My son is having some serious psychological and physical problems. He’s seeing a therapist and has great doctors, but he’s missed a lot of school, and his social life is nil. My family is very private and my son’s health is fragile, so there’s no way I would go public with this problem. It would embarrass my son and raise too many questions, which would only make things worse.
Compared to all of this, the reason I’m writing to you sounds very trivial. But it’s a thorn in my side that stings every single day. That thorn is called Facebook. I would never post even the tiniest hint about what my family is going through. In fact, I’m not posting anything at all, because I can’t think of anything remotely cheerful or positive to say. It’s other people’s posts that are upsetting me. I feel like everyone else’s kid is a straight-A student, starring on the sports team, or dressing up to go to their first dance. Heck, these kids don’t even have acne. Meanwhile my son is in rehab.
Every time I see one of these “perfect child” posts, it makes me want to cry. And it’s so hard when it’s a family that I know, because I feel like I have to leave a comment or hit Like. And I just can’t—not without feeling grief stricken about the normal childhood and adolescence that my son has lost. How can I be happy for others when I am so sad for my own family?
Facebook! It’s a blessing and a curse. On the up side, it’s a great way to share photos and news with people we care about. And it’s wonderful to make new “friends,” albeit virtual. On the down side, you could point to several problems. But one of the worst ones is Facebook Envy, which, in my book, should be classified as an actual syndrome.
When you’re mired in a dark hole of what I like to call the “D’s”—depression, disease, divorce, or death—it’s hard to see anything positive about your life. And when everyone else is posting about their shiny and happy news, it casts a shadow that can make your life feel even darker.
But even though it can be hard to believe, there’s a dark underbelly to those bubbly Facebook posts about perfect children. One of my mom friends has a daughter with leukemia. But on Facebook we only hear about the latest adorable thing she’s said. Another trumpets about her sports star son, leaving out the part about being suspended from school for cheating. My own shiny surface is carefully crafted. I take about 20 selfies before one is decent enough for a profile picture. Strategic cropping removes the wattle and the jiggle. And Photoshop filters take care of the crow’s feet. Isn’t that what everyone does? The point being that all you will ever see is the shiny surface that people choose to portray.
If you don’t feel like you have a choice, if there’s nothing you can say that wouldn’t feel hollow or untrue, then my advice can be summed up in one word: Unplug. Reading all those happy posts—even if you know they’re superficial—can feel like salt in a gaping wound. Try taking a media Sabbath, just one day a week when you look at the sky instead of a screen. If a weekly Sabbath isn’t enough, try a media vacation—an entire week or two with no computer, no TV, and only the most necessary use of your phone. And if that’s not enough, a media “leave of absence” might be in order. Go to Facebook and deactivate your account. Your Timeline and everything associated with it will disappear entirely until you choose to reactivate it.
While you’re unplugged, throw yourself into real life. Find friends you can actually hug and talk to. Take a walk in nature instead of looking at Photoshopped sunset pictures. Rather than drooling over a picture of someone else’s dinner, rediscover the pleasures of slow cooking and slow eating.
You’re in a deeply hard and painful place right now, and you don’t have the emotional energy to absorb more anxiety and grief. Unplugging for a day, a week, or a long, long time can help you see the true light of hope and healing in your real life—light that you might have missed in the glare of all those artificial shiny surfaces.