2020 took everyone I know through the ringer. My work is specifically with teenagers, as a high school counselor, and while they typically get a bad reputation for being sassy and not always kind, I have the opportunity to see a different side to them, most days. When we made the switch (I officially detest the word “PIVOT” now, as in “we are going to PIVOT to virtual learning”. That word used to make me giggle thinking about the episode of Friends with the couch on the stairs, but now, not so much) to virtual learning in March, due to Covid-19 regulations the week before spring break, I honestly thought we would return at the beginning of April. April and May are the cuhraziest months in schools, as we try to navigate graduation, prom, awards, testing, spring fever, CAP conferences, assemblies, and just all of the general busy/happiness that accompanies spring in a high school. But all of that came to a very screeching, silent halt.
Like most people, I tried to make the most of at home learning and working from home, since I was blessed to be able to do that, and turned heavily to social media. 2019 was not kind to my family, and going into 2020, we knew we faced a year of grieving the loss of my dad. I went through all of the ugly steps of grief, angry, sad, thankful to know that my dad is in heaven and out of pain, and back to angry, sometimes all in a day (whew). Since long ago I adopted the concept of transparency on social media, and being who I am all the time, in every part of my life (sorry for all of the office dancing and show tunes), everyone got a front row seat to the show, yikes.
I think my snapping moment with social media was Christmas Eve, 2020. I was scrolling away, because that what I would do for hours on end, just scroll and scroll, and saw my 100th picture of a family in matching pajamas, in front of a mound of perfectly wrapped presents. I remember that Christmas growing up was always so magical, and I know from those Polaroid pictures and tiny square pictures from the 80s and 90s, that the mound of presents I remember from my childhood was really quite modest. The magic came from my parents, from baking cookies, to the Christmas programs at school and at church, from the security of knowing just how much my sweet parents loved us. I do remember a specific Christmas gift now and then, but I remember that magic of stockings on Christmas morning more than anything. I even remember how excited I was to have my parents open the gifts I had picked out for them. As Cole gets older, I do think he is learning that Christmas is so much more than a pile of gifts. BUT, I recognize that you never know that whole big story behind a picture. Maybe that family has faced some unbelievable odds this year, maybe they have faced huge losses, a job or a family member gone too soon, and they are just going through the motions of trying to make things seem normal. I get it, I don’t remember much about Christmas of 2019, losing my dad just a short week before. A few days after my snapping moment, I was waiting to check out at Hobby Lobby, and am always so drawn into their book section. I found “The 40-Day Social Media Fast”, by Wendy Speake, and felt like this may be something I needed in my life, having logged off of social media with such irritation a couple of days before.
I have always admired people who can fast and focus on what matters most to them. For the last few years, I have played with the concept of Lent, doing 40 bags in 40 days to get rid of the nonsense in my junk drawers, pantry and life; I am a master of eliminating junk from my diet, since I know how much better I feel when I do; and I quote Dave Ramsey ad nauseum, I believe in his theories about paying off debt so that I can be able to provide for my little family and give so much more to those who need it. But ceasing the noise of my constant social media interactions and putting down my phone because I realize as a mental health profession that I am addicted to constantly interacting with 2000 people I barely even know? NONSENSE.
After praying about this little book I bought at Hobby Lobby, I started reading, still not convinced I had to do it. I read the foreward and the guidelines and then moved on to Day one, and that’s where I felt that sting, my friends. The author, who does a social media fast every year, because she says that social media and sugar are her two issues. “God wants us focused; Satan loves us frazzled. God wants us devoted; Satan loves it when we’re distracted. God wants us content; Satan loves us discontent- dissatisfied, depressed and dejected. God wants us to know His incomparable love, while the devil wants us comparing our lives with other as we search for a different sort o love, a love that looks more like “likes”. “
I didn’t like to think of myself as someone who needed the constant approval and feedback of everyone in my life, but if not, why was I constantly posting on multiple social media accounts, my mind moving all the time, thinking of this angle or that post, and if people would respond well (I blame all of my time spent in direct sales for that nonsense in my brain, mostly)? I realized that I had a stinking problem with social media. I told my mama, Cole (the actual human who makes me keep all of my promises), the people at work who expect me to post for work, and anyone who would listen that I desperately needed to unplug from social media for a hot minute. I did, however, put the guideline on my short fast that I would log in every day to retrieve my social media memories to savor, because I didn’t want to miss anything about Cole, my mom or my dad.
