That Tuesday morning, I felt a deep rage burn inside me over the countless hours I had spent on doing— what, exactly? I watched the little app icons shake for a few seconds before tapping them away one by one: Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, TikTok. Immediately I reconsidered. What about my online friends? What about my followers, my content? What am I supposed to do with my down time? What if I never come back?
Sitting in class the first day of mass removal was nerve-racking. Out of habit, I picked up my phone several times a minute and checked the lockscreen for notifications. The entire day I was a nervous wreck: shaking, sweating, fidgeting with anything I could get my hands on. The first 24 hours were the hardest, but it certainly wasn’t easy after that.
Over the course of a week, the buzz of anxiety regarding my abandoned pages became background noise to the rest of my priorities. I partially regained my focus, but the moment I was unoccupied, the urge to redownload washed over me like a stone on the shore: the desire almost moved me, but each time I became more strong in my resolution.
After the initial week, my milestones came as successes that I didn’t really expect to have— mostly because I never understood how badly my time on social media affected me. Around 2 weeks in, I stopped taking photos of things that didn’t make me happy, and I didn’t have to take a million photos just to get “the right one.” At the 2 month mark, I stopped doing what I call “thinking in posts,” where you have thoughts that manifest as a TikTok/finsta/etc version of whatever your thought is. The amount that this occurred on a regular basis was actually shocking to me when I realized it stopped.
After 3 months, something crazy happened. Genuinely out-of-the-box crazy. I started having original thoughts. Thoughts that were completely unlike anything I had spoonfed myself online, thoughts that were so precious and beautiful to me because they were all mine. It felt insane; I had always considered myself a freethinker! Who else was thinking for me for so long? In that moment, as I sat on the floor of my bedroom, thinking, living finally for myself, I cried tears of relief.
After 4 months, I looked at myself and saw true beauty; not in spite of the things I once hated, but because of them. Without the constant feed for comparison, my day-to-day body dysmorphia withered away and died. When I saw myself before, I saw someone with potential, if I would just tweak this and that and— when I see myself now, I know that I AM potential. I AM the potential for love, for peace, for power. I was never the firewood, I was the flame. It’s been me all along.
After about 6 months, I was strong enough in my willpower to redownload the apps and finish what I had started. It was so difficult, seeing the red dot with the number of unopened dms, the notification banners that pop up immediately, telling you how many likes and new followers you have, seeing the first post on the feed automatically, the url is your best friend’s spam account and the caption is long and you can tell by her typing that she’s really upset this time and— breathing. I didn’t open the messages. I didn’t check the likes. I didn’t read the post. I went to my profile, clicked on each post, and deleted them. Piece by piece, I wiped the electronic slate clean. When I was finished, I took a breath, closed each app, and deleted them for good.
It has been a year since I snapped and deleted my online presence. I am different now; more me, closer to who I truly am as a person. I dislike the idea that the experience was “enlightening” or “awakening in some way. Truthfully, I am normal now. The way I operated before, with social media, was sick and depressing. I strongly encourage everyone who is still struggling with social media addiction to seriously consider deleting.
I know that the thought of quitting is extremely difficult for someone currently entrenched in networking apps. Here are some quick tips that helped me!
-Make a Google Forms with questions regarding names, how you know each other, and their numbers. Link it in your bios. That way, you can check the spreadsheet on google and stay in contact with your online friends without the harmful effects of social media!
-Build up a large queue on sites that allow it. Before I left tumblr, I queued a bunch of posts “just so the blog stays alive,” knowing fully well that I would lose interest in redownloading before the queue actually ran out.
-Be honest and transparent with the people in your life about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Often, they will help you with accountability when you’re feeling vulnerable.
-If you’re feeling the urge to redownload, keep yourself occupied with completing work, cleaning, organizing, and practicing self care.
-Know you are not alone. Reach out to friends and family if you begin to feel isolated without the constant stream of feed. It is hard, but it becomes easier. You got this!