Facebook Friends: Part 2

Facebook Friends: Part 2

10 February 2014

….Thanks again, FB friends, for listening to me whine. I’m so glad you’re here. You’re so much better than a diary.

My personal Facebook writings during my 10 years on the platform all but replaced the traditional diary for me. In fact, the last diary I finished from cover to cover began in January of 2015 and ended in September 2018 (almost a month after going quiet on Facebook). 

I covered a lot of topics in my facebook posts but friendship was something I kept revisiting over and over again, asking myself and others questions like: What is a friend? Who are my real friends? Am I a good friend? How can we be better friends?

Much of these posts about friendship stemmed from loneliness and feeling left behind as I watched my peers progress in relationships and careers while I seemed to stagnate. Not having much control over my situation frustrated me all the more and I longed to know that I still had friends who loved me no matter what my social status was.

25 July 2012

Do you know why I place so much value on friendship? I’m not married…, no kids, and, although I live with my family and I know they love me, I don’t connect with them like I do my friends. They don’t understand me when I’m sad and never have…I kind of hope I die before my parents do because, if my depressions are this lonely while my parents are alive, living without my parents and without friends will be unbearable….

When I started sharing on Facebook, I was fully aware of there being no real place on the internet that was safe to be vulnerable. But I never feared being vulnerable on Facebook because I’d convinced myself I wasn’t writing to strangers. I was writing to my friends, both past and present, whether we’d met in elementary school, junior high, high school, university, or beyond. At some point in our lives, we’d bonded.

Of course not all of my friends had known me since I’d been diagnosed with a debilitating mental illness nor did they all know me before my diagnosis. Some had known me when I was a generous and exceptional friend. Others knew me when I was a selfish, even toxic, friend. So I was a different person to each of my Facebook friends, it seemed, depending on when they knew me.

But at least I could be sure all my friends still liked me enough to want to reconnect on Facebook. Sometimes we’d even try and catch up one-on-one through Facebook chat. But the longer it had been since we’d seen one another, the harder it was for me to sum up on my life in just a few short sentences.

I’d also noticed patterns when I shared blog post through which I discovered that most of my friends didn’t have time to read even a paragraph let alone an entire essay. In time I’d come to accept that, though I never managed to adapt my posts to their needs. 

Facebook brought friends back to me who I never thought I’d see again. And when I wrote, I realized I wasn’t writing to them as they’d become but to my memories of them. I prided myself in knowing that most all my Facebook friends were people I’d met face to face. No one’s thoughts or opinions mattered more to me than theirs.

“Likes,” as we all know, have been the standard form of social media validation since the beginning and, for a while (especially after moving home in 2009) I became obsessed with them even though my posts rarely earned any “likes”. But my longing to be liked remained evident in everything I wrote. If I shared something personal and melancholy, I’d keep checking back to see if anyone cared. If I shared when I was actually happy, I’d keep a lookout for “likes” as well. But when even when happy posts appeared to go unnoticed, I’d fall back into melancholy. Nonetheless, I refused to produce content simply to appeal to the masses. It wasn’t in my nature. It always felt fake; dishonest.

6 May 2014

I survived some intense internet bullying yesterday from someone I used to call “friend” thanks in large part to the friends who were there for me and who allowed me to talk about it with them. It seems that talking with more than one caring friend drained most of the power from the bully. Thank you so much, friends. I won’t embarrass you by tagging you, but you know who you are. You know I love you and am extremely grateful for you and the time you’ve given me.

My first and (as of this writing) only internet bully came from my Facebook friends. We’d been friends for a short time in junior high, then went our separate ways and hadn’t seen one another since (save once, in passing, when we were 19). We first reconnected through email back in 2004 and then we talked on the phone a few times after finding each other again on “MySpace” in 2007. By then I was sure we’d reconciled the mistakes of our 14-year-old selves, even if he didn’t remember the past the same way I did. But when he seemingly-out-of-nowhere turned on me, I fell apart. 

He’d reached out to me on Facebook chat that day while I sat alone in a café. When I saw his profile picture pop up on my screen, I smiled and looked forward to our conversation. However, as soon as I replied, he became someone else. No one had ever spoken to me like that before. No one had actually told me to kill myself and accused me of  wrong-doings based on adolescent memories I did not share. How I held my composure long enough to not burst into tears in public I still don’t know. But I remember how my body trembled as I packed my things in an effort run away as fast as possible to a solitary place where I could cry. I was really lucky that day to have real friends who were there for me when I need them most, both over the phone and in person. 

This friend-turned-bully became the first person I had to block just to preserve what was left of my own sanity. But knowing that it was our shared mental illness diagnosis that helped reunite us in the first place has helped me not hate him or feel anger toward him despite it all.

21 April 2015

Can anyone relate to this? My friends became too busy… So I learned to enjoy being alone. I went to museums alone and to movies alone. I wandered the famous First Fridays Art Walk in Phoenix alone and experienced a few Phoenix Comicons alone. I shopped alone and ate alone. I took long drives alone and went on solo retreats. Then suddenly it became cool to be an introvert.

