About a week before Ramadan, coming off a trip with my family and a slew of posts, I deactivated my Instagram account.
I don’t mean deleted my app, I mean, I googled how to temporarily deactivate my Instagram account and followed the instructions.
I haven’t done that, ever? Not since I’ve been on Instagram, which is for several years now (I’ve done a few clean sweeps on my account so the earliest post I can find in my archives is from 2012).
I was, not coincidentally, sick at the time, and (this hurts my ego to admit) I was definitely feeling like nazr/evil eye was a looming factor, but not from others – my own.
For a while now, I’ve struggled with my relationship with my own work. It’s a toxic one. I am no fan and not proud of what I do or have ever done. If I have had moments of joy, they were singular dots bridged by long periods of darkness and self-hate.
The last year has been a lot about redeeming and rewriting my own story in my own head, and the last few years have been about tackling a whole bunch of other shit.
I also find myself getting more protective of my headspace. The things that enter my mind everyday, the things I give time to, that influence how I see the actual reality of my life.
By that I mean… the actual reality of my life is that I wake up, have a cup of delicious chai, watch my favorite TV show, and go about my day with a smattering of loved ones. The pseudo-reality/brain vortex version is the one I live online where there are hundreds and thousands of people yanking my brain with the things they’ve chosen to post that day.
For several years now (I can remember conversations I’ve had in 2012, 2013, 2015… and so on) I’ve struggled with my relationship with online social media stuff.
I remember confessing to friends that I was experiencing negative impacts from the way we collectively use social media. When I was depressed, it was like this huge dissonance where people are posting just these peak moments of life & love & friendship. When I was struggling with imposter syndrome and in the people-insulting-me earlier phases of building my “career”, all I was seeing was achievement olympics games unfold.
My friends were confused about my experience. Why do you let it affect you so much? I felt embarrassed about my weakness and continued on my way.
I wish I could say I was smart enough to pull the plug on my social media use, but I can not.
For one, social media marketing has been a big part of my job / part of sharing my work / a platform for my creative expression for many years, whether it was writing cheesy jokes on Facebook, drawing 1,000 attendees to buy tickets to Fashion Fighting Famine shows or getting an international audience of 10,000 to participate in our #Eidstyle campaign, or in launching and promoting Stranger Magic Productions and driving viewership and support for our shows like Unfair & Ugly and #TodayIMet. And of course, me writing on this blog.
Social media and the online world have quite literally changed and been the breeding ground for new media careers like my own. All the things I care about – access to media creation, diverse representation in content across various industries, and the humanization of our stories – have been transformed by web / social media. I watched the digital media unfold throughout my life, from email and online poker portals to AIM chat and Xanga to Facebook and Instagram. And it’s what I have been studying and building my work in and through for over a decade.
So I am deeply connected to, have even formed myself through, social media.
Second, and this one took a lot longer to fully admit, is that I came to realize and accept over time that I have a social media addiction.
My turning point was a pivotal conversation with a dear friend who makes a living in studying human behavior when it comes to media use, and devising new ways to make money off it.
This person gave me the gift of telling me, Yeah, of course you’re addicted. It’s designed to be addictive.
Cut to me motioning to my brain explosions and making pkhfooo pkhfoooo sound effects.
For many years leading up to that, I blamed only myself for my countless hours spent in the scroll hole. But I never stopped to think that the platforms I was engaging in were carefully and cleverly designed around human psychology to make it addictive. So of course I was addicted and of course no one around me was stopping to admit they were, too, because that kind of stigma isn’t associated with cellphones + social media just yet. We’re only beginning to make those connections. (Plus, if one of us admits we’re addicted, we kind of force everyone to ask if they are, too, which is you know, the stuff blame-the-messenger is made of).
I think making this connection helped me see that yes, I was addicted to social media, and yes, the apps are designed to further my addiction. There’s slews of notifications and “like” and “follower” counts and comments and algorithms and endless fresh content that can keep my attention for hours and draw me in to validation central.
That realization was freeing, and in the months leading up to me deactivating Instagram, I had already been taking steps towards it.
I started turning off notifications and doing things like hiding my phone out of sight when I was with people or even sitting on the couch watching TV by myself. I acknowledged which social media accounts I was most troubled by (for various reasons having to do with myself) and began muting them to limit my daily exposure (I had done this before a few times, but found myself doing it again).
I checked my phone less frequently, but… I was still scrolling social media apps for almost an hour each morning and night – first thing when I woke up and last thing when I went to bed. I knew this is where the bulk of my problem was, but I wasn’t ready to tackle this.
IRL, I started detoxifying the actual physical places I was attending. Who was I surrounding myself with? What were they presenting to me and what kind of person was I around them? I was starting to see that although I am already a hermit, I was reaching a point that I no longer wanted to even remotely be around people I was experiencing toxicity with (who might be super healthy towards themselves and other people but for a variety of reasons including my own need for self-work, I found that wasn’t my experience around them).
I am an old lady at heart and I don’t have the peace of mind for spaces and places where I’m constantly playing the prove-your-worth Olympics. I did it for over a decade, dealt with the blows, met some gems, pursued opportunities through it, but like… also I just need to go focus on doing my damn work.
All that to say that when I did hit that deactivate button, it wasn’t out of nowhere, but I was still surprised when I did it.
And I was even more surprised at how long I stayed off. Two months in, I deactivated Facebook, which I had literally never done since college (except for a few times to get myself to write a paper or meet a deadline).
And three months in, I was like… wow. Clarity (is beginning to unfold).
I found myself:
- Lonelier. I mean, I felt alone before, but it was more of an alienation. I felt alienated. Being online all the time made me feel like… I really just don’t belong in this world, that I can find few examples of people who are like me and a kafrillion examples of people who are not like me, etc. But getting offline… I was like… sitting there and realizing that being online made me feel a pseudo version of friendship. Like I was with people all the time but I was never actually with them? And being offline made me realize how little I am actually with people. And I found myself starting to open up to 1. longing 2. connection 3. taking advantage of opportunities to meet my friends 4. reflecting on what kind of connection I’d like to have in my life (IRL). I haven’t figured it all out overnight, but I have all this room in my head to have this conversation and figure it out.
- Clearer and less sad (in some ways). I am tired of seeing photoshopped pores and impossibly trimmed waists. I thought growing up with fashion magazines in the 90s was bad, but now I can watch people I actually know shaving inches off their face, making their pupils bigger, and posing in the same five ways day in and day out. All of that body dysmorphia exposure messes with my head. And constantly watching a parade of accomplishments does not help me appreciate people. I find myself liking people more when I’m not watching their stuff everyday. I find myself wondering what I actually care about and what I actually want to accomplish (rather than worrying what I should be doing to keep up with the Jones’ in various creative fields).
- More open to finding solutions for myself. Forcing myself out of these social media usage patterns has opened up space in my head and emotions (which aren’t busy reacting to stuff online). When I was online so much I would tell myself it was my fault I was reacting to people’s posts in the way that I was and shut myself down with self-hate. Now, when I’m having emotional reactions and/or triggers to things, I’ve been able to be less blamey on myself and ask where it’s coming from and acknowledge the validity of my experience. Which in turn helps me actually look for solutions and move past things instead of being locked into stunting emotional patterns.
There’s a host of other things weaving through my brain, but here I am… three months later, actually back on social media, sharing this post with you.
In my newfound clarity, I talked through (with trusted friends) the way I want to be online and how I’d like to use the platforms for myself.
Because at the bottom of all of this, of my social media break, of me coming back online on my own terms (and with firm rules for myself to help me control my addiction) is this:
I finally believe I deserve to feel good. And by that, I mean, I don’t need to be online in ways that cause me damage and harm. And by need, let’s capitalize and underscore that word, because for many years, I felt that I needed to be online the way that I was, that my work depended on it, that it was just like… the way things were, those were the rules, and any negative reactions I was having to it were solely my fault and my weakness.
And the difference today is that I am saying no, I don’t need that, and I don’t deserve that. I deserve to have a healthy relationship with social media. And I’m working on it.
Here is something I wrote in my notes in November 2017:
Just because you’re not famous on Instagram doesn’t mean your not having the IMPACT you want to have in life.
The two don’t correlate.
What is the impact you want to have?
Going down the instagram spiral today… (Well actually I haven’t. I’ve been trying to be mindful and healthy in my social media engagement and consumption… but today was different):
I asked myself, I feel a little… compare-ey, less than, turn-offy.
And something I wrote last month:
I don’t like seeing a consistent timeline of the artifacts of people’s success, or that I contribute to that idea even when I don’t want to. So no I do not miss Instagram, or Facebook, or any social media of that sort.
Because I did get tired of feeling like I was close to people when I was terribly alone in my life friends wise. Like… how can I be surrounded by hundreds of people that make me feel more alone? More less than? More crowded, diluted, unsuccessful? And above all, measured and constantly judged?
I love being out of the spotlight social media creates.
This is an ongoing conversation I’m having with myself, and I’m glad to be able to share it. Thanks to social media.
In taking a cue from one of my favorite entrepreneurs, Marie Forleo, I’d love to hear from you. What’s your relationship with social media been like, and how have you tried to create a balance?