An extended social media fast had been brewing with me for a long time. Facebook has been a thorn in my emotional side since the 2016 election, honestly, but it has been hard to cut the cord because the platform is the only way I communicate in certain personal and professional relationships. Twitter hasn’t ever been a problem for me, it isn’t even a time suck. I check twitter every single day, it’s my favorite source for news and opinions, but I rarely use it on my phone, nor does it make me emotional in any way.
Instagram has long been my social media app of choice, but more and more I found myself losing (literally) hours to it over the course of a day. I use it to avoid feelings and chores and delude myself into thinking it’s “work” or that I’m actually connecting with people. When my husband left in January to make a movie for five long months, I knew after just a few weeks of solo parenting and general life chaos that I should make some dramatic changes to my personal routines and that included removing the distraction and emotion-swirling effects of social media.
But I am addicted to this stuff, there is no doubt. I enjoy the creativity of it and the gratification of instant feedback. I genuinely like seeing other people’s creativity and work and their lives as depicted on a little screen. However, by the time I officially started my social media break - using Lent as a loose time frame - I was so ready to make the change that I didn’t suffer the withdrawal I thought I would given social media’s prominence in my brain.
A few things I did notice, based on notes I took along the way…
- Traveled with my kids to a cool city. Did not tell anyone.
- Took a photo holding my daughter’s hand without any intention of posting it. Just for me.
- I actually derive a lot of inspiration from IG. So I’m missing that a bit.
- Sent a cute photo from New Orleans to a text group of friends and got the same adrenaline hit as I would posting it and getting likes from strangers.
- I had a dinner party and didn’t document it in any way. Didn’t bother me at all, didn’t miss the pressure, except it felt a bit like a waste of a pretty atmosphere.
- On that note, I have realized that sometimes I make decisions around my social media, like where I’m going to eat for my reading lunch or something. Is nice to make all decisions independent of sharing.
- Found out some family and then hometown news that I wouldn’t have known if people hadn’t screenshot social media posts and texted them to me. I do feel like important news would trickle down eventually, but it’s strange not to be on the direct end of receiving. We’ve become used to receiving people’s major life moments as a part of a mass announcement. It’s convenient and efficient, and sometimes welcome, even, when the news is hard and easier to share behind a screen and not face to face over and over. Still, when you’re removed from that sharing system, you are removing yourself from knowing things, for better or worse.
- Read an article and heard a podcast episode that I that I really, really want to share. Can’t share them. Am a little annoyed by that.
- Feeling quite emotional and reached for my phone to zone out. It’s basically unavailable to me so I’m taking a nap instead.
- Surgery day. I gave zero thought to documenting or sharing or connecting with anyone on my procedure, my time at the hospital, my mom here to take care of me. I took one hospital selfie to send to my husband and that’s it. I’m not sure I would have said too much about this anyway, but it’s possible I might have vaguely shared something and asked for prayers or something. But I didn’t. I felt fully present the whole day with the nurses and my mom and myself. (They also took away my phone most of the time anyway, but still. I wasn’t in a mindset for that to bother me.)
- After my surgery, so many friends texted to check in or tell me they were thinking of me or whatever. Now, maybe this would have happened anyway and I’m just more aware of it than I would have been. But maybe people reached out directly because they’re used to seeing my updates on social media and they knew they wouldn’t be provided with one this time. It was so nice to see their concern directly instead of through a social media comment.
- Have spent this whole last four days recovering from surgery and not being on my phone at all. It was awesome. No pressure in any way, I felt like I had one job: to heal. Didn’t feel like I should be posting what I’m reading in bed or inspirational quotes or anything.
- Went with my gut and didn’t live tweet the Oscars, first time in 10 years probably. It was a total non event. Mainly this was because it was a predictable, boring Oscar year but also I just felt less....frenzied about the whole thing. I watched every moment but afterward I didn’t feel as utterly exhausted as usual. Usually I feel like I’ve been at a big party for six hours. (Which in some ways, live tweeting a big event alongside millions of others really does feel like that.) This felt like I’d, you know, watched a tv show and then went to bed.
- I’m reading a lot of self help and forcing myself to get quiet with myself every single day. As I sit in quiet meditation and try to envision what I want my day or life to look like, it’s increasingly clear that I have almost every single thing I’ve ever wanted. Social media makes me WANT. It’s adjacent to comparison, though not exactly the same. It makes me feel like I should be doing more activism and look prettier. When actually, I’m mostly content with exactly what I have and the amount I’m doing.
- One of my closest local girlfriends texted that she missed me and felt disconnected. We have not seen each other less or texted less than usual. We both agreed that it was just because she was used to “seeing” me online every day.
- Roughly 4 weeks in. Actually missing Instagram and wishing I could share some stuff.
- Had to log in to Facebook for some work stuff and found some VERY interesting things. After just a few weeks, I was already seeing people’s posts in a new light. Realized that I had become pretty numb before and would just scroll dully without really noticing what people were saying all that much. Just a few minutes on (I didn’t let myself scroll much) and I feel like I learned more about the person behind the few posts I saw.
