I took intentional time off from Instagram and Twitter so as not to lose my whole mind. It was weird.
It seems like every other post on the front page of badwolf.blog now is me saying “oops sorry I didn’t die I’m just not around…” That’s not totally by accident. The truth is—and I’ve said it before—this last 18+ months has been life changing for many folks all around the world. I’m not an exception.
One of the better things I did for myself during this last year and a half was to completely pull out of Twitter and Instagram. When my personal situation started to become more stressful (back in April/May of 2020), and at my therapist’s advice, I took a day off from checking and responding on social media. Then a few days. Then a week. Then I just kept not checking it.
Which isn’t to say I was ignoring the events of the world. I still read too much news, and shared too many doom-focused articles with friends and family. What I wasn’t doing was allowing those things to come to me, but rather seeking them out obsessively to stay “informed.” That doesn’t sound like much of a distinction, but it really is.
Twitter and Instagram can warp your perception of yourself and your world
Social media has a special kind of barbed-hook quality that manages to cause harm even while preventing you from looking away or escaping. In other words, you know it feels bad and brings down your emotional state directly when you see terrible news and endless anger and rage, but you feel as though if you stop engaging with it, worse things will happen. Worse still, you won’t know about them!
What I learned is that I could protect myself from these algorithmic hook barbs, but the cost would be the positive reinforcement and endorphin surges associated with getting likes and feeling validated by others. That’s a hard trade. Further, I learned was that I’m much more delicate, ego-wise, than I’d ever like to admit. It feels really good to get likes and retweets and comments about your appearance and desirability. But it wasn’t possible for me to isolate my use of these apps and platforms to just the good stuff. I had to take the rage and the complaining and the suffering and the fear along with the compliments and good vibes. So it all had to go in the cupboard for a while, cold turkey.
Framing what social media does FOR me professionally, versus what it dose TO me personally
I’ve spent more time than one might expect trying to decide what the balance of that was—the joy of the praise versus the ship’s anchor of the misery. And also what it was that I really missed about social media. The conclusion I came to eventually was that, with Twitter especially, I missed the opportunities to check in with folks or passively follow their lives and throw a kind word or retweet for stuff that deserved it.
I have a lot of folks there that I’d consider friends, even though I don’t know them in real life. And walking away for a year or more is not a kind way to treat your friends. Particularly when everyone is collectively experiencing different degrees of trauma and stress because of a terrifying global health situation.
But it was the only way I think I could have protected myself from hurting more than I already did.
Instagram is another story, and causes me more internal strife than Twitter does. Not that my agitation with it is especially unique. We’re learning all the time that it’s a space that lowers self image, and leaves users with largely negative feelings.
For me, it’s a peculiar kind of narcissism that I imagine lots of homosexual men can identify with. I follow lots of men who I find extremely desirable, and whom I simultaneously wish I looked more like. The paradox this creates inside my mind is nothing short of terrifying though, when spelled out on paper: I desire these bodies and sex parts, which brings me joy (that’s good!), but the more I lust after them, the worse I feel about all the ways my own body and sex parts are dissimilar to theirs (that’s bad!). And the ways in which I will never have what I imagine they have (that’s worse!). In other words, the ways in which I will not be desirable the way they are desirable.
Can you see how quickly that moves from horny all the way down to despair? Nothing should have that kind of magnetism over my emotional state. Or yours.
Coming to terms with unreality
The reality is that these spaces are not real. There isn’t a simpler way to describe it.
They reflect certain elements of reality. But the curation of what is shared and the influence of the viewpoints of the people doing the sharing, distort that realness in subtle ways that our minds don’t always recognize as so-distorted-they’ve-become-false.
Then there are the Kardashians and Madonnas of the world, who are actively and deliberately distorting (rather than curating or retouching) for reasons that are probably only truly clear to them. But just because these distortions appear more egregious or obvious, doesn’t mean the more subtle ones are less problematic.
The best lesson to take away from all of it is that one should be actively aware and present when stepping into these spaces. For me, in particular, going in with a baseline understanding of “this isn’t really real” helps to temper the emotional swings of rage and pleasure I know are coming my way.
As I step back into these spheres, reducing the number of accounts I follow and the amount of time I spend aimlessly scrolling, will help me to keep from losing focus on the unreality of it all. One can stay informed, read real news and journalism from trusted sources, without needing to compromise one’s daily emotional wellbeing.
In other words, I’m going to work to take the advice of Mr. Paul Anka wherever possible: