So Long, Social Media

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“You haven’t posted in a while. Are you ok?”

“Is everything ok? I can’t find your Instagram.”

“Do you and the girls need anything? You haven’t posted a story in almost a week.”

Those are actual quotes from real texts I have received in the past month. Yes, I am fine. The girls are also fine. No major events have rocked our family. The truth is that I have been focusing on deleting stress-triggers from my life. Some letting go has come easy, like decreasing the girls’ activity commitments. Some of it has been hard, like letting go of my gym membership. But the one that seemed impossible until a few weeks ago was letting go of social media.

I know the dangers of social media. I know how addictive it can feel and how harmful it can be to one’s self-esteem and self-worth. I have fasted from social media in the past but always come back. I have consistently convinced myself that the good outweighed the bad and that I was the ideal sensible user of social media. I needed social media, I told myself.

Life as a single mom can leave you feeling isolated. If I am not working, I am doing something for my kids. Hopping onto social media gave me a real sense of connection. Social media is where I found amazing social support networks, like the one on which this blog appears, for single moms. Social media is where I connected with other women struggling with anemia. Social media is how I kept tabs on family, friends, and former students with whom I wouldn’t otherwise have much time to connect. These were all such positive additions to my life, but then it got even better.

After one of my blog posts, I noticed an uptick in my Instagram followers. I remember the day I hit 1,000 followers on Instagram. Granted, that is not a lot in this world of “influencers,” but it felt like a serious accomplishment for a single mom just sharing pictures of her kids, recipes, and “real life.” I felt good. I felt affirmed. I felt like I was finally making the friends I didn’t have time for in real life. As my followers grew over the next year, the affirmation deepened. I started talking to people in my stories, sharing my day, and, of course, sharing my grievances. The degree of validation I got from the DMs affirming my “realness” and ability to “tell it like it is” was massive, and something about which I am now pretty embarrassed.

I found myself starting to live at least partially outside of my life, constantly thinking about how my real life played into the version that I put online. I caught myself thinking in captions and hashtags. On more than one occasion, I asked my girls to repeat behaviors so that I could capture their cuteness – not for the family photo album, but for the consumption of my followers. I now realize that I said “yes” to outings, when I was exhausted, because I thought it would make a good post. I started wearing makeup to places I usually wouldn’t, like track practice, because I knew I may “need” go live.

I was doing all of this – trying to be engaged in my life as it happened, as well as playing narrator for the life I was presenting online, deeply invested in the maintenance of both my spontaneous and reflected public face – while trying to deal with the increasing frequency and intensity of my bouts with anxiety.

So many of my anxiety triggers are inherent in being a single mom: Will the kids be ok after being asked about their dad by a classmate? How am I going to afford to send them to camp with the rest of their class? What if I am swamped at work and late to pick them up?

So many of my anxiety triggers are inherent in living in Southern California, too. Driving anywhere is a time-sucking, schedule-altering, emotionally-draining, combative, unpredictable nightmare. Everything is over-priced. Nobody is young-enough, cool-enough, or fit-enough. Nothing God-given is ever enough, and everyone is always busy.

I found myself anxious more often than I was at peace, and that is not ok. I realized that part of dealing with my anxiety was working on my own reactions and coping mechanisms for that anxiety, which is induced by things that are beyond my control – like the traffic and cost of living. But part of it was that I needed to stop inviting anxiety into my life. It was that realization, in the middle of the night, as I tossed and turned, that prompted me to open my computer and search academic journals for “social media and anxiety.”

In hindsight, I think I was hoping that the research would provide some skepticism and allow me to give myself permission to continue to live my virtual life. Instead, it prompted me to grab my phone, in a state of sleepy assuredness that best resembles the love child of a zombie and a droid, and just start deleting. I thought it would be hard, but it wasn’t. It was liberating.

I woke up the next morning and felt like my life was my own for the first time in years. My brain automatically defaulted to thinking about what attempt at witty faux-humility would kick off my day on my digital story. Surely, it would be something about the mundaneness of Mondays or the unending pressures of being a working mom. Then I realized that I didn’t have to say anything to anyone about my morning. I could just get up, drink my tea, and read the news. It took a moment for this new reality to register in my brain. I didn’t need to do anything other than just exist. There was, finally, no documentation or grooming needed for anything I did that day. I could just do it.

As great as my new freedom felt, the coming days did bring some rough adjustments. I missed scrolling through to find words of encouragement from other single moms. I missed seeing the pictures of distant family. I wondered who had gotten new jobs, was in a new relationship or decided to move. I missed that feeling of community and the feeling that my every passing thought could somehow entertain, support, or provoke another person. I still miss those things. But, I don’t miss them as much as I enjoy the peace of just living.

For me, this was the right choice. I have since reactivated Facebook for work purposes and will continue to share my monthly blogs and certain major life events on that platform, but I won’t return to being a daily poster. There is too much to worry about in life already. As anyone who is anxiety-prone can attest, the brain will do its best to invent things to worry about! So I am stepping out of this virtual space that is so ripe for anxiety. I am simplifying and finding peace in the version of me that exists in only one place, at only one time – free from the worry of how to package and convey the value of that place and time to anyone else.

Thanks for the memories, but it’s time for me to move on. So long, social media.

