A little over a week ago, I woke up feeling well-rested and eager to meet the day, only to get smacked with a heavy dose of anxiety as soon as I thought about checking Facebook and Twitter, my two main social websites. The thought of reading comments on my Facebook posts–which are all friends-only, so the only comments come from people I know and trust–and reading replies on Twitter–which can come from anyone, since my account is public–as well as seeing what other people were posting, it all filled me with anxious dread. So I made a snap decision and posted on both sites that I was taking an indefinite hiatus, possibly never to return, but possibly coming back at some point, and gave contact info if people wanted to get a hold of me and keep in touch. (I also decided to keep posting to Instagram and Snapchat, since those sites take very little energy and give me zero anxiety.) I also continued to post daily on both of my blogs (this one and the other one) and invited people to comment on my posts.
Here’s how my hiatus has gone:
At first, I felt completely cut off from the world around me and it didn’t feel good. It probably didn’t help that I took my hiatus right as Kansas City was gearing up for an ice storm that was expected to be huge. (As it turned out, the ice storm was mostly kind of a dud. Although I did still spend an entire day in my house alone, which isn’t good for my brain, while the weather outside was mildly frightful.) At the same time, I felt lighter and freer, unweighted by the mass amount of updates I can easily lose myself in online. As the week went on, I seemed to be doing more writing and spending more time reading and watching things that inspire me, and I was getting out of the habit of constantly checking my phone for notifications, but I also felt increasing amounts of loneliness. And both blogs got fewer views–by a lot–and absolutely zero comments, which was frustrating.
The thing is, if you want to hang out with people, you generally have to go where the people are. Telling them to come to you doesn’t work all that well because people have busy lives (or lives that feel busy) and it’s not easy to reach out to every individual friend while also managing your own life. I certainly haven’t reached out to many people while I’ve been off the social sites. For better and for worse, sites like Facebook and Twitter make it easy to keep in touch with a lot of people without necessarily spending a lot of time and energy. (And on the blog front, crossposting links to your site clearly bring people in more than them just knowing they exist. It’s all well and good to say I’m writing for myself, but if that’s true, why post what I write online? I don’t care if I get hundreds of hits or tens of hits, but I care if I only get one or two hits at most.)
But because I am who I am, I often feel obligated to keep up with all my friends, as well as people I don’t even really know (like certain actors, writers, musicians, and other public figures), as well as keeping up with what’s going on in the world. I feel obligated to comment on what people say. I feel obligated to reply to what people say to me. I feel obligated to speak up about political issues, as many issues as I can. That’s just not healthy. I spread myself too thin. I open myself up to conversations and arguments I don’t need to be in. I’m basically double-dog daring my anxiety to manifest, but I don’t want it to take that dare.
I think the answer, like with many things in life, is walking the middle path. I want to be online, I want to engage people and be engaged, I want to share myself and see how others are sharing themselves, I want to keep up with the events, big and small, in my friends lives. But I need to walk away sometimes and make myself unavailable, every day and every week (like being a college professor and having office hours), and if needed, I can little vacations like the one I’ve been taking. (As a friend once said to me, “Even Superman has his Fortress of Solitude.”) I don’t have to keep up with every single thing my friends post. I don’t have to reply to every single thing people post to me. I don’t have to get into every political discussion and argument I come across, and when I do get into them, I don’t have to stay in them any longer than I feel like.
It’s easy to forget, but I need to remember that my time and energy belong to me. Just because I’m an extrovert, needing interaction with others, I’m no good to myself or anyone else if I burn myself out trying to be social. That way lies madness.
The title of this post is taken from a chapter in Robert Duff, PhD’s nifty little book Hardcore Self Help: F**k Anxiety.