I really do enjoy being alone nowadays, but it didn’t always come naturally to me. Often I prefer company but, again, in 2009, my mental illness had become a disability which turned me into an anomaly in my peer group. After all, at age 29, everyone I knew was at least working full-time. A few still lived with their parents, some were married, some had children. But as far as I could see, I was the only one whose time was flexible; the only one who could still take spontaneous road-trips or see a movie in the middle of the day on a weekday. So for the impulsive side of my mental illness, this was a dream-come-true! But it still took some time for me to accept the fact that my friends didn’t have that luxury. 

Being acutely aware of how very different I was from my Facebook friends was no help to my low self-worth. Most of the time I’d see posts by friends about their kids or their job promotions or their new homes, and I’d feel less-than. I suppose it’s the curse of being both mentally ill and highly self-aware. The few times I’ve tried to break back into the workforce since 2009 have failed. Even when I worked traditional jobs, I detested having to keep my mental illness a secret and doing so would backfire anyway because, sooner or later, it would still show up it in my behavior.

26 November 2015

My friends have the best stories. I wish they could all know each other. It would make me so happy!

I really do love long, solo drives and have tried through Facebook to encourage my friends who don’t want to or can’t drive across town for me to let me drive to them. Sometimes it’s worked, sometimes it hasn’t. Most of my close friends live at least 20 miles away anyway, but the energy and joy I feel when we meet face-to-face is worth it to me.

7 October 2016

Friends, I’m sorry I’ve failed you as a friend. I’m well aware of my flaws and, believe me, I’ve come a long way from where I used to be but I’ve still got a ways to go. Just know I’m working on becoming a better person every day.

I suppose the old saying is true: “Misery loves company,” and my tendency to be honest and vulnerable on Facebook has brought some people closer to me and pushed others away. But as someone who frequently expressed melancholy and loneliness on Facebook, I’d often attract others who, at least emotionally, were a lot like me. So wouldn’t I be a hypocrite to say no if they want to hang out? I used to think so and, because of that, I’d spend time with people who I knew felt as lonely as me, but it was more out of pity than friendship. They could be the nicest person and I’d still not want to be friends with them for reasons I struggle to put to words. I guess you can’t force chemistry.

The people I truly do enjoy spending time with are the ones who don’t feel lonely and don’t naturally hate themselves. These are people who know how to set healthy boundaries. They know who they are. They don’t ask me to change and I don’t ask them to change, but I do want to be more like them. 

Some of my friends have toughed it out through my worst years and seen me come out the other end, scarred but alive and changed for the better. I sometimes wonder why I can’t be that kind of person for others who are as I once was. But it’s a question I can’t spend my life dwelling on. Just as I learned in my youth that not everyone can be my friend, I learned much later in life that I can’t be everyone’s friend.

14 June 2018

Sometimes you realize someone is a true friend when, after months or even years of not seeing them, you come together at last and it’s as though no time has passed at all. You don’t need explanations. You’re just content to be laughing together again.

There’s only one person I call my “best friend.” I may have bestowed this title upon her when we were still teenagers but now we’re adults, I can’t think of anyone else who could take her place in my heart. Even though it’s been almost a decade since we’ve even lived in the same state, I still call her my “best friend.”

In our time apart, maintaining a long-distance friendship has proven to be a formidable challenge. But we’ve managed to have countless phone conversations, exchange real letters and packages (as well as emails and texts). But it’s only when I see her in person that I really feel like she’s my best friend. So when we’re apart and I haven’t heard from her in a while, I try and remember how easily I can be myself with her when we’re together and that we’ll be together again someday. Besides, at least it’s not as difficult to visit her as it is to visit my international friends.

20 January 2014

…I don’t know when I’ll have the money and time to travel abroad again, but I’m not going to give up hope. Strange as it seems, I still want have closure. For years it’s bothered me that I was sent away so quickly I couldn’t say goodbye or exchange emails. I want to say my farewells. I want to see Montpellier, Perpignan, … and, I hope to have a reunion with the old international gang in Paris where I intend to spend lots of time browsing vintage books and imagining the lives of the people who read them before me….

Although I’ve had fun reconnecting with friends from high school and before on Facebook, my heart was happiest when my international friends I knew from the year before (2001-’02), during (2002-’03), and right after (2003-’04) my study abroad in France. They were the ones I held most dear in my heart during that pivotal, traumatic point when my life transformed from one full of energy and possibilities to one weighed down with stigma, shame, and doubt. They’d witnessed my transformation, whether in person or through the lengthy emails I’d shared with them before the existence of social media; when staying connected was even more difficult across oceans and continents. Many of them are now immortalized in my unpublished memoir, despite me changing their names to protect them. They may never share the same sentiments toward me, but I will always call them my friends.

10 March 2014

Goodnight, FB! You’ve provided me with the illusion of having friends for one more evening.

To be continued….

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