It’s a common story. I used to be a heavy user of social media. My reasons started out simply enough. Who else is on? Where are they now? What are they doing? What do we have in common? Do they remember me? Did anyone miss me? I wanted to know it all, and every login was an opportunity for more information. Gradually the initial excitement leveled out, replaced by what became another daily obligation and maybe something worse.
Enter the Caring Wonderland
I have a tendency to care too much. I should’ve known I’d be susceptible to addiction. Even though I knew how important it can be to let myself go in a process and enjoy what I’m doing, the downside of my decision made itself increasingly evident the more entrenched I became in social media. Suddenly I fell into this new wonderland where I could care and give as much as I wanted to more and more people every single day.
I generally think of myself as a nice person. Most people don’t mind this egregious fault of mine and a cherished few even consider my niceness to be a good thing. But that saying about nice gals finishing last hovered over me like a dormant succubus. The more I gave and did for others on social media, the more the digital niceness took out of me. Worse than that, the less it all seemed to matter. I eventually hit some kind of actual compassion ceiling that quickly gave way to fatigue and a pervading sense of pointlessness.
Nevertheless, like a mobile game that never ends, social media continued to eat up more of my life and time with inconsistent rewards in return. Coming from a background of highly conditional love, the payoff for me definitely leaned more towards getting approval or earning props. A seemingly infinitesimal positive interaction could adequately feed my brain’s hungry feel-good center for a while, and then I’d feel compelled to scroll and look for the next do-good opportunity right away to keep myself feeling worthy a little longer.
Like most people, social media eventually replaced a lot of other things I had previously enjoyed. Most notably, I spent less and less actual time with loved ones, snapping at them when I did because I couldn’t turn my attention away from the more important names and faces on my devices.
Despite the steady stream of informational nourishment, I was never sated and always hungry for more. Addressing this was easy. Everyone I knew was alphabetized and available within reach in front of me. The future is now, brown cow! But something felt wrong. Even worse, something felt wrong with me.
Soon after, another depression of sorts was upon me again. I continued going down my favorite social media holes, failing often at finding that elusive shot of emotional dopamine. Although I usually had a hard time believing any positive things I heard about me, I still felt strangely relieved—vindicated even—whenever someone had the kindness or the foolishness to tell me something good about myself.
I hadn’t yet learned how to love myself.
Thus there was a part of me that clung to the new familia comfort in continuing the way things were. I wasn’t ready or willing to part with that. Why rock the boat? Would I be able to tolerate not being able to see who was up to what at any given time? Could I accept not being a part of this world that, upon leaving, would probably mean severing the especially superficial or tenuous relationships? Would I cease to exist without my social media accounts? How could I be relevant moving forward? Commonplace questions with uneasy answers. Looking back, it’s easier to see there was no point to my growing distress, but at the time, it was unquestionably there, festering and growing.
I think too much. At one point when I felt most discombobulated, I turned everything off and just sat alone with my thoughts for a while, facing and fighting each one as they came: I am alone. I am struggling. I am pathetic. I am different. I am disgusting. I am nobody. I am nothing. I am unloved. I am unlovable. The mental bile swirled and circled, culminating in one decisive truth: My life had not turned out exactly the way I wanted.
This truth was too odious to be allowed to have the final say, so I didn’t judge myself for what came next. My way forward seemed clear to me. One by one, I deactivated my social media accounts and made the daftest apologies to maybe a curious dozen. It really was a small change in the bigger picture, but to me, it felt like a huge deal at the time. It felt like hope.
Suddenly, a new era was upon me. The “me” slate was blank again, at least digitally. I could maybe communicate again in hopefully more mutually gratifying and intentional ways. I could maybe live my life outside the self-destructive paranoia that comes with constant self-scrutiny. I could maybe let go of the need for external approval and learn how to do that for myself. I could definitely maybe figure out how to redefine my time and priorities.
Social Media Liberated
Family, friend, or stranger, I’m not absolutely crucial in anyone’s life. This knowledge hurts, but it’s true. My time, attention, and awareness are only crucial to myself, to my own life. Knowing this, I wanted to be able to choose and become more selective about who and what I gave my time to. I lived another way before. If I could figure out how, perhaps I could do it again.
Social media as a phenomenon has given many people voices, audiences, support systems, and opportunities they didn’t have before. But it is a liberation from social media itself that I sought and found. In breaking my codependent addiction to social media, I entered a temporary void of sorts, not knowing what would be on the other side of the break. Spoiler alert, there really isn’t anything outside the void, just what I make of it, and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what that is. Maybe it’s freedom.