If I think a thought and don’t put it on the internet, do I really exist?

If I think a thought, and don’t receive 50 likes in validation, did I really even think it?

If I feel a feeling and don’t share it with my closest friends, did I even feel it?

It’s 2019 and I’m relearning what it means to be on my own, responsible entirely for my own thoughts and feelings, and beholden to none except for the three next gen-ers who are dependent on me (and their father) for their actual survival.

Maybe I never knew how to be fully self-contained. Maybe I shouldn’t have to learn this, because there’s no safety in being on my own. Maybe I always was, but the hum and buzz of my social feed allowed me to believe otherwise. Maybe, in helping you not feel like you were alone, I lost a big chunk of myself.

I feel a curious emptiness. But I know it’s not meant to be filled. I’m meant to live in that empty space. In there is my clarity. In there is endless time. In there is silence. In there is all I need to let go of. In there is acceptance. In there is deep, never-ending grief.

I used to be on. All the time. Connected, engaged, outputting, incoming.

A text this weekend from a friend – “We’re having an Ilana moment. The group is really quiet because you left it.”

Emails and texts say the same thing – “We miss your insights. My feed is so quiet without you. When are you coming back?”

I’m not. It’s done. That part of how I moved through the world no longer serves any of us because I have lost the ability to be that dialled in, that dependent, that attached. I know it’s a good thing. You know it’s a good thing.

It’s been three months since I quit Facebook for good and it feels like a lifetime. Of all the things I’ve accomplished over the course of my life, that one feels most significant.

I let go of my crutch and my lifeline. And I haven’t replaced it with anything.

I’m drifting.

“But don’t you feel cut off? Don’t you feel lonely?”

The disconnect is finally starting to seep in. This weekend I lived in service to five children, with no adult interaction, and a deathly quiet phone, and I thought, “This can’t be my life.”

I had breakfast with a man on Friday morning, a man who rejects social media and rails against the hold that phones have on this society.

“No phones on the table, please,” he requested.

I put mine away for two hours. And despite the level of engagement and some really stimulating conversation, my brain itched. I missed two phone calls from my daughter, and ten texts from various others. Nothing was pressing, but I felt unsettled.

This weekend, the silence became almost more than I could handle. Unsettled has become my default state.

The apps have been removed, mostly. And yet, I still pick up that piece of equipment and swipe swipe swipe, looking for the hit my brain has been conditioned to rely on.

I think my thoughts. They are not warm, fuzzy, happy thoughts. They are despairing, distraught thoughts. They are my mind seeking a space to land and not finding purchase.  What I knew, what I could lean on – I took all that away from me. My thoughts are lack of purpose, loss of identity, a desire to serve a greater good I can’t connect with right now.

What’s the point?

It’s a vile February of ice and temperatures that trigger an inflammatory cascade in my toes due to the impact of frostbite as a kid, so I feel trapped in my house. There is no end in sight. Maybe in two more months, when this deep chill lifts and the earth enters its process of rebirth, I’ll be ready to start moving forward again. I’ll feel like I exist. And I’ll be able to validate my own thoughts.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Peter says:

    Wow, this resonated so much with me. It’s been two years now since I quit Facebook and stopped posting to Twitter. I keep pulling back, back, back. I’d like to be able to say that I’ve filled this empty space with creative learning, long runs, walks in the woods, photography, baking, long meals with friends. I’d like to be able to say I’m filled with happiness for living on my own terms. But I’m not. I own my time, but I’m lonely. My universe is small – household, neighbors, coworkers, a few distant friends. I still seek out the dopamine hit of tweets, hacky listicles, and “inspirational” instagram. Despite that fact that I’ve moved on, it’s a habit that fills some space.

    Like

    1. Hi Peter – Thank you for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment! We aren’t meant to live in empty spaces. We are meant to live in tribal formations, surrounded by people, never on our own, and in tune with our purpose. Social media became a stand in for community, as did heterosexual marriage, and boy, are we feeling it. Have you read Lost Connections by Johann Hari? It will confirm what you already know to be true, but it will also perhaps offer some direction that we can all use to feel less lonely! Sending you so much love!

      Like

      1. Peter Bilton says:

        Thank you for the book recommendation and the warm reply. Your thought about tribal life feels right to me, both from my anthropology background and personally, even though I’ve never lived it. Be well.

        Like

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