Breaking the Social Media Habit

I had two days without Facebook or Twitter this week. Two whole days! Now, this may not sound like a big deal to some people, but to me it was huge. Which, I suppose, says an awful lot about me and the state of my life at the moment.

It occurred to me the other morning, as I sat on the edge of my bed, packing my bag for work, that grabbing my phone and checking Facebook was becoming an addiction. Seriously. It’s the phone that’s caused it. When I had my old phone, it was so slow and creaking that trying to connect to the internet was too much hassle, so I didn’t bother. Just over a year ago, I got an upgrade, and my phone connects within a second, which means that it’s all too easy to pick it up and tap the screen and see what’s going on in the Book of Face.

The trouble is, it had become such a habit that I wasn’t even aware I was doing it. It was only those two days without a phone that showed me how dependent on social media I’ve become. I was scrolling down the page, reading the same posts I’d already read just five minutes before, and getting impatient because there were hardly any new comments to read! I mean, seriously, how sad is that? It also occurred to me that Facebook was making me anxious, depressed and jittery.

There’s something about all those posts, isn’t there? It’s funny, really. Some people post really angry, political statements; others post nothing but pictures of cats and cakes; some are stuck in gloom and want to share their sadness with the world; others like to air their grievances with a bunch of random strangers, picking fights with their own families and friends for all to see and comment on. It’s their Facebook page, their posts, their choice. People can post what they like and if we don’t like it we only have to unfriend them, or hide their posts, or even block them if it’s really too much.

But what really got me this week – and I know that’s my problem, not theirs – were the people who posted relentlessly cheerful, optimistic, “look at how fabulous my life is. I’m so lucky. Everything in my world is absolutely perfect” statuses. I mean, honestly, if your life is that wonderful I’m really happy for you, but sometimes the endless good news wears me down.

It’s very difficult, when you see such fabulous things going on in other people’s lives, not to look at your own and think, ‘Oh, crap.’ And that, I’m afraid, is what set off the anxiety and depression this week. I don’t know why it happened this week, in particular. There’s nothing that I can say sparked it off. There was nothing different to any other week. It just hit me that morning, as I looked through my timeline, that I was feeling jittery, and that I had a strange feeling of dread. And I didn’t want to look at Facebook any more, or be in touch with anyone online, or make any comments, or post any pictures, or…well, you get the picture. I just wanted to turn off my phone and be invisible.

And the great thing about Facebook is that you can do just that! I discovered this quite by accident. I turned off my phone and lo and behold! I no longer existed in that strange, virtual world where strangers are your friends and everyone knows everything about you without actually knowing you at all. Because, that’s the thing. They don’t know you. I can post anything I like on Facebook and the vast majority of people on my friends list won’t know if I’m telling the truth or a big, fat porky.  And it occurred to me that the same was true of the people whose posts I was reacting so badly to.

I’ve had difficult days, sad days, bloody awful days. Sometimes, looking back at what I’ve posted on Facebook during those times, no one would ever guess. I share pictures and jokes and pluck out the diamonds from the dust of my life in those dark moments. Who would know the truth? So when I’m sitting here, thinking, ‘Oh my God, everyone else’s life is so much fun, and they’re all doing so well, and living such glamorous lives, and being really happy and successful, and I’m feeling all fat and fed up, and work was rubbish today, and I haven’t written anything useful for ages, and the oven’s broken, and I should visit my kids and my mother more often, and I never seem to have the time for anything because I’m absolutely useless,’ I should perhaps console myself with the fact that all those posts are just diamonds, plucked from the dust of other people’s lives, and everyone has their fair share of bad days, and it’s not just me who sometimes feels totally inadequate and anxious.

(Since writing this, Sue Fortin pointed me in the direction of an experiment carried out by a Dutch student who faked an entire gap year to prove how we can manipulate the reality of our own lives using social media. It makes fascinating reading. Click here to read it. And thank you, Sue.)

The good news is that I went for two days without switching my phone on. The bad news is no one noticed! I discovered that I reach for my phone far, far too often, and I scan social media much more regularly than I need to or should. I realise, thanks to my break, that I am perfectly capable of functioning in the real world without it. Hopefully, I will now be able to limit my time on Facebook and Twitter, and spend more time doing the things that really matter.

I have no plans to close my Facebook account, or, indeed, my Twitter account, because, most of the time, I enjoy visiting those sites. They have a great many uses. Through Facebook, I’ve connected with someone who lives in America who I hadn’t been in touch with for over thirty years, and I can catch up with relatives who live abroad and friends who are scattered around the country. Through both sites I have found out about new books that have been released, about special offers and about interesting blog posts that I would otherwise have missed. I can make people aware of this very blog and of my own work – I’m planning to post about the release of There Must Be An Angel when it comes out in March, and Winter Tales would never have sold so many copies without all the wonderful people who shared it on Facebook and Twitter, I’m certain.  I’ve made so many friends on there, and I truly do love to read people’s posts and Tweets most of the time, and, when I’m struggling, I’ll just stay away for a day or two until I feel able to cope again.

