Quitting Social Media Was One of My Toughest and Most Beautiful Feats
I’ve struggled with addiction to social media.
I am going to be transparent with you throughout this story. Reflecting on my years of obsessive social media use, there are moments and habits I’m embarrassed of. I know I’m not the only one who has gone through this, so I’m putting those feelings aside and focusing on my progress.
On the apps, I focused on the unimportant things — the likes, comments, and number of followers. Instead of posting something for myself and loved ones, I got caught up in the approval of others and let it determine my self worth. I got jealous of other people. My self-confidence was a battery, slowly draining as I compared my looks, hobbies, and life to others. I lost track of time, spending hours scrolling with no benefit to my life.
I tried to be better. I could tell it was hurting me because I never got off social media feeling better than when I hopped on. I set time limits for usage, worked on my self-confidence, and took trips without posting about them. It wasn’t helping, and I still found myself empty, trying again to fill up my cup with photos and posts. It was consuming and slowly deteriorating my life.
It took a lot of courage, time, support, and self-reflection to realize this wasn’t healthy for my mental state. I needed to quit social media.
I didn’t have a negative experience when I first created my accounts. My go to sites were Facebook and Instagram. I started my Facebook account in high school and enjoyed keeping up with people I no longer talked to in person. I wished others happy birthday and felt good seeing who reached out on mine. My family used the site as well and would often post funny or cute things on my page.
Instagram became popular in college, so I jumped on that bandwagon. I made new friends and was doing my best to fit in. At first, my photo feed included silly shots of family, friends, and an occasional food pic. I didn’t use filters or care about captions. I was truly sharing my life through images.
In the first year, I didn’t notice the negatives of social media. I enjoyed being up to date with my friends and family, and they enjoyed seeing what I was up to. My mental health was good, and I spent focused time interacting with others. But that didn’t last long. Slowly, things changed.
Some girls in my social circle were really into Instagram. They showed me how to adjust filters and gave tips on how to take photos at flattering angles. I noticed the difference, and even though it took more work, I liked the outcomes. I started getting more followers, likes, and comments. It felt good.
I became obsessed. Instead of my feed being for myself and loved ones, it became for strangers and people I cared little for. If a photo got enough likes, I felt good about myself. If it “didn’t do well”, I became critical. That caption is stupid. I should have chosen a different photo.
I developed anxiety associated with social media. I’d post a photo, then stay off the app for a few hours to let the likes accumulate. When I checked back later, if the number was high, I’d smile. If it was lower than I estimated, the rest of my day would be rough. I researched the best days and times to post for follower engagement. I am embarrassed writing this because I’ve never talked about these intimate details, but I was in deep.
My mind was like an over-ripe avocado. It looked okay on the outside, but wasn’t until you looked inside that you saw the damage. My brain was a mush of comments, likes, and inadequacy. Bruises covered my mind — regrets of a stupid caption, unflattering angle, or tagged photo I didn’t approve of. These meaningless external numbers and photos became how I valued and pictured myself. Some of my friends and an ex-boyfriend told me I was too caught up in taking the perfect photo, but I didn’t believe them. This is normal, I’m okay.
I was not okay, but coming to this realization took time. In the end, I stepped back from social media. The struggle took years. I went through a lot of emotions, and the best way I can explain them is through the 5 stages of grief.
I don’t have a problem. These feelings are normal — it’s how everyone feels. Plus, I love being connected with others and it’s part of society. It would be weird to not have social media. I need it to keep in touch with everyone.
Why aren’t more people liking this photo? It took an hour to edit and two to think of the perfect caption. I should have gone with a different filter. Why did I spend my whole vacation trying to find a great photo spot? It didn’t even matter, and I was so caught up I didn’t even enjoy the trip. I need to delete the app.
Okay, maybe I’ll stay logged in, but only check it once per day. I can’t get behind on what’s going on. My friends were talking about so-and-so’s photo and I hadn’t seen it and felt so out of the loop. Plus, I’ll just post a photo occasionally so people know I’m still around, but less pressure on myself. It’ll probably be better quality too since it’s less often.
This stage had little self talk. I compared myself so intensely and so often to others that every area of my life was bruised. I questioned my appearance, career choice, relationship, and family. Those apps are a highlight reel of people’s lives. I told myself that, often, that’s not how they live day to day. It didn’t matter, and I still felt bad about myself. Instead of deleting the apps, I spent more time on them. It’s like when I listen to sad music to fuel my sadness. I fell deeper and deeper into my feelings of loneliness. Even though I was connected to over 1,000 people online, I felt isolated. I was an empty soul behind a screen.
