Mostly Fearless With Kat: Getting Offline And Getting Well

Topics: Aging , Health

Hi I'm Kat and I was a Facebook addict. (All together now, “Hi Kat.”) Until recently when I did something that in this day and age is probably considered shocking. I disabled my Facebook page, at least for a while. The truth behind my decision is as simple as it is complex. I have depression.

For those who aren't familiar, depression goes beyond feeling "meh" or "blah." It can mean difficulty just waking up in the morning, and getting out of bed can be an immense struggle. It can make even the best food taste like sand, and it robs you of your ability to process emotions. Happiness feels completely out of reach.

Add anxiety to the mix and you've got all the negative gremlins running free in your head telling you how ridiculous you are, how you should get up off the sofa instead of sitting there like a lazy fool, and do something. Except that the mere thought of doing something is somewhere between utterly overwhelming and simply uninspiring.

I am what's known as a high-functioning depressive. Even when I'm in the midst of what I call a “crash,” I still know I have responsibilities and take them seriously. I do haul my butt out of bed on workdays, and do my job and I try to carry on conversations with people and do all the things that people do when they're not ill. During the difficult times, however, it just takes so much energy that by the time the day ends I'm spent.

Depression like mine is an actual medical issue caused by an imbalance of important chemicals in the brain. There are also external factors that play a role. Winter is especially difficult because the lack of light can be problematic. Endless stretches of gray, rainy days can also be a struggle. I'm already out of energy from "keeping up appearances" (because sadly, talking about depression is still largely taboo), and the lack of sunshine makes me feel even more like sleeping. All. The. Time.

Not too long ago, I realized that something else was having an impact on my mental well being: Facebook. When I first signed on to Facebook years ago, I loved it for its ability to keep me connected to people I'd either lost touch with or am far away from geographically. It was a wonderful way for me to see photos from their adventures and share my own.

But in time, social media became more and more often a place of negativity and hate. Its anonymity seemed to allow people to say whatever they wanted to others without fear. It brought bullying to frightening heights, and sadly played a role in too many suicides (even one is too many).

These days, with our current political climate, I couldn't scroll through my news feed without seeing a slew of hate-filled posts, no matter how much I edited my preferences or “unfollowed” people.

As an "old school" woman who grew up in the far less technological '80s, I not only remember the thrill of owning our first microwave, but also recall with fondness the pleasure derived from physically hanging with my friends, having long conversations that ended in the wee hours. I remember hitting the road for drives, ideally with the windows down and the music up. There were no cell phones to turn off. It was just me, my pals, and whatever adventure awaited us. I remember engaging in life fully, my only "screen time" coming when I was allowed to watch TV on rainy days.

Now, it seems like so many people are more comfortable connecting in virtual reality. It's easier to message someone than it is to actually talk in person. It's easier to suggest cool things to do than actually do them. To throw up a few "look what I did today" photos than it is to put the phone down and be there.

I'd been talking for a while about taking a break from Facebook, and even enjoyed some "digital detox" weekends, but a plunge in my mood told me it was time for more. Time for a real change.

I've come to know myself and my depression well, and know that when I am taking care of myself (through exercise, yoga, and yes, medication), I feel well. The gremlins are quiet and I feel excited about life. When I am taking care of myself, I'm busy enjoying my moments and less apt to take too many things to heart, or worse, personally. When I'm taking care of myself, my attachments to social media are limited, and my investment in it minimal.

After one more afternoon lost to mindlessly scrolling through posts that did nothing to improve my state of mind, I realized that I'd grown tired, and not just from the drain on my energy my depression puts on me when it rears its head. I have tired of negativity, of the assumption that posting hurtful words online isn't as damaging as saying them to someone's face. I'm tired of connections that aren't, and spending time in front of a screen that gets me nowhere.

So, I've gone dark. I've headed offline. I'm making the choice to get out of virtual reality and start engaging in the upside of life. Facebook and all that comes with it have had an extremely negative impact on my mental health. But because I am in tune with myself and my symptoms, I know what will help me and heal me: Time. Time doing things that I love - paddleboarding, finding new places to hike and walk, swimming, seeing movies, painting, singing, reading great (and not-so-great) books, visiting favorite places, and, ideally, actually getting together with people.

My goal is to reach a place where I forget about Facebook entirely because I'm so busy loving my life. I know I will still have challenges and dark days. That's the reality of mental illness. (Yes. I said it.) But I intend to do everything I can to keep that darkness at bay, starting with stepping away from the screen and into my crazy, beautiful, messy, imperfect, joyous, frustrating, wild, adventurous, uplifting, enriching, soulful, wonderful life.

Depression isn't a joke. It's not just “an off day” or someone acting moody. It impacts millions of people, from children and teens, to adults, men and women, and can be debilitating. If you know someone struggling, be supportive and be patient. What you perceive as aloof and detached might actually be someone filled with fear and a profound sorrow they're having difficulty climbing out of. The judgment of others only makes things worse, so be kind. We're doing the best we can, including me, somewhere far away from Facebook.

If you struggle with depression or feelings of self-harm, please seek professional help or call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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