My 30-Day Social Media Hiatus
I went 30 days without social media and it was one of the best times of my life.
I felt liberated. I felt happy. I felt whole. And I can’t wait to do it again.
Smartphone addiction was already a real thing for me. I hated myself every time I looked at my phone mid-conversation, during a meeting, or for no reason at all. Twitter being readily available didn’t help. And don’t even get me started on Instagram, because, ugh. Having those instant hits of dopamine exacerbated an already destructive habit. I was never present around people all because of my damn phone.
These apps keep our attention. And even with my level of self-awareness, I ended up being one of their more successful marks.
And with the dopamine comes the validation of a like or a share. Or, for myself, the lack thereof. This all started because of my Twitter account. Currently, I'm sitting at 212 followers. My engagement is low. I felt embarrassed. (This was also compounded by the stats of an older account I had. It had a pretty decent following due to my association with a successful musician. Now, I only had myself).
The most dismal part of this was that my self-image started to take a serious hit. I became insecure about my standing in my various circles and communities because I wasn’t getting the interactions I felt I deserved (maybe entitled to?). I wanted the endorsement and acceptance from everyone-- why wasn’t I getting it? Was I not as smart as I thought? Was I corny? Was I *shudder* a lame?
None of those apps were fun anymore. I felt my self-esteem slipping away every time I opened one of them with zero notifications. And even if I DID have a like, retweet, or share, it wasn’t enough. I wanted more, or, at least something from certain people. I was losing myself-- something that I could never see happening as a 30-year-old, confident man.
But I continued to lose myself more and more, until it finally happened: I had a complete mental breakdown.
I'll never forget how it happened. It had been an already stressful day at work (thanks, Jack!!). and I needed something to take my mind off of things. Twitter seemed like the best go-to, so I hopped on to fire off one my BEST RANT THREADS EVER. I felt confident that I'd get some likes, or at least spark some discussion.
But you know what I got?
Pure silence. I fired off into the void and hit not a damn soul.
I spent a few hours repeatedly looking at my phone for something. Anything. Somebody had to have read what I wrote and wanted to make my phone ding, right? Somebody wanted to make me feel better about myself, yeah?
I became more and more frustrated and started second-guessing myself. This led to me doing a tweet audit, where I looked at every tweet of mine from the past year or so. I became judgmental and self-critical. I dissected every tweet and with that, my self-esteem diminished little by little.
That's when I began to spiral.
"Why wasn’t I getting hearts compared to other people?! I need my fucking hearts. I deserved those fucking hearts."
"Shit, why don’t people like my music?"
"Why didn’t people respect my opinions and ideas at work?"
"Why doesn’t this person like me compared to him? Or her? What the fuck was I doing wrong? Am I stupid?"
I completely lost myself. I panicked. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t look at my phone. I couldn’t cry, even though that's what I wanted to do the most.
I left work without telling anyone, drove home and laid in my bed. In complete darkness and silence, I didn’t even talk to myself. I couldn’t. My thoughts were beyond my control. They were in dark places and I had no way of pulling them back.
For the first time in my life, I unraveled and was gone. By my own doing.
I called into work the next day and spent the entire time journaling like a madman. Some hard truths came to light, but two in particular struck me.
I worked way too hard on my 9-5 job.
I cared too much about what people thought of me.
After more reflection, I saw the connective tissue between those two points. I worked hard at my job to distract myself from my passions because of my fear of people's judgment. I was also insecure about not just myself, but the things I knew I was good at. The things I felt how I could best contribute to the world.
I was crushed.
So on May 1st, I deleted all social media from my phone and logged out of all my accounts on my computers. I promised myself that for 30 days I wouldn’t look at a single tweet, newsfeed, story, snap, post. Nothing. I needed to be alone and find myself.
I didn’t think I could do it because I grew up on the internet. It was a part of my identity. And social media was perfect for shy (or deeply insecure) people like me to express themselves. It was going to be a significant exercise of discipline.
But, let me tell you: by the third day in I didn’t miss a single one of those damn apps. There was clarity in my thinking. I felt whole again because I wasn’t bombarded with everyone else’s thoughts and opinions. Things were making sense again in this giant dome of mine.
It had been such a short time and I was already seeing positive effects. I debated ever coming back.
See, I’ve struggled with self-esteem and self-acceptance for as long as I could remember. All because of constant teasing from people I wanted approval from growing up. I wasn’t enough for them, and I for damn sure wasn’t cool on my own. Instead of teaching me, they mocked me. Instead of bringing me along, they shunned me. They left me alone.
Depriving a child something essential to their development harms them psychologically. More often that not, the deprivation manifests in adulthood via unhealthy behaviors. They keep trying to fill that bottomless void, to no avail.
I never learned how to accept and love myself for who I was growing up. So in adulthood, I found myself seeking approval all the time. And once I had it, I'd avoid jeopardizing that approval, sometimes at my own detriment.
And if I never got that approval, I’d keep trying until someone, anyone, gave it to me. Not once did it ever occur to me to fill that void by myself.
I'm intelligent. My interests and humor tend to be all over the place, giving me a pretty particular outlook on things. People call me ‘unique’ and that’s something to be proud of. But I felt like I deserved more than that. I wanted more than that. I needed more than that. I wanted to fill that void, and that partially led to my breakdown.
I’ve had many lessons in my 30 years, but this was definitely one of the most important.
Allow me to keep it funky with you all: I still struggle. Not as much as I did before my break, praise Yevon, but I do. One of the things I learned was that I have to use social media with intent and direction. Else I’d be contributing to the the noise that’s already out there, and that's not what I want people to know me.
So my rules as of now:
Social media is a tool to promote my creative work and inspire.
Keep up with and harass my friends/family
I’m grateful this happened. Realizing that I’m not defined by my follower count has been so freeing. Or some arbitrary measure of engagement. Purpose and intention are what I needed. (That all hurt to type because, well, DUH.)
Being purposeful has a very effective way of undermining our insecurities. For me, it’s because I’m working at something bigger than myself. I’m no longer at the forefront-- the mission is. And in that mission, and service of others, I found my strength.
For anyone out there who might be struggling with this, look: not everyone is going to like you, online or offline. You can’t help that. And as much as we’d like it to, the need for validation will never go away because we made the mistake of being born as humans.
But you are enough. Accept yourself for who you are. Make that acceptance unconditional, unwavering and resolute. Keep it at the forefront of everywhere you go and everything you do.
Do yourself the biggest favor you can, and get used to you.