When I said that I was taking a social media break, I didn’t mean it like how normal people regularly take time off from social media to focus on the important things in their lives. I meant it in a way where I realized a while ago that social media engagement and mindless scrolling are specific behaviors that I use to avoid feeling anything, and so I decided to begin a break on a very specific day—a day after the election was over.
Another reason that I decided I needed a social media break is because I have started to realize that I create a lot of content that people enjoy and find helpful and that it all belongs to someone else and can be taken from me at any time. I learned that lesson when I was randomly—and apparently permanently—suspended from Twitter, without any recourse. There is nothing that you can do to guarantee your access to any platform. You can follow the rules like I did, and you can still be arbitrarily banned.
That’s why it’s so phenomenally funny that on Day 2 of the break, I started getting messages about an old tweet of mine that was going around. At first, it was a link to the someecards.com site. Then it was site after site after site, sharing my tweet. I was receiving numerous messages and friend requests, being tagged by dozens of my friends on Facebook who found it amusing to see my tweet pop up in their timelines. It almost felt like a conspiracy, but alas, I’m not that special.
On Day 1 of my social media break, I felt relieved to not have to check in and see what Facebook was doing. I went for a walk first thing in the morning. The fall leaves are so boring to talk about, I know. But I haven’t gotten over them 12 years after moving here from Hawaii. It was nice to have time early in the morning to revel in them. Normally, I’d lie in bed for as long as possible, scrolling through my phone until I had to get up and get ready for work. I noticed that later in the day, though, I would be stopped at a stoplight, and I would pick up my phone, only to remember that I now have nothing to do on my phone. It was uncomfortable for me to sit with my own thoughts during a red light. Boredom is a feeling I can no longer tolerate. At one point during the day, I read the headlines on the OPB website and saw that there had been a new mass shooting. It felt so strange to read one story, instead of update after update after update on Facebook or Twitter. It felt more grounding in that moment to only have an article to focus on.
Later, as I was driving home from work and listening to OPB on the radio, they started talking about the shooting again. I wanted to be on Facebook, reading my friends’ words, hearing shared outrage and sorrow. But instead, I had to feel my feelings alone, and I had no feed to scroll to pacify me with waves of anger and collective sorrow. When Louis C.K. talked about how people use social media to avoid being sad, I thought he was a dick. (I mean, he is, but…) I thought—not me, I use it to communicate with my friends, to stay informed, to discuss politics. But here I was, uncomfortable being sad and alone. I thought about how long I had been pacifying myself with a constant barrage of information. It had been since 9/11/2001. That was the time when I became hooked on the repetitious news cycle. In the car, I’d have NPR on. At home, I’d have 24/7 CNN on. And now that feels normal, via Facebook and Twitter scrolling. I’m eager to find a better way to deal with sadness, helplessness, powerlessness, and fear.
That afternoon and evening, I read an entire book, Educated, by Tara Westover. It was one of the books Obama recommended in his summer reading list, and it was a compelling read. The author wrote a memoir about growing up in Idaho with fundamentalist survivalist parents, not going to school at all until she went to BYU at age 16 and eventually ended up going to Cambridge and Harvard on scholarship and becoming estranged from her parents, who thought she was following the Devil.
I didn’t do well on Day 2. Multiple people messaged me about a few articles that featured the infamous tweet of mine. It was too tempting to check in and see the chatter, then once I was there, I continued scrolling for a lot of the day. I tried reading a new book, but I couldn’t concentrate. That night, I had insomnia and ended up staying awake until 5am watching Daredevil and scrolling Facebook. I felt tired and horrible the next day.
On Day 3, the internet continued to go crazy over my old tweet. I got multiple messages, friend requests, tags in various groups I’m in. I wrote two articles to keep myself busy. I avoided reality by drinking an entire bottle of wine and watching 5 episodes of The Haunting of Hill House.
By Day 4, I fully let go of the break and spent much of the day scrolling and responding to comments about my viral tweet. I did do grocery shopping and a lot of cooking—I made Spanish rice, refried beans, lentil curry, pink chia pudding. I also edited the two articles I wrote. I successfully turned off The Haunting of Hill House at 11:30 and went to bed. I had insomnia until 1-something, though.
After that, the social media break was nonexistent. I have continued to have insomnia and I’ve dealt with that by lying in bed and scrolling on my phone while watching Netflix. I was up until 3am one night with insomnia and stomach pain, due to eating mac-and-cheese, my most favorite comfort food that I can no longer tolerate well in more than a tiny dose. Yet another example of how I harm myself to comfort myself.
So I’m going to try this again.
I’ve noticed this pattern I have. Instead of one big-bad thing that I have as an addiction, I have a million little things I use to pacify myself. I use social media scrolling, binge-watching TV shows, alcohol, smoking, comfort foods, maybe even more things that I’m not even aware of. I do them all just a little bit, so that I hardly notice it at all. For Lent, I went vegan, and without my favorite comfort foods available, I increased my use of alcohol. A few months ago, I stopped drinking alcohol for a while, so I increased my smoking and social media use. Smoking isn’t as available to me now that it’s cold outside. I tried to go on a social media break and drank a whole bottle of wine and ate too much mac and cheese that I can no longer tolerate and that gave me severe stomach pain. As it is, I’m unable to go hard on smoking, alcohol, and comfort foods right now. So I’m left with social media and TV binge-watching.
I did try to replace the behaviors as I tried to let go of them. When I went vegan, I tried to find vegan versions of my comfort foods. But they don’t comfort me the way regular mac and cheese or pizza does, so I don’t turn to them for comfort. I replaced alcohol with kombucha and yoga. I bought a bunch of books to read and started a blog to write at in preparation for my social media break. Maybe I just need more practice at balancing my avoidance mechanisms.
I don’t even know what I’m avoiding. I don’t know what I’m afraid to feel. I had a quick window into it when I felt sad and alone when there was a shooting. Maybe I’ve been doing this successfully for so long that I have no idea how to feel anything bad. Maybe this is all just such a habit that there isn’t even actually anything bad to feel, but I avoid it just in case.
So I’m starting this social media break thing again. I don’t know if I’m doing it right. I don’t know if it’s going to make any difference in my life. I don’t even really know what I want the result to be. I just don’t want to avoid delving deep into my feelings, my writing, my reading, and connecting deeply with the people I care about. This seems like a step in the right direction.