Why My Dad's Brain Cancer Finally Convinced Me to Quit Facebook

My therapist says that Facebook comes up in sessions with her clients on a daily basis, and I can see why.
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Publish date:
February 3, 2015
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Tags:
parents, social media, facebook, anxiety, quitting

Facebook has an average of 864 million active daily users, but as of a month ago, that number was reduced by at least one person — me. And every time I tell someone that I hit the “Delete My Account” button, it’s like I’m making some shocking confession.

“Why?” most ask incredulously.

While there is no one answer, the tipping point was my dad’s recent diagnosis with stage four glioblastoma — brain cancer.

I got my dad’s news in the middle of October when he had quite suddenly begun experiencing symptoms. His wife took him to the ER where doctors later discovered a large mass in his brain.

My dad and his wife have been together for 19 years. He moved in with her and her two young daughters — much younger than me — after my parents divorced when I was 15. I often daydreamed about what my dad’s life must have been like with his new family. But I didn’t have to wonder once I finally visited their home many years later and saw all of the family photos around their house: posed pictures of the four of them all in black T-shirts and khakis, pics of them in formal wear on a cruise ship, candids from holidays past.

He had obviously built a strong relationship with his stepdaughters, particularly the youngest. And it would be her face I was left staring at on Facebook after my dad’s diagnosis. She changed her profile photo to a picture of her and my dad, which felt like a punch in the stomach even though I knew logically that it wasn’t about me. I clicked on her profile at least once a day to see if she had changed it.

In order to further pick at the scab, I took to googling her name with my dad’s name. I found out they had done a 5k together a couple of years ago and that when she played soccer in high school, my father and her mother were listed as her parents.

I told all of this to my therapist, who did not say what I had hoped, which was, “You should beat the shit out of her.”

Instead she said, “I think you should block her on your Facebook feed.”

I cried when she said that because something in me craved the tortuous feelings that came from clicking on this girl’s profile. But I was prepared to do it. However, when I started thinking about it — really thinking about it — I realized that her profile picture and updates weren’t the only things I was discontent about being on Facebook.

My therapist says that Facebook comes up in sessions with her clients on a daily basis, and I can see why. It offers us innumerable opportunities to compare our own lives with the lives that our FB friends choose to present to us. And I say “choose to present” because it hardly ever offers the whole picture. Someone announces her new job but fails to mention she was fired from the last one. Other people overstate their financial status, relationships, how perfect their kids are, or just how amazingly fun and interesting their lives are in general.

So after some reflection, I’ve come up with a few reasons as to why I ultimately quit:

Being on Facebook gave me a false sense of community. I’d been kicking around the idea of getting off of FB for awhile but would excuse the fact that I was still on it with exclamations like, “This is the only way I still keep up with some people!” But if someone isn’t even worth an email, text, phone call, or postcard, are they really worth me “keeping up with” on Facebook? And can that even be considered keeping up with them? For me, Facebook made me feel like I had this village of support around me, but it was essentially a form of voyeurism. What I needed to do was return some emails, send some texts, reach out to people — and not just “like” their status update about having pancakes for brunch or comment on a picture of their kid’s latest dance recital.

I needed something real. I needed someone to see me with puffy eyes and unwashed hair and baby-food-stained sweatpants while I drank boxed wine and watched Gilmore Girls reruns. I needed someone to hit the metaphorical thumbs-up sign on that picture, and I needed to do the same for other people.

It made me feel sad/annoyed/jealous. Seeing the photos my dad’s stepdaughter was posting of the two of them together — memorializing him like he was already gone — was killing me. Then there were the complaining vaguebookers, not-so-humble braggers, and myriad other photos, links, and updates that were bumming me out.

Plus, I didn’t like feeling bad about myself for not having a new job or new dog or freshly blown-out hair or a perfectly Pinterest-ed party to photograph and post on FB. Or, perhaps most importantly, a picture of me and my dad looking and feeling healthy.

It was a time suck that distracted me from the present moment. I would find myself mindlessly scrolling through a high school acquaintance’s 200-photo album of Disney World photos and then looking up to realize I’d let a whole hour pass doing something I didn’t consciously even want to be doing. What else could I have been doing with that time that would be way more enjoyable for me?

So what does life after Facebook look like?

I have friends telling me they wish they could do the same thing. Newsflash: They can if they really want to. But I know how they feel. For the longest time, I’ve felt like I needed permission to do something as simple as quitting FB. So I finally gave myself the go-ahead.

I’ve had more interactions with people via email, text, phone, and in person. I think some of the people that have reached out to me think I’ve suddenly unfriended them on Facebook, but regardless of the reason, it’s been nice to actually have one-on-one chats with folks about what’s going on in their lives and in mine.

I have more time. Last night after my three-year-old and her eight-month-old sister were tucked into bed and the dishes were done and the comfy pants were on, I slow danced in the kitchen with my husband and cried into his shoulder (I’m still a bucket full of emotions). I’ve also finished two and a half books, sent out thank-you notes for Christmas presents, and figured out how to properly shape my own eyebrows. And I’ve learned I need to find a hobby.

I still don’t know if I made the right decision, though. So I ask you: Have you pulled the plug on your FB account? If so, what was the tipping point for you? If not, have you thought about it? What’s stopped you from quitting?

[FYI, if you’re looking to take the plunge: Save yourself the time and trouble of looking for the link on your FB profile page and just google "Delete Facebook account.” You want the first link that pops up. You’ll have the opportunity to download a copy of your info — all the photos and such you’ve uploaded to Facebook — and then you can either deactivate or permanently delete your Facebook account. I opted for the latter.]