Social media is a wonderful thing! I honestly can’t remember how we survived before the internet! When I was serving on active duty, the internet was in it’s early stages. While assigned to my first ship, we didn’t even have email! Communication to our families back home were done the old-fashion way – snail mail. By the time I reported to my second ship, email was just coming into being so it was great to be able to communicate in real-time with people back home. That was also about the time that chat rooms and things like that started becoming popular. Facebook wasn’t even a thing yet. But here we are in 2017 and you can exist in life and communicate with others without ever leaving your home. You don’t even have to physically go to the grocery store anymore because they have home delivery now. But, as with almost anything, something good can also be bad when overused or used for the wrong reasons.
Depression and anxiety (and other mental health conditions) affect so many people now days. Most of you are well aware of my mental health struggles. But I made the decision that my “issues” weren’t going to define or limit me and I would learn to manage them and live a very full life. A key part of that goal was interacting with other humans and making real friends. I started a group for other women like me (women vets) and that quickly grew into something really great. I got involved with a wonderful organization that empowers women called Dress For Success. I’ve been with them a couple of years and am now on the Board of Directors! I began challenging myself to step outside my comfort zone in order to meet people and get connected to others. I’ve recently started my own business and am super happy that it is taking off! But even thought there needs to be a new word in the dictionary to describe the level of “busy” that I am – I still feel great and still have reserves for whatever comes my way. Why am I telling you this? Not to brag on myself or anything!! I mention my busy status to point out how being Dorie has kept me sane.
I meet new people almost daily – both veterans and non-veterans. I constantly talk about how staying busy, engaging in HUMAN interaction, and stepping outside your comfort zone is the key to overcoming your anxiety, depression, and another similar issues you may have. In this age of social media, it’s not only our teenagers that have become slaves to the online community of interaction. And while there is nothing wrong with getting on closed groups in Facebook and finding a connection to others, I do believe it is not healthy when that becomes your prime source of interaction. I HAVE met people who found success through these groups such as losing weight or other things because prior to that they literally did nothing but stay home and eat and watch TV or for those with major medical issues that keep them bedridden. And also people that have lost a loved one or maybe are dealing with a spouse with PTSD or other issues and found an online support group. Those are great to get you “started” on the road to recovery and healing, but those are exception with mitigating circumstances and should always be a starting point for eventually including real humans in the process. For the rest of us able bodied people – interaction via Facebook groups and chat rooms should only be a minor piece to our daily interactions. Maybe a place to seek advice or information when you don’t know where else to turn. I “troll” many Veteran Facebook groups and other support groups – not because I have nothing else to do – but because I want to know if someone here in our area or someone I physically know from outside my area is needing information or advice regarding veteran information. So much bad and incorrect information is put out in these groups that many times leaves the veteran more confused than when they asked the question. But I also troll the pages in case a local veteran posts of being in dire straights (mentally or otherwise). Something I have noticed is that many people get on these sites and ask questions or share stories or offer support to others in the group – all of which are great things – however, they are almost completely void of doing this with live human beings right here where they live. At first, I get irritated – but after thinking about it, I realize they must have something else going on that makes them prefer the safety of “virtual” friends over flesh and blood. Have they been so hurt by real humans in the past that close, personal relationships are not only uncomfortable but also just not an option? Or do they have a single issue that they want others to focus on rather than having many people with many types of issues which takes the spotlight away from helping them with their single issue? Regardless of why – the fact remains that there is something more going on which drives them to safety of virtual friends. If you don’t like what they have to say, you can always block them or un-join the group. You can’t do that with real people. Well you can, but it’s much more difficult and so much drama comes with it!