I don’t know if it’s just me who has this problem, or if this affects other people, too. I suppose it’s the equivalent of hiding in your room at a party. Everyone else is downstairs having a great time, but you just feel overwhelmed and tearful, so you end up locking the bedroom door then picking up a book instead. Parties can be fun, but sometimes you just aren’t in a party mood. And that’s fine, too.

Have a great week xx

Things Can Only Get Better

Do you like the new look? I took the plunge and upgraded the blog and I’ve had simply hours of fun messing around, changing fonts, colour schemes, background designs and headers. It’s been a delight. It really has. Trouble is, I should be writing, not faffing with a blog!

downloadActually, how rude am I? The first thing I should say to you all is, happy New Year! A glorious 2015 to you and I hope all your dreams come true and you have the best year of your lives. Did you have a good Christmas? The last time I spoke to you all I was in the middle of shopping hell and looking forward to a quiet and uneventful Christmas. Well, the best-laid plans and all that…

Is it just me or does there seem to have been an awful lot of illness around this Christmas? I mean, the office where I work at the day job has been badly hit, and on Facebook just about everyone seems to have had the dreaded lurgy. Unfortunately, this house did not escape and it’s been one thing on top of another for the last few weeks.

A couple of weeks before Christmas I had a health scare. A nasty one actually. The kind that makes you break out in a cold sweat and think, oh crikey, this could really be it. Horrible. Due to the nature of the scare I was given a two-week wait referral, which was a double-edged sword really. I mean, on the one hand, I was very grateful that they’d rushed it through and I was going to be seen quickly. On the other, it was pretty terrifying to be told that I must be seen so quickly! Because it was Christmas I ended up waiting seventeen days to be seen, which I still think is impressive, and God bless the NHS because where would I have been without it? Anyway, I was finally seen four days after Christmas and had a minor procedure done and an examination and then saw the consultant who was able to tell me, thank you God, that it wasn’t what we’d feared and all was well. You can imagine the relief.download

I went back to work that afternoon vowing never to complain about anything ever again. Then, that very night, I started to feel ill. In the morning I had no voice. I had a headache. I felt washed out. I’d had a cold all over Christmas but I thought it was on its way out. Unfortunately, it had left me with sinusitis and if you’ve ever had that you have my deepest sympathy because it’s horrendous, and if you haven’t had it before, lucky you, and I hope you never know what I’m talking about. Of course, all my “isn’t life beautiful and how lucky am I and I will never, ever moan again,” flew right out of the window as I groaned and grumbled through the next week. To be fair, I was in constant pain and couldn’t even read! Torture! To make matters even worse I had no sense of smell or taste and even chocolate couldn’t tempt me. So the new year came and went without me even noticing. In fact, because DH was working anyway, I didn’t even realise it was New Year’s Eve until all the rubbishy programmes appeared on television and I retired to bed with a hot water bottle clutched to my face feeling very sorry for myself indeed.

The upshot of all this is that, of course, I’ve done no writing since – well, I can’t remember exactly. I was very busy at work at the beginning of December and didn’t have the time or energy to write when I got home, but I thought it wouldn’t matter as it wouldn’t be for long. I had no idea what lay ahead of me and that I would be unable to face switching on the computer never mind trying to form words that made any sense. I also couldn’t read as that just increased my headache. I spent most of the time asleep, if I’m really being honest, or lying on the sofa squinting at the television screen through gunge-filled eyes. I know. I looked ever so pretty.

So, book three is seriously behind schedule and I have only just started reading again. And that’s why, dear readers, it has taken me so long to wish you all a happy New Year. My apologies.

So why am I messing about tarting up the blog instead of getting on with the writing? You tell me! Lack of energy, lack of motivation, lack of concentration, fear? I’ve managed to finish two books but book three is scaring the life out of me. What if I can’t do it again? What if anything I write is absolute rubbish? What if those people who read and enjoyed the first two books are bitterly disappointed in the third? I think they call it a crisis of confidence. So, I’ve tarted up the blog and enjoyed making it look a bit better and I’m trying to work my way back into the writing again by doing this blog post. Small steps, but at least I’m moving forwards, however slowly.

sherlockHope you like the new look and I hope you have a fabulous January. With any luck (and a bit of determination) next time I post I’ll have made some progress with the novel. We shall see! And it’s not all bad news, after all. The Musketeers are back (swoon), Benedict Cumberbatch is going to be a daddy (my ovaries pinged at the news!) and Sherlock is being filmed this month. Yay! Now that I think about it, what better inspiration than watching all those gorgeous men on the telly? So what if I’m old enough to be D’Artagnan’s mother? It’s research I tell you! promo10-588x356

Have a great week xx