I give a lot of credit to my husband here. He is not a big social media person and pieced together my habits. I would be in a good mood, check Instagram, then be in the dumps for hours. I knew in the back of my mind I had a problem, but hadn’t built up the courage to stray from social media for longer than a day. He sat me down, lovingly laid out the pattern, and we talked.
I felt embarrassed for letting external things determine so much of how I felt, acted, and lived my life. My photos showed I was living, but it was all a facade. In reality, I was doing things for the show. “For the ‘gram’” as people commonly say. But for the sake of myself and relationships with others, I needed to get off social media.
Like many things, the start wasn’t easy
I didn’t tell anyone I was “off” social media. Instead of saying goodbye to everyone, I quietly exited the party. I put a few steps in between getting back on the app to help with my at-the-time low self-control. I deleted the apps from my phone, logged out on my laptop, and changed the passwords. I decided to not fully deactivate my accounts. They do contain wonderful memories, and I was going after peace instead of retaliation.
The isolation I felt then was different. I felt disconnected from others, like I was missing out on everything. I talked to my friends a little less and wasn’t as up to date in their lives. When I gave in and logged on every once in a while, I saw expired stories or posts my friends tagged me in, but I could no longer see. “What was it?” my curiosity asked, digging a small hole in my heart.
Each time I logged in, I felt disappointed in myself. Maybe this time will be different. I can control it. I fell in and out of the bargaining stage. Each time I tried, I was sucked back into the abyss of comparing and feeling down. I started the process over many times, relapsing into my social media addiction. My husband was patient and supportive the entire way, and I learned to give myself grace and understanding.
It got easier, and I learned a lot
Over time, I adapted to the new normal. My family and friends talked less about social media because they knew I wasn’t on it. When I first fathomed stepping back from the apps, it was hard to picture a life without them. After being far removed from social media for a couple of years, I’ve learned a lot and can confidently say my life is so much better.
Just keep trying
I don’t have a foolproof formula that worked for me aside from perseverance. I knew I needed this change, so I kept up with it. It was like finishing a marathon but falling, getting cramps, becoming dehydrated, needing a snack, and feeling defeated. You are going to finish the race, but the path may not be pretty. Just focus on one step at a time and keep going despite the obstacle.
The people I need in my life are still here
I was worried I’d be so disconnected from my loved ones. Yes, I don’t know what’s going on in their daily lives. I don’t know where they went out to lunch this weekend and missed the cute pic of their puppy. But I still know all the big stuff. Instead of watching their lives through apps, my closest friends and family tell me about big life events. I still get to celebrate with their successes and mourn their losses. Our relationships are just as strong.
There are some people I lost touch with when I stepped away from social media. To me, that says that we weren’t true friends. If the merit of our relationship was talking over the Internet instead of personally, that’s not a person I value as much as those who will be there for the rest of my life. I am okay with that because I would rather have quality over quantity friends.
I’m happier with my life
Going off the last point, I don’t get to see what my friends post, but I’m also not jealous that they didn’t invite me to lunch or that I don’t have a cute puppy. I am truly happy with my life and don’t feel the urge to compare it to anyone else’s. I get to judge my success off my own goals and achievements versus somebody else’s. I can love my own staycation at a local coffee shop instead of being jealous of a stranger’s beach vacation.
Focus in the moment
Speaking of vacations, wow are they better now. I still take photos, but they are for my own memories instead of posting for others to see. I send some to my family and best friends now and then, but don’t filter or caption them. The perfect photo spot or flattering camera angle doesn’t consume my mind, and I can truly find peace during vacation.
Confidence replaced anxiety
I don’t have to worry about what others think of me. I don’t spend my days worrying if my post is racking up enough likes or comments. The empty void I used to have is no longer yearning for approval of others. I am enough for myself, and that feels fantastic.
More Social, Less Media
Social media is a staple in our society, and standing against that was tough. I was addicted, lacked self-control, and let it consume my life. The person in the mirror was unrecognizable, and I didn’t like who I was becoming. Quitting was one of the hardest things I’ve done, but it was also beautiful.
Now, I have a better relationship with myself and others, and enjoy life so much more. There are still times I yearn to see what random people are up to or feel out of the loop when someone talks about a post. The temptation to log into the apps is still there from time to time, but now I have the self-control to check a few times per year instead of per day.
Plus, those temptations are small compared to the joy I have staying off of it. Medium is the closest thing I have to social media, but this is different. I have positive experiences here and get to learn from and interact with wonderful people trying to help others and sharing stories. So I hope this story resonates with some of you. For the person thinking of stepping back, someone struggling with self-control, or just a human saying yeah, this is hard for me, too. I’m there with and for you. It can get better.
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