2020 has been a strange year, to say the least. I started out January hopeful and excited: my oldest kiddo was off to preschool, my first book was being published, there was travel and adventure and newness in my future.
But, as we all know, the world had other things in mind. This year has been a struggle for me, on many different levels, though much less so than it has been for so many others around the globe. I’ve had my share of sadness and heartbreak over these long months, but most of my grappling has been emotional, and spiritual, in nature.
I’ve been wanting to quit social media for a while now, but haven’t quite been able to pull the plug. As with many addictive things, I had a whole litany of excuses: I wanted to stay connected to friends; needed the platforms to promote my writing and editing services; and perhaps the most telling (and hilarious) of all—it’s not hurting anyone.
Well, except me.
As with other addictions, my own excuses started to feel hollow.
So I put a few parameters in place (kinda like, I only drink on days ending in Y). I started tracking my screen time. And when I saw the numbers there in the cold light of my phone screen, I instituted some limits. Digital sabbaths. Timers. Turning my phone off. Even when my phone wasn’t anywhere near me though, even on the days where I’d uninstalled all the apps, my mind was on social media—as if that’s where the world was, as if I was missing something crucial by being away, even for a little bit.
Don’t get me wrong: I loved Facebook when I first signed up in 2008. I loved Twitter when I signed on in 2012. And I really loved Instagram when I joined the party in 2014. As an introvert, and as someone who has a hard time keeping connected with a large number of people over a given period of time, the advent of social media felt like a boon. Here was a way for me to participate in bigger conversations with other writers, and to “meet” people I might not have otherwise. Here was a way to feel like I was part of something, all without ever leaving my house. Pretty pictures were a bonus. But that was years ago, and my life, and the presence of social media in the world at large, have changed pretty drastically. I felt like I was floundering, attempting to maintain two lives, the one right in front of me and the one on my screen.
Summer came, and with it, my annual digital detox. I committed to an IG-free May, but when June rolled around, and with it a cancer diagnosis and mercifully swift death for my eldest cat, I couldn’t quite muster the strength to return. The same happened in July and August. Though my detox was intended for IG, my digital Achille’s heel, I found myself not bothering much with Facebook or Twitter either.
When September dawned, I hunkered down and logged back in. I posted a few photos and tweets, and enjoyed the dopamine hits that the hearts and likes generated. But before the week was out, my mind felt tangled. I was distracted and short tempered and kept hearing myself say the word “overwhelmed” when describing my mental state to my husband.
Well, it doesn’t take a detective to put two and two together, but I was still harboring some resistance. Not because I was in denial about what was going on, but because I was sad about all the time I’d wasted over the years “building” these flimsy platforms.
Like the drinker who gets sober (another thing I did this summer), I wished I could get my time back—All Those Hours! Just gone. It feels awful.
And then, slowly, surprisingly, it feels okay. And then, with a little more time, it feels possible to forgive the person who allowed such a pernicious outside influence to rule her life and to move forward from there. That’s where I am today.
In May, when I suddenly had a bit more time on my hands, I started logging my writing hours. I’ve struggled, in the last few years, to feel invested in any particular project—nothing could quite hold my interest. (Surely having two toddlers in the house wasn’t helping.) Here’s the thing though: for May, squeezing in 20, 30, 40 minute sessions (usually in the early morning), I logged 11 hours. In June, I logged 10, and in July, I logged 13! I radically revised and finished two short stories that had been lingering in my “almost” file, and I took a deep breath and dove into a narrative essay project that’s been languishing for years. By now, at the end of October, that manuscript is almost complete. My life still looks much the same as it did at the beginning of the pandemic: two rambunctious kiddos raising the roof full-time, husband working from home in our unfinished basement, a house to clean, laundry to do, leaves to rake,… you get the picture. The only thing that’s changed in my attachment to my phone.
In September, when my anxiety skyrocketed and I knew its source, I asked myself: When I get to the end of my life, would I rather have written some great books and read some great books and been present to my family and lived in a beautiful, well-kept home and been an active, well-informed citizen; or would I rather have nicely curated social media feeds?
The answer is obvious.
It was hard to click delete. I assure you I’ve had a few panicked moments of doubt, thinking I’ve made some fatal mistake. (This, too, shall pass.) But mostly my mind feels calm and peaceful. I get my news from the radio and the Sunday paper; I connect with friends via text and email; two new pieces of my writing will soon be published.
The truth is, social media was a distraction, one I let control me for too long. The world’s right here in front of me, and it’s better, so much better, without a filter.