I used to be that way. After I made E-6 in the military, it was much harder to socialize because of fraternization rules. There were fewer women at that paygrade as compared to E-5. Plus, I was a single parent – which made it more difficult to socialize. I was not longer in the party mode – I was in Mom mode. It got MUCH worse after putting on my Anchors (E7). The majority of my last 5-6 years of service was spent isolated from a social perspective. I didn’t hang out with others (of my paygrade) on the weekends. So after several years of it just being Go to work, Go home – my only interactions were with my kids. Yes, I had a neighbor or two that I occasionally interacted with but from a distance because their husbands were lower in paygrade than me. But after I left service – it was like getting hit in the face with a brick! I was alone in a town where I had no family or friends. I was so accustomed to only interacting with my kids that I was completely lost on how to “make” friends – civilian friends. Plus the idea of paygrade restrictions was still in my head so I would meet people that were of higher paygrades (civilian job equivalent) and think we couldn’t possibly be friends. Also, I just didn’t know HOW to be a civilian or a friend. All of my friends from high school I had pretty much lost touch with over the years so I didn’t know how to do “normal” stuff. So the cycle of go to work, go home became my norm again. Yes, I faked the interactions as work – they were work-related and not personal. I shied away from getting close to anyone at work. I was so relieved when I had two female veterans start working with me. That made it easier. I faked it a LOT back then. I seemed so outgoing and unafraid. But the reality was that I was scared and had panic attacks and sank into depression more and more because of my lack of REAL human (not children or dogs) interaction and relationships. Once we (me and the other 2 female vets) started this women veterans group, it was still a bit awkward at first, but quickly became my safe haven. Being around them more and more helped me practice the “being normal” part of social interactions. Do I still get anxiety going into places that are mostly civilian and being expected to socialize and interact? HELLS to the Yes!! But I do it intentionally now – tackle my fears head on. Yes, I do have conversations on Facebook and in social media groups but that is a small piece to my connection to others. My confidence has grown, my anxiety has lessened, and my depression is kept at bay for the most part. HUMAN interaction is a basic need of all humans. It is what we were designed for. We were not designed to live a life of solitude. Also, you can’t cut out people in general simply because a few hurt you in the past. Yes, you learn to be more selective in who you really open up to and call your BFF, but you still must socialize with those who get on your nerves or who have different thoughts and opinions than you. Why? Because learning how to deal with difficult people or how to remain accepting of those whose ideas differ from yours keeps you sharp. Also, it helps you to learn why others are the way they are. If you write off every person that thinks differently that you, well for one, that is hypocritical and totally against what God teaches, but it also doesn’t help you grow as a person. It is OK to have different opinions – that’s what makes us all unique. But you can’t live in a world filled only with people who think exactly as you do – you will never learn anything new. Also, it’s important to understand and realize – it is OK to trust again after being hurt. Absolutely keep your guard up but don’t put a lock on that door. We learn from our mistakes and from things that hurt us. Things can’t be peachy all the time. God sends us difficult times (broken relationships, death, etc) in order for us to really cherish and appreciate the good times. You can NOT shut down because of bad things that have happened to you in the past.
I just had a passing thought while typing this. Those that truly get what I’m saying here will laugh and say “yeah that used to be me” but those that I’m really talking to will say “yeah, I know someone like that” and totally not see that THEY are indeed the ones I’m talking to! For me, I just got tired of the lonely, miserable life I was existing in. I wasn’t LIVING. I DID what I had to DO to get where I WANTED to be. I want to be surrounded by people – pleasant and not so pleasant – but mostly those with a zest for LIVING and willing to do whatever it takes to live out that dream. If you can dream it you can have it – plain and simple. So get off you Facebook and show up unexpectedly at a meeting of people you may or may not know. Oh- here is a trade secret – find a wing-woman. Find someone you know or sort of know and ask them to go with you so you aren’t completely a fish out of water. Just do it. I won’t lie – it will be unpleasant at first. But kinda like jumping into the pool when it’s cold – you get used to it and then it’s not even a thing anymore. But back to my original concern – if you have options – human options- don’t discount them or write them off because of your fears of getting close to people again. Having imaginary friends on a Facebook group or in a Yahoo chat room or other similar social media outlets is OK to “get your foot wet” but doesn’t help you grow or move forward past whatever caused you to hold back. Eventually you have to just jump in and make the connection with REAL HUMAN BEINGS True healing happens when you learn to trust real humans again.