The combination of my dad's shocking diagnosis with cancer in December and the decision to go back to school full-time caused me to step away significantly from social media. Prior to my extended time away, I had been blogging regularly since 2006. I was never in the league of "famous mom-bloggers" (by any stretch of the imagination) but writing regularly, keeping up with what other women were contributing to the blogosphere, and connecting with interesting people from all over the world was a tangible part of my life. I even made some real dollars at this writing gig.
As a stay at home mother of four young kids, I truly enjoyed this link to the outside world. When I think about blogging, and specifically female bloggers, overall, I'm grateful for the voice blogging has brought to a demographic of women who have normally been excluded from the marketplace of ideas. There was a time when stepping away from the workforce to stay at home full-time meant saying good-bye to actively participating in big ideas that are shaping our culture. I'm grateful for the awareness female bloggers have brought to women's issues in particular, and that as a whole, motherhood has been celebrated and honestly talked about in public while I've been raising my children.
Returning to school (and I anticipate the same will hold true for entering the workforce) has never felt like I was walking out of a cave into "real life" again. Fortunately, my life felt just as real and valuable as that of the woman who enters an office building every day. I think women bloggers and even social media have had a hand in elevating these precious years of child-rearing and keeping stay-at-home moms connected to the world and to each other.
Stepping away from the constant presence of social media offered me a wonderful opportunity to really consider what I want to allow back into my life. Do I want to blog as regularly? Do I want to blog at all? Do I want to keep up with other bloggers and the wide scope of issues I followed prior to December? What about Facebook? And Instagram? How much time do I have for Pinterest? As a whole, do these neutral tools tend to make me a healthier person? A better friend? A happy wife and mother?
This idea of social media and how it affects us is particularly interesting to me as a woman and someone walking into the field of women's health. I'm predicting (if there aren't already) there will be countless women sitting on the couches of therapists, unaware that they are there because of interactions they have had with social media. I could easily be one of them. It would be interesting to know how many women have had noticeable shifts in their health and personality since the prevalence of social media has skyrocketed. I think a time is coming, if it isn't here already, when those in the medical field will have to address clinical symptoms for women that can be traced back to time spent online.
Now that I've had some time away (and I also have a couple of school-free months) I've given myself an assignment - to really think through what I want my interaction with social media to look like upon reentry. On one hand, I'm thankful for the way women in particular have shaped me over the past eight years. I've learned a great deal from not only reading the stories of others, but also writing in this space and being corrected. My perspective is a lot bigger and richer because of many of you who have offered your thoughts and have even disagreed with me right here in this little corner of the internet. I've pinned recipes my family loves. I've planned activities I took great pleasure in recreating for my kids in my own home. I've become aware of issues I never knew existed - complex issues that have made me a better person and a more sympathetic human being. I can't describe how valuable these aspects of the internet have been in my life. I've also walked away from the computer hating myself, my hair, my back splash, and the light in my hall. I've spent afternoons (maybe even days) wishing my life was something it wasn't - and never will be. I've wasted time. I've given strangers more than their fair-share of my attention.
I refuse to see the internet as bad or throw it all out. There are good parts worth holding onto and incorporating into our lives. I'm not a victim. I'm the boss of how I let social media shape me. I control what I let in. I'm the one who will answer for my own health and whether or not my interactions with social media encourage and inspire me - or leave me feeling empty, discontent, and unhealthy.
I truly believe as females, if we're not considering these ideas and more importantly honestly talking them through with the people around us, our health will suffer significantly. I remember when blogging was the only thing. Remember that? Now there's Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and just when we thought we could not share more of our life - along came Instagram. Now we can't even leave the internet at home anymore. Remember when we could? I stick the entire world in my purse and take it with me to the store. Isn't that odd? I'm sensing a trend here, and I don't think it's one that will naturally help us actively look at our social interactions and thoughtfully decide what is healthy for ourselves and our relationships. Social media is a never-ending party, and it's not going away or going out of style. Without intentionally stopping and evaluating what I want to participate in and how often, I can easily get sucked into every gathering. With social media, I'm always invited. So are you. We have choices about what we let into our lives and what we don't, but I think I give away that power too readily. I'm sure there are whiz-bang marketers out there who are paid a lot of money to make sure I forget I have choices about how I let social media shape my life and personal health.
I'll be continuing to ask myself some big questions over the next couple months. Questions about balance and if there is such a thing. How can I participate in this world without stealing from myself and the people I love? How can social media help me connect deeper to the real-life people I'm actually connected to and help us celebrate, together, this beautiful life we've each been given? How can I engage in a way that makes me a better person - someone who is inspired and informed - not overwhelmed and discouraged. How can social media enrich my life instead of taking from it?
So tell me friends, are you asking the same questions? How do you stay healthy and sane in this world of screens and a constant buffet of images and information? How do you make sure your interactions are leading towards overall health and well-being? What steps are you taking to protect yourself and the ones you love from social media robbing you of what's good, real, and true?