Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Warning: Facebook can be dangerous to your health

Khaled Al-Ostath | 26-02-2016

It started with intense chest pains every time I logged on to Facebook to check the groups I belong to and to scroll through my newsfeed. I couldn’t breathe very well. My head got fuzzy and I couldn’t think. After a Facebook session, I had trouble communicating with the people around me, and my sleep was fragmented. All I could think about was my own sorry situation compared with the way other people in the world get to live. My visits to Facebook became shorter and shorter as the physical symptoms of anxiety and depression overwhelmed rational thought.

And so, I left Facebook, and I can't say that I missed it one bit. Certain friends I conversed with almost daily on Skype or Whatsapp; others I heard from every few weeks in the form of a lengthy email or an old-fashioned phone call. I had Twitter to keep me abreast of what was happening in the world. And so, even without Facebook, I was able to stay in contact with my closest friends and stay current with the news.

When sharing can be too much

Ironically, the reason I had to log off was because of my friends who live here in Gaza with me. Their posts were so demoralizing! They would post horrible speculation about how the next war with Israel was just around the corner and would destroy everything and everyone. For example, one person wrote that Gaza would be bombed within two months and all its people left without shelter. Another person wrote that Gaza would experience the deadliest war ever in the coming months, due to the escalation of events in the West Bank. Others insisted the war would occur during the summer or even sooner, before the end of winter, due to the tensions on the border. One person, who posts under a fake name (some peole here are afraid to use their real names due to the volatile political situation), wrote, “Gaza will be destroyed during Ramadan just like in the last war.”

As a Palestinian from Gaza who has survived three wars, this chatter was very depressing and stressful. And I must admit, in my own way, I was contributing to it. I didn’t say things about war, but I would post statements in which I had sad conversations with someone I love, saying "I'm just so tired, tired of not being good enough, tired of getting put down, tired of crying, tired of insecurities, tired of being tired." And, "you don’t know pain until you're staring at yourself in the mirror with tears streaming down your face and you are begging yourself to just hold on and be strong." That is ‪‎pain.  I was in a very dark space.

Happy for others, but...

My overseas friends also added to my depression. For example, one friend, (a Brit whom I have never met) was travelling from London to Washington, DC, for a vacation. I was reading his posts while lying in my bedroom without electricity and covering myself to the chin because of the cold weather. At the same time, I was reading “Brave New World,” by Aldous Huxley on my phone, but it was running out of battery since we have no electricity for 20 hours a day. I looked at his pictures and read his posts about the bookshops, libraries and coffee shops he was visiting.

What particularly hurt was a picture he posted on his return, of the London Eye, also known as the Millennium Wheel. Of all the places in the world, I wish I could be on that Ferris wheel with Grace, my best friend and girlfriend. I turned my head to the cold wall and started thinking, “How am I going to get through this hell and to somewhere beautiful?” I stared at the ceiling, wondering why just because I am Gazan these wonderful things that other people experience are denied to me. Then my laptop and phone both finally died, and the room became completely dark. I did not sleep very well, because I was chilled to the bone.

The positive side of Facebook

On the other hand, the posts from people who live outside Gaza were also a lifeline for me. Some of them are like family. They sent me messages of optimism and hope, and suggestions for how I might ease my stress or suggestions of good books to read. For example, a friend from DC used to chat with me every day, offering advice, suggesting things to read or write, encouraging me to talk about life and the future.  I loved reading posts from Americans, because to be honest, I love American culture. It energizes me to read posts from Americans and learn the little details about their lifestyles.

But, on balance, even the supportive and interesting posts weren’t worth the severe depression Facebook was causing me. So for two months I stayed away. And it really helped! I got more work done, I was writing and reading more, and I spent more time in person with a special friend. I was feeling much better.

I had a problem though. Facebook isn’t just a site where friends exchange posts, it’s also where organizations and groups share important information.  As a member of the We Are Not Numbers community, I was missing events and announcements. Reluctantly, I came back. But I have  discipline now. I only allow myself one hour per day on Facebook. I unfriended the people who were particularly negative, and I try to limit my surfing. I mostly spend my time on Facebook reading the We Are Not Numbers page and checking for information I need. But I’m worried that my depression will resurface again. I just have to accept that it’s hazardous to log onto Facebook from Gaza. 

Note from the international director for We Are Not Numbers: Khaled is not alone, although he is unusual in his bravery in writing about an often taboo subject in Gaza, depression and anxiety. In a recent anonymous survey of 73 Not Numbers writers and youth on our membership waiting list, 55 percent said they find Facebook depressing because of sad posts from other friends in Gaza and 48 percent find it hard to take because of reminders of the life they can't have. Still, they rely on it the most for their connection to friends and the outside world.

Mentor: Catherine Baker
Posted February 27, 2016


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