I don’t know about you, but I’ve always scoffed at baby boomers who scold the fact that our attention is more and more diverted to a screen instead of a person. I can acknowledge the frequency of this trend, but honestly care more about using Facebook than agreeing with their point of view and restricting my own social media time. At least that’s what I thought.

“Facebook stalking” has become sort of a necessary evil, and a fun one at that. We can so easily find out information about a person: what they look like, their relationship status, where they live, who they work for, how much they travel, etc. I mean, think about it. How many people do you really investigate on Facebook before meeting them in person? It’s a predicament that I was blinded by until I read an article a couple weeks ago.

A recent study out of the University of Missouri questioned if Facebook usage can be more emotionally unhealthy than we originally believed. The study found that increased Facebook use can lead to envy and feelings of depression, and I couldn’t agree more!

Just two weeks ago, I was sitting on my couch late at night. It was my “mindless” time.  While browsing my Facebook news feed, I came across an old friend from middle school who I wasn’t “friends” with (I went from K-8 at a small private school and then went to a public high school, so by the time I was old enough to use Facebook, I resisted adding classmates I never saw anymore). Reminiscing of middle school mischief, I looked through that old friend’s profile for others that I would recognize. The list was endless! Clearly, this person hadn’t made a new Facebook or edited their friends in years (honestly, who still has 300 “friends” from high school?). “Oh my gosh”, I repeated over and over as I scrolled through the list of familiar names, with underlying implications ranging from “Good Lord, pray for that person” to “Dang, they work for the House of Representatives?”, to “How did a guy like him catch a girl like her?” My jealousy was brewing. Some of these names I haven’t heard in years, but the second I saw them endless memories began surfacing.  Take note, my memories of these people were stored during years of puberty, so what was most intriguing as I viewed their profiles was how their physical appearance changed. The “Who will look like what at our ten year anniversary” game we played in school became a reality.  Physical judgment was icing on the cake to the intrigue of “stalking”.

After about twenty minutes, I put the phone down. I was ready for bed. “Mindless time” was over. The problem: my mind kept replaying these profiles: trips to Belize, married to a beautiful wife, working in DC, Sunday brunch with a big group of friends. Very quickly, envy, self-doubt, and unease filled me. I couldn’t sleep. “Am I good enough? What will they think if I go to a reunion? What will they think if they see my profile? Is it lame that I’m a teacher? Do I have enough friends? I want to have brunch in DC with a side of home-fries and cheap mimosas.” My emotional clock couldn’t stop clicking. And the second I entertained one self-conscious feeling, I crossed another one. In short, twenty minutes of Facebook stalking made me question my status in life. Luckily, my version of “can’t sleep” means ten minutes of tossing and turning before being knocked out. But the next morning, I quickly remembered the previous night’s personal CIA operative. I forgot about it for the most part, but there were “statuses” that still lingered in my mind and continued to rekindle those depressive self-questions. But I shook it off and forgot because it was just another night of going on Facebook.

Does this not scream INSANITY? I don’t even think of myself as a self-conscious person. Yes, we all have doubts, but if anything, I struggle with being humble. Thank God I read that article at the time I did, because I was clearly blinded by emotional self-manipulation! Suddenly enlightened, I understood the severity of emotional torture that Facebook can cause. I related myself to that lonely teenager who sits at home and is more likely to talk to someone online than in person.  This creeped me out. No part of those feelings I had that night were healthy. If anything, they were sinful. I started justifying the new car I bought and the goodness in my teaching career with me being better than those old friends I came across online. Why did this happen? Simple – because of personal ignorance in social media use.  While digital literacy is demanded in our society, most people overlook the most important piece of Internet “know-how”: its affects our mindset. I did.

Reading about this study was a slap in the face. I figured Facebook use to be “mindless time”. Are we truly, even somewhat aware of how our social media habits affect us? Even reading over my own words makes me freak out a bit at the self-destruction that possibly was caused over the years.

We must become more aware of the things that lead us down the wrong path. For me, the preoccupation of “statuses” among people I don’t even really know clearly causes depressive feelings. Am I depressed? NO! But why even bother or allow myself the chance? If I have learned anything about mental illness, it’s that it can be acquired. Depression is not just a flip-of-the-switch mental breakdown. And its recovery is not a snap-of-the-fingers enlightenment. Diagnosed depression is a result of the accumulation of depressive feelings that eventually take over your life. Recovery is the formation and triumph of non-depressive feelings. As long as one uses Facebook, unhealthy feelings, including envy and depression, will surface. It’s unavoidable in life. But if we can become more conscious of the actions that lead us to self-hurt, regardless of the severity, then we can start to become stronger individuals filled with confidence and humility.