I happened to be home with Cole from school and work one day when he had strep, and that’s when some great big world news happened. I went to switch some game show on for him on Hulu (he is basically a little old man, he loves his game shows) and instead found the National news discussing the chaos in Washington DC instead. After being completely out of it for several days, I felt a little bit like I needed to go back into my rabbit hole. I was suddenly very thankful to be off of social media, away from the tweets, the memes and the chaos. I realized at that moment how at peace my mind had been, away on vacation for a few days from the constant posting and scrolling.
As my fast continued, I saw how much I just naturally grab my phone and go to Facebook or Instagram, checking my notifications. I realized how much of my life I have undoubtedly missed by staring at my phone. I know that I have been using social media to help me cope with sadness and grief, and just as a connection to other humans. How shameful when I can see most people in person every day now?
Now that my 40 days is over, I know I have to put boundaries on my social media time, in general. I do utilize social media for several parts of my life, so totally getting rid of it is out of the question. But I do need to exhibit some self control. The author, Wendy Speake, suggests a few rules that she set for herself.
- Choose when to be online- I can see staying completely off until Cole goes to bed. I already have to share my time with him with his dad, so I want him to know that I am all in on his little life. At some point in this book, the author asked the question, “what if you interacted with your spouse and your kids as much as you interact with people online?”. Most people use social media as a way to get away from the reality of their lives. It’s when you’re constantly getting away and not paying attention to the people right in front of you when you know you need to set some boundaries.
- Unfollow people whose posts cause you to feel stress or negativity- YES. Facebook snooze is your friend, my friend. This last year of all of the political and Covid arguments made me understand that simply gently snoozing or unfollowing someone might be the best way for us to stay friends.
- Create a feed that feeds- Social media is not all bad at all. God wants us to meet people where they are, and they are all on social media. You can use your social media to encourage people rather than discourage them. The stress of watching people argue online with hostile disagreements is not something I just noticed (and I am probably guilty of that too, seriously) but going dark for a minute really hammered the point home that God calls us to be the light of the world, and we can still be gentle with people and disagree with them. Day 32 deals specifically with fasting from fighting online, and there is so much wisdom in the words there.
- Turn off your notifications, hide your apps, or take social media entirely off of your phone- I have used the excuse for several years that marketing our school is a big chunk of my job, but let’s be honest, I would post for work, and then stay and stay and stay. Seeing that little IG square or Facebook notification sign is like scratching an itch, and it’s difficult to turn off in your head.
- Take a social media sabbatical every Sunday- In the words of this brilliant author, “If God called us to lay down work for one day a week, I imagine that’s the day I should lay down my phone as well. #fundaysunday is a popular hashtag, but that doesn’t mean you need to share your fun online with everyone”. I am looking forward to keeping the Sabbath in this way too.
- Take a 40-Day Social Media Fast every year- Yes! If you have done it once, you can do it again. This fast really opened up my eyes to how much time I was spending online, mostly mindlessly.
- Keep following the One who set you free- We have all faced so many issues in the last year, and it’s so easy to become distracted away from our purpose in life. I hope I can continue to keep tabs on myself and my time online, because the amount of time I was spending was pretty shameful.
*I do realize that so many of the people we love the most, my mama, for one, is battling the loneliness of being mostly home, during this pandemic time, and getting used to her new life as widow. She values her connections to family and friends online, and her time online is pretty healthy, because she knows when to disconnect to stick her head back into a good book. Like the author says, social media is not all bad, if you use it the right way.