I was once terribly disturbed by facebook. I did all I could to avoid it. Despite the fact that almost every individual around was digging deep into facebook- I held out an iron fist. After many months of a stern unwillingness to join the social arena I allowed my wife to convince me of facebooks many attributes and I decided to drop my fist and give it a try. Not long after my honeymoon with facebook had come to a delightful end I found myself obsessively pulled towards the website on an almost hourly basis. I was leaving at least five status updates a day and hearing from past lovers and friends that I had no desire to re-connect with (as much as I am happy to hear that they are alive and well). Facebook was becoming not only an obsession but also an affliction that I was struggling to control. I went out less, socialized with real, corporeal human beings less and began to feel more insecure when I was in public situations. I became so comfortable with hiding behind the facebook platform that my anxiety was easily triggered whenever I found myself in social situations. My habitual usage of facebook became so extreme that my therapist threatened me with and intervention unless I attended a weekly meeting for facebook addicts. It was at this point that I realized I was dealing with a serious addiction. I attended FBAA (Facebook Addiction Anonymous) meetings on a weekly basis and slowly began to sever my unhealthy relationship with the facebook world. I went through months of mourning, a week spent in the woods away from computer access and several detoxes until I was finally able to return to my normal self (which is quite abnormal) in a modern, living, social world- free from the facebook grip.
Months went by without taking a single glance at the facebook homepage. Even though I was tempted every time that I went on line to take a peak at my friends most recent updates I was able to abstain with a combination of a superhuman will and the resolve of a zen monk. I was committed to regaining my confidence by socializing with people in the flesh and by being more engaged in my professional pursuits. Even though I was around people all day I struggled to make friends, which I discovered was not as easy as pushing the “Add Friend” button. Through dozens of consultations with my therapist I learned how to become more comfortable with the sound of my voice, my tall stature and my style of dress (all of which have always been a source of distress for me). Despite the fact that I slowly felt more confident inside my own skin…I was constantly compelled to go back onto facebook and check in with all of my friends because I was feeling very lonely in the real world.
I became conflicted (more so than I already was) and frustrated. It was not as simple for me to communicate with other human beings with honesty and vulnerability as it was for me to do on facebook. Even though I had a strong moral resolve to abstain from my facebook addiction my inner turmoil was become more malignant. Not having a venue to express my deepest thoughts to friends was causing me to feel isolated and constricted. I felt the cloud of a familiar depression following me around wherever I would go and my desire to find the closest computer to log onto facebook with was becoming stronger and stronger. I was going in and out of an FBAA support group but I was well aware of the fact that I had no friends in the real world that I could update about how I was feeling. This resulted in a chronic introversion that left me ten pounds thinner and as tired, isolated and sickly as an old cat.
Then one Sunday, one beautiful Sunday afternoon- I happened upon a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. My gold came in the form of an article written in The New York Times about how having a large community of friends that you can be honest with and that listen to you in return, can extend your life by decades. The article concluded, that several long term research studies had concluded that people with a large friend network not only lived happier lives but also lived healthier and longer lives! I immediately thought about the 56 friends that I had left behind when I retreated from the facebook arena and decided that my current poor health was being caused by my isolation and lack of community. I took the article to my therapist and told her that I was convinced that if used properly and moderately, facebook could save my life.
Initially my therapist thought that my new theory was the ravings of a mad man. After a few consultations and another health scare she decided that there was nothing to loose by seeing if facebook could indeed make me well again. Even though it made perfect sense to me that someone with many friends on facebook was gaining the same health benefits as someone with the same amount of friends in real life- my therapist remained skeptical but open to learning something new. I persuaded certain family members to support me in my transition into a new relationship with facebook and my sister, my blessed sister, committed to monitoring facebook homepage in order to make sure that I was not leaving more than one update a day. A contracted was signed between my family, therapist and myself that if I was caught leaving more than one status update a day or spending more than twenty minutes a day on facebook- I would permanently and forever give facebook up.
It has been a month since I began my new relationship with facebook. I have devoted myself to spending my allotted twenty minutes a day on facebook judiciously recruiting new friends, leaving a very honest status update and reading my friends updates (and responding to some). Interestingly, I have noticed that my health has returned to a state of homeostasis and the cloud of depression that followed me around like a bad memory…has all but vanished. Normally, I try to sign onto facebook first thing in the morning or before going to bed for the night. If the study in The New York Times is indeed correct, than I am a living testament to the power of friends. My goal for this summer is to recruit over 200 new friends which I assume will only add to the quality and quantity of my life. It is only a matter of time until I have mastered myself enough that I will be able to spend more time on facebook without becoming addicted (it is my desire to get to a balanced state of being able to leave no more than three status updates a day). The other day my therapist told me that life was a series of trials and transformations. She congratulated me on my personal progress by recognizing that I had regained my confidence, optimism and energy. She is not quite willing to admit that my positive transformation is the result of more friends in my life, but whenever I meet with her now- I always end by saying…. “It really was facebook that saved my life.”