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Column: Facebook, Covid-19, and the Christmas without 'The Nutcracker'

Column: Facebook, Covid-19, and the Christmas without 'The Nutcracker'

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I am not OK.

With reports of depression, anxiety and insomnia skyrocketing, I also know that I am not alone. This is lengthy, and I apologize, but I hope you will read it. I hope you will understand, and perhaps even empathize. I hope it makes a difference.

The short and simple version is that I do not like who I am on social media, on Facebook. I do not like the intensity of negative emotions it often stirs within me. I no longer like how it makes me feel. The “me” that I like is the parish nurse, the author of books that spoke of rejoicing always and in everything, give thanks, the person who strived to bring inspiration, hope, and healing. The person who, upon retiring, said that parish nursing brought out the best in me, the very best that I had to offer: to that congregation, my family, and to my friends.

I miss that person, and I find that I need to distance myself from social media for my mental, physical, and spiritual health.

The longer version is more difficult, more complex. My world changed dramatically five years ago when Levaquin’s neurotoxicity left me disabled. As I struggled for years to regain functioning, to regenerate nerve cells, to dance again, there were many dark days, days of depression as I dealt with grief, loss, and an unfamiliar new normal. But those days were fleeting, and I never lost hope, and I never quit fighting. Facebook was my friend during those years. It brought entertainment and the support of many friends — some of whom I had not been in contact with for years. I lived vicariously through you in those early years as I celebrated your birthdays, families, and travels. I prayed for you in times of need as you had prayed for me. I danced again, and in September of 2019, one short year ago, the only worry that occupied my days was whether I could dance on pointe in "The Nutcracker" that coming December. Would my strength and my balance be enough? They were, and I did.

I still had deficits, but I felt that I had finally defeated Levaquin. My second book was born, and through its message, I found that I could be a parish nurse again. As 2020 began, I was in a good place. None could have dreamed what this year would bring: COVID, riots, violence, and political vitriol. The fear, the worry, the isolation, and the anger has left no one untouched. I was fine for a while. I am a nurse. COVID-19 is tragic and horrific, but I knew that it would eventually pass, even if it took years. As the weeks and months passed, the isolation necessary for someone in the high-risk group and the world-wide images of deaths, mass graves, morgues in refrigerated trucks, food lines, homes and jobs lost, and victims dying alone in nursing homes or intensive care units began to take its toll.

People under stress are not always at their best, and poor judgment and decisions filled the news with unimaginable acts. Civilized behavior and discourse were trampled as murders and criminally charged riots disguised as protests crippled our cities. Facebook began to be flooded with intense opinions and reactions. The political climate escalated, and social media was suddenly a platform for aggressively defending one’s viewpoints. Once my friend, Facebook turned destructive.

I heard a sermon recently that included a powerful quote worth remembering. It stated that social media gives everyone an overinflated opinion of their own views while devaluing the opinion of others. And what about “believe half of what you see and none of what you hear?” If one listens to three different news broadcasters, what you see and hear is quite different depending on each agency’s agenda. There are usually two or more sides to every story, and what we hear is often biased, taken out of context, or what a particular news entity deems that we should hear.

Is a difference of opinion, a difference in belief really important enough in the long run to destroy relationships or friendship? Relationship has never been more important, and is friendship not about respect and support regardless of different life philosophies? Is friendship not something to be treasured for a lifetime? Our perceptions of life are as uniquely individual as the DNA in our cells, and our values and beliefs are a result of our experiences and those perceptions. Do we not all have a right to our beliefs and opinions? I believe that we do, but I also believe that social media is not the appropriate platform to air those beliefs in a way that often incites, hurts, and alienates while pronouncing judgment on entire groups — or parties — of people. We need no further alienation, and the sad truth is that even the most vehemently stated epistle is not going to change another’s opinion. It only divides, and a malignant chasm appears in a once important relationship.

I see comments that are humiliating, degrading, and even cruel. Equality, tolerance, inclusiveness, and absence of prejudice are hailed as the utopic ideal, but shouldn’t those same admirable values apply to how we treat others whose beliefs and opinions are different? The very fabric of our unity is being systemically destroyed across all available medias, and it saddens me that Facebook, a network for friends, has become a conduit to that destruction. I am not sure that I have hope about this outcome. The damage being done in our country, and to each other, is great. The lines are firmly drawn.

I value my Facebook friends. I love seeing your families, your adventures, celebrating your birthdays, praying for you when times are hard. I do not care about your political views. I care about our friendship. Our connectedness. Unless one unplugs from all technology, these views bombard us, and I am exhausted with it.

I am not OK. My heart is sad, and my soul is dark, and all of the coping skills in my toolbox that helped me survive Levaquin and many other life challenges aren’t working. But nothing works very well when you have averaged three hours of sleep a night for the past four months. Restorative sleep is necessary to keep autoimmune diseases stable. Needless to say, I have had a major flare. Which requires prednisone. Which disrupts sleep. Which has caused an imbalance of important chemicals in my brain that now require medication. The same damaged brain that finally defeated Levaquin needs my care. I realized at 2:30 this morning, as I was dwelling and agonizing on the negativity I had read on Facebook in recent weeks, that I need to take control. I need to return to who I was as a parish nurse. To rejoice always. To simply be grateful for the love of family and friends. To repot my plants. To hug our cat, Boo, and laugh at LT the squirrel. To write. To meditate. To hike to waterfalls with my amazing husband. To love unconditionally.

There is no Nutcracker this year, but I can wait for Christmas 2021, when I am assured that "The Nutcracker" ballet will return. I will be almost 71 then, and I will do my best to be on that stage. To do these things, I am making a choice to leave the toxic world of social media for as long as it takes to restore and replenish the easy gratitude and inner harmony that have always grounded me. Several months ago, I disabled all electronic notifications, those tantalizing dings that practically demand that we immediately stop what we are doing and attend to their siren song. Helpful, but I need to do more. My account will not be closed because I need to keep my author’s page open for my book, "Surviving Lupus, Levaquin, and Life," a book that I have neglected because I haven’t had the mental energy to focus on its care and marketing for some time.

No, I am not OK, but I will be and am determined to also survive 2020 — in one piece and with my sanity intact. I will cast my vote on Nov. 3, based on my opinion and my values, for the candidate that I believe is the best choice for this great country. As you will. I may not understand your choice or your beliefs, but I can assure you that I will not judge or belittle you.

I also realize that this is my story and may not be your experience at all. I readily accept that my degree of isolation perhaps skews my opinions and perspectives. Opinions and perspectives as unique as my DNA. But I ask you to consider: Are you OK? Do you like who you are on social media, or is it adding to your own anxiety and the unpleasantness that is permeating our world? Is the time spent there taking time away from what really matters in your life? What do you need, what changes do you choose to make to navigate these stressful times and fill each moment of your life with joy, blessings, and gratitude?

I hope you stay in touch. You can always text, email, or message me. An old-fashioned phone call would be wonderful! Please keep me, each other, and our country in your prayers during these difficult days. I wish each of you peace and health of mind, body, and spirit.

Rhonda Jean Bolton is a retired registered nurse who is also a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC) and is the author of two books. She works from her home in Hickory and dances with the Louis Nunnery School of Ballet.

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