Over my December holiday, somewhere between Blursday and feeling like I’d morphed into a cured ham, I deleted the Instagram app from my phone. I wanted to make sure I was being present with family and friends without the temptation of scrolling or feeling any pressure to post.
I had been going on too much anyways and needed a break, fully knowing that it wouldn’t be for long — just a couple of days to chill out and rewire before I’d be back posting stories and watching what the influencers-I-don’t-follow-but-creep-every-day ate for lunch.
The break was a real treat, at first. I caught up with the fam and on tasks I had put off for months. I watched movies in my parent’s living room, ate charcuterie for breakfast and rarely left my pyjamas. I was an overgrown toddler hooked on nitrates and Love It or List It marathons. Life was good, and I didn’t miss Instagram at all. I didn’t dare go on TikTok.
It was the week before going back to work, after leaving my parent’s home and the comfort of my day pyjamas, when things started to change. I felt restless and distracted. My mind was constantly wandering and so full of thoughts I thought it would burst. Even simple chores like unloading the dishwasher felt overwhelming and took longer than two business days to complete — if I even completed them.
Notes scribbled with to-do lists, random ideas, and everything I wanted to write about from now until the end of days were scattered over our house like crumbs, physical pieces of my unsettled mind. I watched the clock go from midnight to 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. when exhaustion would finally wash over me. I missed the first day back to work. When I returned, I had difficulty focusing.
What was going on?! I’ve dealt with bouts of intense anxiety in the past, but I’ve always been able to pinpoint exactly what was triggering it. This time was different. It didn’t seem linked to a specific occasion or experience. I couldn’t understand what had set me off because I wasn’t really doing anything. Nothing had changed, well, except… No? I dismissed the idea that not having a silly app on my phone had sent me into an anxious spiral. It was just back-to-work jitters. Winter blahs.
Instead of scrolling, numbing myself, I’ve been stuck inside my own head
I had scribbled, days earlier, in one of the four journals I currently have on the go, didn’t even remember writing it.
My fingers pressed into the sides of my head as if to stop the thoughts by force while I tried to remember what life looked like prior to deleting the app. I reached back through my memory, pushed through the holiday haze, and lost count of the times I would go on Instagram over a single day.
I’d have a quick scroll while sipping my smoothie. Write a paragraph, and reward myself by opening the app. I’d go to the bathroom, and — you get it. All the thoughts and creative ideas hidden beneath a thick Instagram fog for months (years?) were finally coming to the surface, and I didn’t know how to handle the influx.
I used to relish in the precious few moments away from my phone: sitting on the streetcar without headphones and listening to the sounds of the city (mostly drills) or going for long walks in the park to stare at other people’s dogs. I’d always come home to Instagram, though. Without the soothing hum of its constant updates or the rush of its sweet dopamine triggers, I had nothing to quiet my inner dialogue. There were no heart-eye emojis to hype me, no “LOL” to reassure me, no frequent reminders of my relevance. I was Pavlov’s Dog with no bell, just drool. Someone, please, validate me.
“Being online is the surest way to feel relevant, even if you lose yourself in the process, journalist Ginevra Davis writes in her Palladium piece, I Don’t Want to Be an Internet Person.
For Davis, an internet person, or internet people are those “whose entire identities are wrapped up in their online presence.” I’m not quite there, far from it, actually (thankfully). But there are parts of me that live online, usually for hours after a long day of BEING ONLINE. I feel in memes. I think in captions. I know what you did last summer, and I hate this. But I can’t help it. And I’m worried I’ll fall behind or won’t be in on all the jokes if I leave.
Sometimes I dream of leaving for good. Packing up my outside slippers and driving to a secluded cabin in the woods without any service. I don’t think I’d last long, though, like Davis admits, “Trying to stay off the internet feels like pushing back against a wave.”
I am not an internet person. But I am a person who exists alongside its pull. And I am easily swept up in its algorithms and illusions. Instagram (or TikTok) is not where I go to be my truest self or nurture relationships. Mostly, I’m there to spy on other people and feel a smidge of relevancy (or total inadequacy, depending on the content). Yet, I am there — even during my “break,” I frequently snuck onto Instagram’s browser version — and I don’t think I would be if I didn’t see some positives as well.
By the time you read this, I will have re-downloaded the app, although I’m more aware of when and how often I go on. I’m also finding healthier ways to get out of my head offline, like screaming in pilates and almost finishing an actual book.
Online life, I suspect, is something I will have to keep figuring out too. I’m slowly discovering how to have a glass without drowning myself in a sea of content. Maybe, one day, I’ll learn how to swim.
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