. . .
Dear Swipe This!
Like a lot of people I know, social media fatigue has hit me hard this year. I work from home and scroll through my feeds several times a day; reading 50 hot takes before 8am doesn’t exactly make me feel hopeful.
A couple of weeks ago, I realized I could no longer stomach my Facebook feed. So I logged off and I haven’t looked back since.
Quitting has felt like a big relief. I turned off my news notifications too and now I can check in on the news at my own pace. I still use Twitter and Instagram, but I’m doing more things that make me feel like a human being. I went on a vacation, I’m texting my real-life friends more often, and I’m reading more books and watching movies that aren’t about our nightmarish reality.
But I’m still left with this quiet dread about the state of the world. This country is so broken and I don’t know how to remain hopeful and activated. I do know that it’s for sure not possible when I’m looking at Facebook for eight hours a day.
I try to focus on the positive. There was that young activist, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated the old Democrat moneybag in the Bronx. That made me feel good.
But most of the time I feel really hopeless about our world and its future. I’ve already eliminated the digital habits that were making me feel depleted. So I guess my question is…now what? Do I wander away from civilization? Should I form a small cult for liberal femmes in upstate New York and grow my own radishes?
Seriously, what can I do? Is there a way to feel hopeful and capable of being helpful when things only seem to be getting worse?
Hopeless and Deactivated
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Dear Hopeless and Deactivated,
Congratulations on leaving the soul-sucking confines of Facebook! You’re free! You did it! You got off the tilt-a-whirl and you’ve got your feet on the ground. Sure, you may feel a little nauseated or dizzy. Heck, maybe you need to puke. That’s only natural. But it doesn’t mean you aren’t on the right track.
As far as I’m concerned, the first thing you need to do is give yourself a big pat on the back. Unless you truly do need to puke. Then, by all means, find a restroom and let her rip. But then wash your face, take a look in the mirror and congratulate yourself. You walked away from a habit that was doing you harm. That’s not an easy thing to do. So give yourself some credit! Celebrate yourself! Three cheers for you!
Maybe this sounds saccharine or foolhardy to you; this isn’t how we’re told to behave in dark times. No, we’re supposed to sober up, take stock of what’s wrong, and get straight to work. We’re supposed to put others first. We certainly aren’t told to center ourselves. Especially when so many are at such risk for so much more harm. I’m guessing this is part of why Facebook was making you so sick. In a world where we constantly wake up to even more bad news, who wants to scroll through a constant parade of egos and virtue-signaling? There is something truly nauseating about watching people reaching and grabbing for likes and personal recognition when the world is falling apart at its seams.
But guess what? All that mopey guilt you’re feeling is self-indulgent, too. And beating yourself up sure as hell won’t make you a more effective member of the resistance. So do yourself a favor and fully like your choice to exit the world of Facebook. You did good. And you should be proud, not for a social media audience, but inwardly, for yourself.
The next thing I’d like you to do is give yourself a week off. You don’t have to do anything fancy. You simply have to shut down all your scrolling. Maybe it’s a week where you’re working, but mentally, technologically, and emotionally, I think you owe it to yourself to take seven days to truly rest. You’ve taken one step out the door by leaving Facebook, but it sounds like you’re still toying with the idea of how much you can or should engage with digital scrolling. I do believe there are ways you can healthily engage on these other platforms if you’d like, but you won’t get there if you don’t give yourself permission to truly walk out the door and shut it. You need to step outside and breathe.
You may find that you need to grieve. And that’s OK. You don’t have to feel good during your week off. You have my full permission to wallow. You can get angry. You can even feel hopeless. Whatever you feel, give yourself permission to lean into it. There’s a myth that when we’re doing the right thing we’ll instantly feel better. In my experience, that isn’t true. Sometimes when we take away the stuff that was numbing or distracting us, we have to feel a whole mess of yuck before we start to feel better. So give yourself permission to go to yuck town. And do it in the quiet of a week without social media. Your brain and your nerves will thank you when it’s over.
This part is up to you. And while I am very tempted to encourage you to build the femme-radish paradise of your dreams, I don’t think you’ll gain much satisfaction from running away while the world is on fire. And I don’t think you should make any drastic changes to your life at all, actually.
I think your number one priority should be creating a sense of stability and safety from which you can give of yourself regularly. This means you’ve got to find ways to give yourself extra doses of self-care every week. It may mean rethinking your wind-down routine after a long day staring at screens. However you choose to care for yourself, I hope you will know that being extra tender and gentle in a world that feels harsh is nothing to scoff at. Making tea and moisturizing isn’t going to get you to 10,000 retweets, but it may just be the salve that makes you feel whole enough to keep fighting.
Your second priority should be finding at least one organization whose work aligns with your own beliefs about how we can make this world better and making a commitment to that group. Your commitment can be financial, but I believe you’ll feel more at peace if you make a choice to be more active.
Whatever you choose, I believe you will get the most benefit from staying engaged regularly rather than hopping on the crisis train and donating impulsively when the next big news story breaks. I think it’s fantastic, for example, that RAICES Texas raised over $20 million due to a viral Facebook fundraiser, and I’m so glad that so many were moved to give. But that money is less impactful than if the organization had tripled its annual contributors. Large influxes of cash can certainly help organizations to make bold moves, but they don’t necessarily create the kind of long-term change that you’re hungering for when you speak about changing our dystopian reality.
At this point, you may be saying, “Um, great I already donate money every month. I still feel like the world is on fire.” And oh boy do I feel you. So here’s what I suggest and you may or may not feel like you have the time to do this, but I think it’s the one thing that will actually lift you up: Go small.
If you try to actually stay on top of all the bad news that funnels our way these days and if you try to support every cause, you will undoubtedly suffer from burnout. There is no way to be hopeful when you are looking at everything that is currently wrong with our world. However, if you can pare down your thinking to what is close to your heart and your capacity to give, I promise you there are meaningful ways that you can engage. And doing a little bit consistently over a long period of time with one organization will be far more rewarding than firing off 50 tweets a week about how royally fucked we are as a nation.
So think about the causes that matter to you most (not because the others do not but because something about these causes resonated with you). Then, find a smaller, local organization. A fantastic tool for this is ActionNetwork.org. They have a search tool that allows you to search by zip code or keyword. Once you’ve found a group that appeals to you, I’d recommend that you make an IRL commitment to the group that’s at least once a week, or at bare minimum once a month. If that sounds like a lot to you, think of all the hours you used to carelessly donate to Facebook. You can give an hour a week to something less soul-sucking, and I guarantee you’ll feel energized rather than drained at the end of it.
Coming face to face with others who are working to make things better is one of the best cures I know for the kind of despondent dread you’ve described. Facebook was showing you the worst in people, what you need is to see the best in yourself and others.
I can’t promise you that we will fix our collective garbage fire any time soon. But I can promise you that whatever the outcome, you’ll feel a lot better if you find sustainable ways to show up and align yourself with those who’ve found healthy ways to fight.
Oh, and if you do decide to start that radish cult…please shoot me a line.