To say that in July of 2018 I was under a lot of stress would be a laughable understatement. I started the month off by being what I love to call “woefully underprepared” for a professional event ten hours from our home base. The trip in itself was a harrowing one; combine that with all the responsibilities I’d taken on for the weekend (the more the better, right?!): selling products in a vendor booth, teaching four classes, and speaking at one of the weekend’s luncheons. It was an incredible weekend. I felt that my booth and my presence were welcomed and I had a lot of fun. But at the end of it, I was exhausted through to my bones.
As my Facebook group for machine embroidery designs swelled past 15,000, I began really feeling the pressure of being a 24/7 online presence. When I logged in to Facebook to see what my big brother was up to lately, check out a recipe, share a picture with my mom, or just watch cat videos, I was bombarded with posts, messages, and tags from the embroidery world. And while I absolutely love and adore that world, and participate freely, the best way I can explain how it felt to see it all the time is to ask how you would feel if your boss or computer at work could contact you at 7 pm, 3 am, and any other time you opened your personal cell phone? It was.. overwhelming. Coupled with the events of the first weekend of the month and some stresses in my personal life, this storm led to a serious case of creative and personal burnout.
To deal with this the best I could, I created a new Facebook account that I planned to use just for friends and family. I could browse hobbies, look up recipes, participate in groups on a personal basis that have nothing to do with embroidery, etc. Unfortunately, after I broke this news to my Facebook friends, one of those “friends” reported this new account for “impersonation” of the real “me.” This situation ended with a brief email to me in the middle of July informing me that my account had been “disabled.” My eleven-year-old account: gone. “Disabled” means that it is inactive; you cannot log in to retrieve any of your information. It is not permanently deleted (yet).
So back to my account: Facebook gives you an option to “appeal” this decision by filling out a form (cue Dale Gribble here) online, to which an employee may or may not ever respond. In my case, I immediately deleted that second account, filed the appeal, explained what happened, and attached my passport photo to show that I am “me,” and waited for what would surely be a quick resolution. After two days, I was pleased to see a response from a Facebook employee. Excitement faded as I read the bizarre text: “It looks like you’re contacting us on the wrong channel. Please log in to your account and contact the Help page from there. (signed by a name I do not remember).” Sigh. They didn’t even read it. I don’t HAVE an account to log into, remember? That’s kindof what I just typed to you in this message. I responded to that message, “I do not have an account. It is ‘disabled,'” and then a brief explanation again. To this message I never received a response.
I began looking for additional outlets for contact. Email, phone numbers, blogs on others’ experiences with this situation, etc. To my dismay, it appeared that the only people who were ever successful in restoring their Facebook accounts were celebrities, who knew someone important at the Facebook company and/or had millions of followers to simultaneously bombard Facebook’s channels to beg for restoration of their favorite face. I sent emails to random addresses I found, I even sent multiple additional messages on my “support page” where they had communicated with me the first time, but in the end I never received a single response. Not “Yes,” not “No.” Nothing.
Now I’m not one of those people who keeps all of her photos on Facebook, but I am a storyteller who has written quite a few works on Facebook to commemorate special occasions or difficult times in my life over that decade. To see those gone forever was.. devastating. Luckily I had appointed a friend’s and my husband’s Facebook accounts as “admin” of a few important pages, so I could limp along with my public page with about 10,000 likes and ad content, and a group of over 15,000 very active members that happened to fuel my website – the way I provide for my family – in the absence of a personal account. I maintained hope that the account would be restored, and felt it impossible to move on – should I make another account? I didn’t want to jeopardize any possibility that my decade-old account would be given back to me. However, sometime in September, I began to realize that Facebook was completely finished with Melissa Harris as she existed from 2007-2018. I went through a period of intense personal loss as I came to the realization that it was not coming back. I then saw the little gray female icon that had represented my “disabled” account on my husband’s page and my groups, disappear completely. I was not just disabled. I was deleted. Talk about personal burnout – try being erased from the world’s largest social network.
As I came to terms with this erasure, I made decisions about my social media life that I hadn’t even realized, ten years ago, should be made. It was simply not possible for me to not have a Facebook account; my business is conducted heavily through the use of my Facebook group and Facebook page. So, hesitantly, I created a new account. But I made a big change to how I view my account: I am not adding friends or family on a personal basis. The only “Friends” on my current Facebook account are people with whom I deal in my business and help me run my pages. I don’t spend much time on Facebook any more, personally. I go to Instagram or YouTube for most of my “distraction” as I need it in my creative life.
At the end of this odyssey, if I am indeed at the end, I have learned some things about myself and about life in general that I would love to share, if you’d care to keep reading.
First off, and perhaps most obviously, I awoke on the morning I received that first “disabled” email. I breathed, I spoke, I was hungry, I craved Diet Coke – I was alive! That’s right – even though Facebook had revoked my account, I was, indeed, alive. Contrary to how social media must feel sometimes, it is not “life.” You are you – a living, feeling human being. Facebook is a website. Your Facebook account is not you. So that was a refreshing revelation!
