Learning from Facebook Memories

A few days ago, I referenced the human tendency to look back on past times with rose-colored glasses, remembering the good parts about something and conveniently forgetting the less-than-ideal parts. I seem to actually be guilty of the converse a lot more often. The memories of difficult times or the struggle component of an experienced outshines the positive aspects. Although I strive to be an optimistic person, my natural inkling is more pessimistic, so it takes a concerted effort to take on a sunnier outlook. I imagine this is why it’s like my rose-colored glasses are soot-stained. I’m making noticeable improvements in this undesirable tendency though, and I’ve been reaping the rewards of a positive shift in attitude in terms of a better mood and a calmer disposition.

My physical health is one area where my glasses do tend to be overly rosy. When I consider all of the many serious health challenges I have now, it’s easy to pine for my younger adulthood days where I remember feeling so much better. Particularly in terms of the restrictions caused by my food allergies and the constant chronic digestive distress I face truly every single day, it’s understandable to wish this was not my reality, and my self-protective brain seems to choose to remember this not always being the case. While I certainly didn’t have the bounty of medically-mandated food restrictions ten years ago that I now must abide by, the fact is that I didn’t feel well and I was sick all the time. On a near daily frequency, Facebook’s memories of the day presents me with a status update complaining of a sickness from five to twelve years ago (what I typically fallaciously remember as “the golden years of my health”). These posts range in specificity from the broad “Sick day today” and “I feel sick,” to the more specific: “I have a stomach ache,” “Vomiting sucks,” “I must have the flu”, and “Stomach pain, please go away.” Oftentimes, there are multiple memories from different years with the same date that all complain of illness and being sick in bed.

These little Facebook reminders keep putting my nostalgic “things-used-to-be-so-much-better” attitude in check. Although most of my food allergies outside of celiac disease were not yet known so my diet was much more inclusive and “fun,” I clearly didn’t feel well much of the time. I kept a tally in the month of January of my daily Facebook memories. Of the 31 days, only five days did not have a post from one of my previous years mentioning feeling unwell. I’ve had this particular account since 2006, so that’s twelve years of potential posts on a given day. Since I rarely, if ever, report feeling sick or having an illness in a status post now, and for the past several years and it was always something I steered away from posting (because who cares? and most of the time, we, as humans, try to portray just the good stuff in our lives), these metrics are alarming. It’s impossible to argue that I used to feel “much better” than I do now. I was sick all the time! Perhaps the severity of my symptoms was milder, but they were enough to warrant missing work, staying in bed, dragging myself to doctors, or otherwise being unable to carry on about my day feeling decently.

Tangentially related to these apparently often posted memories of illness in my past, I’m saddened to see how often I posted about feeling depressed, lonely, or anxious. If there was a cluster chart generated for my most frequently used words in my status updates in the past ten years, I think all three of these terms (depression, lonely, and anxious) and their various iterations would be among the top modes of the word use data. It comes as no revelation because I’m well aware of this pattern, but these painful feelings have clearly maintained a regular presence in my life. I know that if Facebook was around when I was ten years old, this same trend would be observed stretching back those twenty years. The little diaries and journals that have been preserved from my childhood and young adolescence serve as manual analogs that confirm the decade of digital findings.

In fact, my childhood entries are indicative of often more depressive thoughts and moods, though they lack the explicit vernacular. Instead, they report lines like “I’m not loveable,” “I wish I was as good as my sisters,” and “I’m too weird.” It’s sad to think my little ten-year-old self was wrapped up in these worries and feelings of inadequacy instead of playing and relishing in the innocence of fun childhood.

The one nice thing about seeing confessed thoughts like that is that it makes me feel even more proud of the triumphs over depression I have had in my recent years, when feeling depressed would be so much more justified given the situations (particularly after surviving the attack). Honestly, it’s still essentially a daily battle, but I can say with conviction that although I’m still depressed and anxious a lot and have a lot of work to do on improving my self-esteem, my feelings of self-worth have absolutely increased from what they once were. I can tell this will be a long journey for me, but though the progress can feel frustratingly slow, in aggregate, it’s substantial. I haven’t been particularly reticent in confessing that I dealt with a period of suicidal ideation and attempts in college, which was fueled by a feeling of complete worthlessness. I felt that the world and the people I was connected to in my life would be better off without me. That is so drastically different than how I feel now that it’s actually difficult for me to reconcile the fact that those were truly my beliefs at one point. It feels so foreign and dissimilar to how I’ve felt in the ten years since, especially now, that if it were not for being my own personal history, I’d not believe it true.

This redirecting to a healthy mindset may be one of my biggest accomplishments in my life thus far. It’s so scary to think that I once had so little value for my life and myself. I do think, however, that if I had some of the understanding of myself and my differences/conditions at the time, the magnitude of my feelings of brokenness, isolation, freakishness, and “unloveableness” would have been much less. Nevertheless, I pulled through that rock bottom and have built a life and “self” that I deeply cherish now. Not every day is easy or amazing, but I respect the gift of my life and the value I bring to those I know and love.

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