I’ve been using Facebook to perform my grief
And it’s not working for me anymore.
My Sweet Dumb Brain started as a way for me to process the ups and downs of life and share my realizations with others. Today, I’m handing over the reins to Becca, my trusty editor and longtime friend, who is sharing her own life lessons today.
Becca’s essay is about mourning someone you love and how doing so publicly—specifically, though social media—can be complicated and confusing. It’s a topic I think about a lot, and I’m so glad she wrote about it. I hope you love it as much as I do.
Today marks two years since my dad died.
People say the second year of grief can be harder than the first. For me, though, this year has been easier in many ways. I feel more used to the idea that my dad is no longer here, even though that reality hurts (and always will). Tearful moments still catch me unexpectedly, but they’re not as intense or as frequent. I’ve been fortunate to have many kind friends and family members continue to ask how I’m coping.
The second year brought a lot of healing—or so I thought.
I’ve found myself wrestling with some tough emotions as I approached this milestone, especially in the many reminders of my dad I’ve experienced recently: seeing a man who both looked and sounded like him at the Renaissance Festival last weekend; discovering one of his shirts tucked among my workout clothes while bringing out my summer wardrobe; witnessing my 5-year-old daughter looking at his photo on the wall and, out of nowhere, saying how much she missed him.
More upsetting than anything, though, were the Facebook Memories from the period around my dad’s illness and death.
The grief I’ve been feeling is natural. But the emotional unrest stemming from old Facebook posts seemed heavier than that. After considering these feelings a bit more, I realize I’ve been struggling with my identity—and my problematic relationship with social media is to blame.
When my dad became ill, I used Facebook to keep our family and friends informed of his condition. I shared updates about what was going on (a misdiagnosed gallbladder turned gangrenous), the ups and downs of his recovery (spoiler alert: it was mostly downs!), and, finally, the reality that the great comeback story we were all hoping for wasn’t going to happen.
A few weeks ago, the first of many Facebook Memories of those posts detailing my father’s decline came rolling in and, with them, the emotional reflection that set off this chain reaction of self-discovery.
As I thought back on what I had shared over the last two years, I considered how much of the grieving process had been left unsaid. Although I’ve shared about many difficult things openly, there’s much more that hasn’t been spoken of—and may never be. Certainly no one expects full honesty on the internet, nor is it appropriate to share every intimate detail of one’s life. It’s natural not to reveal entire truths on social media, even when we’re being truthful.
That wasn’t my problem. The problem, I realized, was that I wasn’t being honest with myself. I have been performing my grief. Not just that—I’ve been using social media as a way to avoid my grief, too. And, in doing so, I created a public version of my life and identity that I find myself at odds with now.
This has been a pattern for years.
My second child was born in late 2018. Following his birth, the usual culprits—a lack of sleep, hormones, adjusting to becoming a family of four—coupled with not being able to take an effective antidepressant for nearly two years put me in a very low place.
Even on my hardest days, I would share openly about my struggles on Facebook. I’d discuss the difficulties of motherhood with rawness and vulnerability. I’d heart-react supportive comments and do my best to respond to each person with gratitude and sincerity. The long, emotionally charged posts, coupled with a carefully selected photo, had become formulaic to me by that point. Even ritualistic.
Posting and engaging on social media throughout postpartum depression became more than a salve; it was salvation. It was all I would think about—how can I turn my pain into something beautiful? Something people will look at and admire? Without realizing it, I started prioritizing that version of myself and my life, constantly coming up with ways I could show my audience—my family and friends!—that I was strong and resilient, in spite of my hardships.
By the beginning of 2020, I was starting to come out of the worst of my condition. I felt hopeful. I was on the other side of that difficult first year! It was time to feel like myself again, to take back control of my real, actual life and start living it!
Then, right on the heels of postpartum depression, we entered a global pandemic. Two months later, my dad died. And Facebook was there for me through it all, once again.
While I had spent much of 2019 detailing my son’s allergy and eczema woes and the challenges of parenting a defiant toddler-aged daughter, the majority of 2020 was about grieving the unexpected loss of a parent.
The truth is, transitioning from one traumatic year of my life to another was made much easier with Facebook. I had already become adept at writing about my pain; I had a supportive, engaged audience; and, now, I had a new hardship to overcome. I thrived in the virtual version of my life and preferred my online identity—the self-aware woman who could handle it all, the one in whom others believed. The one in whom I believed and, admittedly, escaped into to avoid my painful reality.
For all the things I’ve written publicly about postpartum depression and grief—as honest and real and cathartic as they’ve been—I’ve also let those things be a distraction. Not only from processing those experiences, but also from re-discovering myself following such significant losses. The more I shared about what was “real” in my life, the more I allowed myself to disconnect from and ignore the “real” that matters—the unspoken and unshared. The truths that can’t be written into a formulaic piece, that have no photo lovely enough to make it palatable. The things that I need to address in order to heal and reconcile myself.
As I write this, I feel ashamed. I prided myself on being vulnerable and transparent in my posts because I didn’t portray my life as sun-drenched or picture-perfect the way many do on social media. But the ways in which I shared my struggles were all painstakingly curated in an effort to convince others—and especially myself—that I was okay, when, as it turns out, I wasn’t. I’m still not.
This performative behavior has been a pattern for years. One that has undeniably been made more complicated by my relationship with social media.
That’s why early one morning a few weeks ago, during a rare quiet, honest, vulnerable moment with myself, I decided to disconnect from it completely.
Today marks two years since my dad died and 20 days since I left social media.
The break has been helpful, far beyond simply avoiding the Facebook Memories I knew would be difficult this year. Less energy spent framing my daily life for Instagram Stories means more time for spending with myself and my loved ones. Instead of writing replies to people’s posts, I’m writing for myself and able to focus more on my new freelance writing job. The compulsion to produce content has eased, leaving me with more mental space for looking inward and reflecting on what I want my life—my real, non-digital, actual life—to look like as I emerge from these years of trauma and grief.
Even now, as I write this, I wonder: Is this essay just another performance? Another truth that hides an even deeper truth? It could be. No, in fact—it is. Sharing for public consumption is inherently a performance, one that cannot possibly encompass or convey every intimate truth. But my admission of this fact is part of the healing process and reconciliation of my inner and public worlds.
Today, I will briefly return to social media to share this essay and connect with some of my dad’s friends and family to remember him. I don’t plan to re-install the apps to my phone, and I am pretty sure I will deactivate my accounts after a few days to continue my journey of self-discovery.
Most importantly, though, I will remember my dad today by going with my family to our favorite Mexican restaurant. I’ll share stories with my kids about their Gramps over chips and salsa and have a margarita in his honor. Tears may be shed, but I hope there will be much more laughter.
A few weeks ago I might have over-documented the whole event by posting photos to my Stories. But tonight, my phone will stay tucked away in my purse while I enjoy my real, actual non-digital life. And I’ll give my real, actual non-digital self some grace, too, as I sit with all the joy, pain, and other messy emotions that come my way.