didn’t think I was a complete tool. All Facebook did was amplify those feelings of isolation rather than allow me to be happy with my life.

Ten days isn’t long, but my mental health has improved. I have been able to focus on my mental health issues, which must always take precedence in order for me to heal, grow, and move on with my life. After spending August and September fatigued due to 3-4 hours of sleep per day, at best, and fighting off flashbacks, I’ve slept the past two days in a row.

Rather than tear people down, I want to build everything up. If my writing has any influence in other peoples’ lives, I want it be uplifting and thought-provoking. I don’t want the artificial sense of satisfaction of Facebook. I want to do something worthwhile.

I plan to concentrate on my own writing from now on. I will continue to write all the things here I’ve always written, including updates on my struggles and successes with mental health. I have also opened up a Substack account with the hope of gaining enough subscribers over time to make it a financially viable alternative to always giving away my writings for free. A major goal is to have enough paid subscribers to make a living. I’m confident I can do it. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t matter. I write for me. If someone else enjoys it, all the better.

The plan is to publish a post a week here, hopefully every Wednesday. I will post something every Monday on Substack, with the goal of an additional story on Thursdays. If you’d like to subscribe to my Substack account, you can do so by clicking here.

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5 Comments

  1. Irene

    A friend has pointed me toward this excellent New York Times column where Lauren McKowen compares her struggle to leave Instagram with that of getting sober.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/01/well/mind/instagram-quit.html

  2. Found your blog through your comment on Wil Wheaton’s site. Am debating the FB deletion, so reading your experience was valuable, thanks for posting it.

  3. As always, Irene, thank you for your candor. I, too, struggle with the effects of social media on my mental health and find myself continually thinking about walking away altogether. I believe our brains have been changed by these platforms.

    Mostly I tell myself that since I am aware of the problem I should be able to counteract the negative consequences and carry on using FB and IG as usual. I particularly struggle as a visual artist feeling that if I don’t have these accounts, I won’t be able to promote my art.

    I think many, many people are on the same path in trying to separate themselves from it all. I hope to do the same very soon. My website and blog are in the works and I will find ways to independently share my work. Thank you for the inspiration. I am extremely happy for and wish you all the best.

    • Irene

      I’m sure we’ll be seeing even more studies over the next few years showing just how much social media has changed our brains. At least for me, it made my mental health worse.

      I also understand the issue with, I know it’s bad for me and I know how it manipulates you psychologically, but it still reels you in and keeps you on the site.

      As a writer and photographer, I also struggled with deleting the account because it was where I promoted my work. I know whenever my memoir is accepted and published, it will be expected to have social media accounts and that is going to hinder me greatly. It took a long time, but I’m at peace with the fact that, if it means I don’t get published, then I don’t get published. It is a difficult choice and I understand why artists find it hard to leave social media. It is a huge draw for potential new viewers/customers/fans. I wish I had a better answer for you.

      As for your website, when you get it up and running, let me know. I’d be happy to promote it here.

      • Thank you, Irene. I appreciate the support. You have mine as well and no matter the path we choose as creatives, the work will get out there. I admire your determination and talent.

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