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Facebook History: Beyond like, wow, weep, giggle, or grr

Facebook and other social media notoriously distort our sense of what is normal. The ceaselessly updating parade of unsorted images and ideas makes the world more hectic, more urgent, and at the same time more trivial and ephemeral, so that we feel the need instantly drum up a response to everything large and small — but then it all evaporates in a few hours, and the next urgent thing presents itself, demanding that you like, wow, weep, giggle, or grr.

Within five minutes, there’s an earthquake and lots of people are dead! Vote on my cute kid in a chef’s hat! I’m outraged that your senator was outrageous (or maybe it’s from a fake newspaper that’s lying and calling it “satire”)! Here’s a cartoon about the uterus! Pope Francis is a demon! Pope Francis is a genius! Pope Francis is a piece of soap; here’s where you can get yours! Only you can stop abortion and sex trafficking and fluoride and Kanye West! BABY OWLS! And abortion.

Like the man says:

For the world is broken, sundered, busted down the middle, self ripped from self and man pasted back together as mythical monster, half angel, half beast, but no man.

You said it, Walker.

Well, mythical monster though I may be, I have hit upon something useful and unexpected that Facebook is doing for me — something that turned out to be great for my mental health: It’s showing me my memories from previous years.

At first, I thought the “See your memories” option was a cute feature, but just another way to wallow. But after a while, I noticed a pattern. At the beginning of the year, last year, and the year before, and the year before that, and so on, I had posted a series of articles that got tons of attention. It was really good work! I was doing real writing, and expressing myself with force and originality, and opening the floor for lots of fruitful conversation among thoughtful people.

Then, I saw that sometime toward the middle of Lent, last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, I posted a bunch of articles about struggling — about feeling flat — about not feeling what everyone else was feeling. There are lots of essays about feeling lost, feeling helpless, feeling like a wanderer and a loser.

I’d have to be blind not to see it — but I couldn’t see it, when I was in the middle of it. I have a burst of creativity in the beginning of the year, and I can hardly catch up with all the wonderful ideas that spring up out of nowhere. And then it all drains away, and I start feeling about as useful, appealing and energetic as something that washed up under the boardwalk.

When I’m doing great, I think, “Yes! It’s finally coming together! This is what I’m supposed to be doing! Now I need to make sure I’m taking advantage of this special, unique time in my life and not missing any opportunities!” When I’m barely keeping my head above water, I think, “Yes. I’ve finally been found out. I’m a shallow fraud, and now everyone will know it. Whatever razzle dazzle fakery that was, the fuse has burnt down, and I better scramble for a back-up plan, because now the slow death begins.”

Yes, I’m in therapy, thanks.

The crazy thing was, this was the pattern no matter what else was going on in my life. New baby, old baby, pregnant, looking for work, just about to get hired, kids doing great, kids falling apart . . . the pattern was the same.

I still don’t know what’s causing it. Is it the weather? Is it how much sunlight or sugar or iron I’m getting? Is it the liturgical year? Is it marsh gas? All of the above? Who knows? The point is, now I know that this pattern is part of what’s normal for me. Whatever stage I’m in right now, it’s just a stage, and it won’t last forever. It’s immensely liberating to realize this. If you’re stuck at the top of a Ferris wheel, it’s terrifying; but if you know it’s all going to come around again, it’s much easier to enjoy the ride. Whee!

So, there you go. If you, like me, tend to think that whatever you’re going through is the Really Real Truth About Your Life, and things never have been or never will be any different, maybe ask Facebook. Maybe Facebook knows something about you that you need to hear.

***
Image: By Troy McCullough via Flickr, CC BY 2.0, 

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