I also think that you “learn who your friends are” when something like this happens. Facebook did not discover my misuse by accident; they were pointed to me from a “Friend.” (They said so in the email, but did not specify who. It read something like, “One of your friends has reported this account for impersonation.”) I had people on my Facebook Friends’ list who I haven’t talked to in a decade. People with whom I have essentially nothing in common. People who may very well have disliked me and had ill will toward me, simply for the sake of nostalgia or because I didn’t want to be “rude” and not accept a friend request. Be choosy when it comes to sharing your personal life. Everyone you sat next to once on a plane doesn’t need to see pictures of your kids and information about your daily plans.
Next, and perhaps the most celebrated benefit: I don’t have to see any political or personal rants when I hop on Facebook for a quick scroll! If I want to support a candidate, debate about politics or religion, or communicate with like-minded people, I can purposefully visit a page or group to do so. It doesn’t jump out and grab me.
I find myself with more time to work, and personal time now. If I find my mind needy of something to do, I grab my planner and pens or some stickers or a coloring book or.. anything that fuels my creativity instead of mindlessly entertains.
One of the biggest excuses I had for even having a personal Facebook page was to communicate and share pictures with my mom, who lives four counties away and had a stroke in 2012. “But.. but.. I have to share pictures so my mom will see them!” After I lost Facebook, I realized that my mother, like myself, is not in actuality her Facebook account, and that we could communicate in other ways, such as these handy devices called cell phones. Now, I share a photo with her immediately after it was snapped instead of waiting to apply the perfect filter or come up with a witty caption.
And in this vein, I am so much more purposeful with my communication now. I have friends’ birthdays programmed into my calendar and I send a card in advance, or send a text on his or her special day, instead of being reminded by Facebook with an impersonal greeting. When I want to reach out to or touch base with a friend, I pull out my phone and send a text. No more vague “If anyone needs to talk, you can talk to me anytime” Facebook posts. Now, if I want to talk, or if I know a friend who may, I send a deliberate invitation her way.
I am a picture nut; I never made it to the professional title of “photographer,” but I love documenting special moments with pictures and today’s phones make those memories so high in quality and so easily accessible! But do you know the one thing that takes even better pictures than your iPhone? Your mind. After I was erased from Facebook, I began realizing just how many pictures I took that never made it to any social media, but rather sat in my phone, accumulating to challenge the massive storage that Google had promised me. Additionally, I spent a shocking amount of time mindlessly scrolling through Facebook after I posted anything to my personal page. So I did an experiment at the county fair in September: we took the kids out for a night of fun and I left my phone in the truck. The boys had so much fun, and I was truly present to enjoy it all. I don’t have pictures on Instagram, but I can remember every ride they rode, their smiles, the roast corn I devoured, the (now)-hilarious meltdown by Max at the big slide, the sights and smells of the fair and my son saying, “Thanks for taking us to the fair! It was the best!” No pictures. Just memories.
Finally, I’ve found a lot of personal fulfillment in this purposeful communication that involves just me talking with a loved one. Instead of sharing a picture for general consumption, for looks, likes, to humble-brag or to go “viral,” I’m seeking out a person to enjoy his or her company, and I hope that is understood. In today’s time where there’s so much awareness about mental health issues, when was the last time you spoke one-on-one with a loved one about his life? Not a vague “If you need me I’m here,” but an individual card, text, email, or phone call to say, “Do you want to talk? Right now. My attention is yours.” I’m tearing up thinking about this! Nothing builds you up more than someone giving you her full attention. And guess what? It feels good for her too. I think it’s the most unselfishly selfish activity we can do.
In all this I’m trying to say that life goes on. I learned a lot through this difficult period and I’ve had some real connections with people that I don’t think would have been possible on the “internet.” Even though I still mourn the loss of the post I made after my husband was finally released from the hospital after a debilitating illness, the story I wove about our first trip overseas, and others, it will be okay, because I’ve learned these real-life lessons and skills.
It’s not my intention to demonize the use of electronics, social media, or photographs. If that’s what you got out of this blog, then I feel bad for that. Indeed, Facebook has been probably the most influential tool I’ve used in the past four years to grow a business that not only contributes to my family, but almost solely supports it. The technology and abilities I have using Facebook have afforded me life-changing opportunity. There’s a reason I shamelessly begged in multiple messages to retrieve my account! I’m simply reminding you that you are not your social media account, and there is so much to experience that doesn’t require a cell phone or social media account. Get out there and do it!
Oh, and hey, if anyone from The Facebook ever sees this, I’d love to have my account restored just long enough to download all my writings from the past decade, if it’s technologically possible. Email to get in touch fastest is designsbylittlebee at gmail dot com. (That wasn’t my Facebook email) Throwing that out there just in case!