By A. Smith

An Open Letter to My Narcissist

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Dear Sir,

 

I am going to have to let you go. It's not you; it's me. This relationship just isn't working, and I think it best that we part ways before any further damage takes place. There is a severance package, and you're welcome to file a grievance if you feel this separation is unjust. Please note that no parts of the severance package can be exchanged, and once accepted-- it cannot be returned. All grievances must be filed in writing prior to your exiting the premises on this day. I know you might have questions, so please let me explain further in the hopes that you can leave with the answers you desire.

 

First and foremost, you are not the center of the universe. You once slyly coerced me into believing that you needed to be the center of my universe, but I have since wised up. You are no longer the magnetic force that requires my constant attention, affection, energy, and lifeblood. You are not the center of anyone's universe but your own. Only you think that you are always right, always being wronged, infallible, and to be revered and respected. You are none of those things.

 

Secondly, you have an opinion. Every. One. Has. An. Opinion. Your opinion belongs to you, and of course, you feel strongly about it. But that doesn't make it more valuable than anyone else's. For example; "mushrooms are disgusting" is my opinion. Nothing you say is going to make me change my mind. In the event that I choose to change my mind, it will be because that's what I WANT to do. You cannot make me like, love, or enjoy anything that I do not want to. The sooner you realize that you are one of many, not the only-- the better.

 

Thirdly, your lack of manners, etiquette, and common decency is deplorable. You communicate your wants and needs after the fact. For some reason, the whole world is supposed to anticipate and fulfill your desires, quietly, stealthily. It is quite ridiculous. Refer to point 1 if you are confused. The constant yelling, cussing, and berating of people whose sole purpose is to provide you with a limited interaction is sad. You are flat out mean. You're mean to everyone, all of the time. You can be nice, kind, charming, and sweet. But those traits are short-lived and vastly overshadowed by your demeaning ever-present down talking.

 

In the years that I have known and interacted with you, you have pretended to make changes to yourself for the better. These are shenanigans. Your defective personality permeates through whatever facade you claim to have adopted. The only constant about you is that you are unable to change. You cannot see the hurt and harm that you have caused, you accept no responsibility for your words or actions, and the fact that you can position your mouth to lie about it is another sign of just how ill you are.

 

Lastly, I strongly suggest that you seek professional counseling. Your behavior suggests that there is something very hurt, bruised, and torn inside of you. Something you have never dealt with in your more than four decades on this planet. You can only hear your own voice, your own thoughts. You justify you. No one else provides anything of value to you (in your opinion). You have no friends. And the family you have; while local, they remain at a distance. You claim that people only seek you when they want something from you. Think about the fact that no one seeks you.

 

As part of your severance package, I am ceasing any and all extraneous communications with you. If it doesn't involve the safety, health, or education of our children; it will not be discussed. You are encouraged to embrace this as a full and actual reality from this moment forward. Going forward, our relationship is defined as parallel parenting. This is my home, and I will raise our children as I see fit. Your opinion, outrage, and disagreements can be submitted in writing once a month. They, along with any other grievances, will instantly be shredded. Never having been read-- because severance.

 

I wish you well. I will pray for your mental health and stability. I will pray for your continued relationship with our children-- that it is healthy, encouraging, and always loving. Please take any personal belongings with you as you leave as you will not be permitted to return to the property. I thank you for the hard lessons I learned while being near you. I will forever be grateful for our children, and the strength I gained pulling myself up and out of your grasp. All of the locks have been changed, so do with the keys what you will. Your severance is effective immediately. As previously stated, any grievances must be in writing prior to your exit. Be well.

 

Sincerely,

The Me You'll Never Know

Tanisha Ware

See more of her blogs at BrownSugarBritches.com

Pushing Buttons

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My oldest son, now 26, was the product of divorce from about the time he was four months old. His father found someone new while I was still pregnant and filed for divorce when he was eight days old. I was 23 at the time. Being young and a first-time mother, I had no idea how to handle a divorce and a newborn. Someone wise once said, “You can’t control everything, only how you react to it.” At that time in my life, I reacted to every single thing! We were in court for any little disagreement or argument. Luckily, my parents were helping me with the legal bills. My ex’s father was a lawyer, so he didn’t have any legal costs and loved to go to court. The entire time my son grew up, we fought over any minute detail.

One time, in a meeting with my lawyer, she said to me, “You do realize that he knows how to push your buttons, and he is doing it every time he can?!” I ignored her thinking she had no idea what she was talking about and who I was having to deal with almost daily. We argued over where to meet for pickups, what my son was wearing, if the new girlfriend could pick him up, what he could take back and forth between homes…literally anything there was to argue over, we argued!

Fast forward to today. I am nearly 50 now, and my son is grown. I haven’t had to deal with his dad in several years. As I look back on the lawyer’s words, I realize that she was exactly right! He did know how to push any of my buttons that he could. He pushed me to the point of me arguing and getting upset every time. I now use those words in my life when dealing with others who might try to get to those hotpoint buttons. I take a deep breath and assess the situation. If I realize they are going that direction, I really try to control my reaction. I realized that at 23, I didn’t know how to do this!

I am writing this blog post in hopes that maybe some of you single moms will read this and take it to heart. You don’t have to react to everything the ex does! And realize that maybe he is trying hard to get a reaction so that he can use it against you, whether it be in court or in the presence of your child(ren).

Take a deep breath, look at the situation, and react or don’t. You are in control, not your ex!

-Julie Burr