Off the Grid

In May, I made a decision I never thought I would: I left social media.

I was a prime example of a social media addict. I began and ended each day on either Instagram or Facebook, couldn’t go through a day without displaying certain tasks or activities, and (usually subconsciously) compared my life and feed with my friends and followers.

At the beginning of quarantine, I offered my services as a photographer to a small business I believed in and wanted to be a part of. I had seen a friend of mine doing the exact same thing for this company, and wanted to be a part of it. I had never attempted product photography before, and my life in quarantine was begging for change and a challenge. Soon, I was testing the limits of my photography, and at first I had a lot of fun. It gave variety to my typically monotonous days stuck at home, and I felt pride when my photos showed up on the company’s socials.

Soon, however, I began the evil game of comparing my work to my friend’s, whose photos were also being featured on the company’s feed. Suddenly, what had once been fun and new, became frustrating and consuming. I spent hours a day focused on what I was doing wrong, how many likes my posts were getting compared to my friend’s and other photographers, and my work was no longer gratifying, but instead became soul-crushing. Nothing I did was good enough. I realized my worth had become tied up in the number of views my Instagram story had, or the number of likes my posts would get.

When my work with the company came to an end, I made what I had previously thought of as an impossible decision, and left Instagram and Facebook, cold turkey. At first, I thought I could simply make strict boundaries for myself around social media, but when I noticed how habitual opening these apps on my phone had become—I would close out of Instagram, lock my phone, and 30 seconds later unlocked it, scrolled over to Instagram, and tapped the icon—I knew boundaries weren’t going to work for me. I didn’t even realize I had done this until I noticed I was scrolling past the same photos or stories I had just seen a minute before. I had a problem.

So, despite the fear that my life wouldn’t be as interesting or that I would lose all my friends (let’s just use Urban Dictionary’s word for this feeling: FOMO), I deleted both the Facebook and Instagram apps off of my phone and iPad entirely. The first day was a challenge, and in the first week of removing the apps, I found my thumb flitting over to the apps that had replaced them, completely by rote.

Before long, though, I stopped thinking about my lack of internet presence. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is a cliché for a reason. Without the consumption of social media, my days were suddenly free, and I used this time to my advantage. Suddenly, journals that usually took me months to fill, were being filled within the span of three or four weeks. In therapy, I learned more about myself and spent the week after each session reflecting, dissecting, and growing. I signed up for a class on Yoga for Eating Disorder Recovery, determined to spent whatever time I had left in quarantine focused on my recovery. I rekindled my love of reading and writing, giving myself new opportunities to expand my recovery repertoire. I noticed that there was significant overlap in what I was discovering in therapy, learning in my yoga class, and reading in new books. My mind was finally reconnecting with my body, my anxiety and post-traumatic stress began tapering down significantly for the first time in my life, and my personality and passions were finally able to flourish.

This time away from social media has clarified my values; these core beliefs I’ve always held closely to my heart feel out of balance when held next to social media. Particularly, my value of authenticity feels almost discredited when I look back at my presence on Instagram. I spent so much of my life performing, seeking out opportune moments to showcase daily activities. No matter how mundane, with the right filter, anything looked good online. I had succumbed to a performative lifestyle, completely oblivious. But upon reflection very recently, I was shocked to discover how quick I had been to abandon my number one core value. After all, you can’t live completely authentically if you’re picking and choosing what parts of your life are best broadcasted, especially if those parts are falsified even to a fraction of a degree.

In my newfound yoga practice—something I’ve worked at making completely mine, without comparing each day’s practice to yesterday’s or tomorrow’s, or to my teachers’ or fellow students’—I’ve cultivated authenticity once again. In classes and books, I’ve gained an understanding of what yoga truly is, separated from the diet culture and unfair beauty standards that dominate the internet. I’ve let go of the expectation to be strong, flexible, or full of stamina, and step on my mat each day as a new person, ready to hone my connection between mind and body, and cultivate more self-awareness. If I were still on social media, I’m confident I would’ve given up my practice already, frustrated by what my body or practice lacks compared to other Insta-Yogis. I would’ve ignored the entire purpose of yoga, focused more on obtaining views or likes on pictures of my feet on my mat (probably pictures taken without committing to spending any real time practicing the yoga itself). I would’ve continued to trick myself into believing that sharing my “life” was, in fact, authentic, and the anxiety following inevitable comparisons would’ve continued eating me alive.

Last week, I turned down a job that did not serve my values. While the uncertainty of the future can be scary, I feel empowered after making the decision to live in accordance with my values. It’s been a long time since I’ve consciously made such a choice, and when I experience doubt, I am able to remind myself that I don’t have to opt for choices that force me to be someone I’m not, or to tolerate behavior that I personally would never, in good conscious, inact.

Yet, above all, I believe what my time away from social media has given me is the profound beauty of presence. I spend less and less time each day worrying about the future, or dwelling on past choices. Now, I focus on the current day, and my depression and anxiety have very nearly disappeared. I don’t even remember the last time I had a panic attack or a depressive episode.

In a shocking twist in the narrative of my life, I’ve concluded that I may never go back to social media. If I do, it definitely won’t be in the same way it was before. The real shocker? I’m perfectly fine with this. I would rather choose a life that is entirely mine, without hoping or worrying that I’m not presenting the “perfect” side of myself (hint: it doesn’t exist) to people hidden behind a screen name on the internet.

From here on out, I am committed to authenticity. To do only what serves me. To defy expectations. To live my life, because it does not belong to anyone else.

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