- Definitely missing IG lately. Only a few weeks to go. Logged on to check DMs and maybe I cheated a little bit. Was not great for me, didn’t spin me out but could have. How am I going to handle a return and not get sucked back in to all the bad feelings and time wasted?
- Took the kids out of the country for spring break BY MYSELF and didn’t share it with the world. Not a single Mexican sunset or poolside selfie. No regrets on that at all. I’m sure if I hadn’t been on a break, I would have shared something from the trip, but it has been nice to eliminate the humming buzz of capturing the perfect photo in order to share it. I still took photos, I do like documenting our family even if no one ever sees it besides us. That said, I’ve taken HUNDREDS less photos on my phone than I would have if I’d intended to share anything. Literally hundreds.
- Logged into Facebook for the first time in weeks to respond to some notifications I’d received. Got lost down a total rabbit hole and scrolled for like two hours OMG. Hated the way it made me feel. Was very irritated at myself, not necessarily for cheating but for using time that way. Went to bed way later than intended, grumpy.
- I guess technically the break ended yesterday, but I wasn’t all that compelled to share, so I didn’t. I’m glad I did this. I’m also glad it’s over. I tiptoe back in with trepidation and the knowledge that I can step away with no repercussions at any time. I’m not sure I completely believed that before. The ways the internet has warped us seems to have no end.
The notes I took along the way don’t fully reflect the peace I had during my time away from social media. Every time there was a thought I felt the need to jot down, it tended toward something negative I was noticing. In reality, the benefits I felt were so positive. I had three main takeaways:
1. Social Media really does connect us.
I can’t help but acknowledge that during these six weeks, I was pretty out of the loop. I didn’t know what was going on with people, and realized that this drives a lot of conversations. You ask about someone’s vacation because you saw their post first. You bring up a current event topic around an article, meme, or tweet that sparked interest. To be removed from that did feel strange. I always knew my break was temporary, so it didn’t matter much, but I imagine if a person wasn’t on social media at all, it might feel lonely sometimes. You’re just not working with the same points of reference.
While I was offline, dear friends announced their marriage separation, news that was a shock to us. I found out about it fairly quickly, but it brought about a swirl of emotions and confusion about how to respond. This is the world we’re living in and there’s no real right or wrong on how to handle a heartbreaking situation, but I do wonder if, as a friend, hearing this news while offline made me respond in a more human way? I reached out directly to my friend. I didn’t stalk their feeds looking for signs of turmoil. I sat in the sadness of it instead of wrapping myself in crazy speculation or anything else.
On a less personal note, I felt similarly towards the news. I felt the weight of it. I didn’t go on a google spree or scroll to “happier” stuff to distract from the various shocking new stories that arose during these six weeks. I didn’t funnel my emotions into outrage at someone’s politicizing a tragedy or posting their ignorant take on it. I didn’t even see any of that. I heard a news headline and I felt the impact with no buffer.
2. However, if you want to distract yourself from feeling things, you’ll find a way to do that no matter what.
I scroll social media to hide when my kids are being loud and crazy. Without a feed to peruse, I just played a dumb game on my phone instead. There’s no difference to how I was handling my overwhelm. And I actually don’t even judge that. Sometimes you need to escape your own anxious mind and the phone is in our hand. Noticing when and how often is the key, I guess.
Also? I drank more alcohol than usual. Now listen, I went on two different fun trips and was staring down months of solo parenting, so there were clearly more outside factors. But I’m not a person who pours herself a glass of wine every night, and I found myself doing just that. So a coping mechanism is a coping mechanism and that’s the first one I need to nip in the bud, as I find that (mostly) more destructive than an evening scroll habit.
3. I found the clarity I was seeking!
This is perhaps the most important point here and I don’t want it to get lost in all these words. There were several reasons I wanted to take this break in the first place, but mainly I just needed to quiet all the noise in my life in order to listen. I journaled, I meditated, I sat in quiet and stared out the window and thought thoughts. This feels too basic to be revelatory, but it was just that. I realized I had let other, louder voices direct some of my choices and opinions. I realized there’s an anxiety and fear underneath some of my routines and thought loops. Eventually, after several weeks of sitting with myself, my truest feelings bubbled to the surface. Some of them were scary to face, but it was less exhausting to deal with them than to continue the effort of shoving them down. Some of what came to the surface was a relief. I didn’t even know those things still resided in me, and it was like greeting my oldest friend to feel them there.
Even just a few weeks back online, and some of my bad patterns have already cropped back up. I scroll to distract, the wanting and discontent have I feel looking at other people’s posts have occasionally floated across my brain. But I notice them now, and hopefully see them for what they are: just thoughts. Not reality, and not based in anything about the poster but about how I’m feeling about myself in that moment. My time on social media is overall less, but if I get just one “ping” of weirdness while I’m there, I put the phone down, or at least I try to.
I recommend taking a social media break if something inside you says you should. Sometimes even just taking the weekend off can bring the peace and clarity you need. I’m glad I did it, glad for everything I learned, glad I have it in my tool belt when needed in the future.