“You haven’t posted in a while. Are you ok?”
“Is everything ok? I can’t find your Instagram.”
“Do you and the girls need anything? You haven’t posted a story in almost a week.”
Those are actual quotes from real texts I have received in the past month. Yes, I am fine. The girls are also fine. No major events have rocked our family. The truth is that I have been focusing on deleting stress-triggers from my life. Some letting go has come easy, like decreasing the girls’ activity commitments. Some of it has been hard, like letting go of my gym membership. But the one that seemed impossible until a few weeks ago was letting go of social media.
I know the dangers of social media. I know how addictive it can feel and how harmful it can be to one’s self-esteem and self-worth. I have fasted from social media in the past but always come back. I have consistently convinced myself that the good outweighed the bad and that I was the ideal sensible user of social media. I needed social media, I told myself.
Life as a single mom can leave you feeling isolated. If I am not working, I am doing something for my kids. Hopping onto social media gave me a real sense of connection. Social media is where I found amazing social support networks, like the one on which this blog appears, for single moms. Social media is where I connected with other women struggling with anemia. Social media is how I kept tabs on family, friends, and former students with whom I wouldn’t otherwise have much time to connect. These were all such positive additions to my life, but then it got even better.
After one of my blog posts, I noticed an uptick in my Instagram followers. I remember the day I hit 1,000 followers on Instagram. Granted, that is not a lot in this world of “influencers,” but it felt like a serious accomplishment for a single mom just sharing pictures of her kids, recipes, and “real life.” I felt good. I felt affirmed. I felt like I was finally making the friends I didn’t have time for in real life. As my followers grew over the next year, the affirmation deepened. I started talking to people in my stories, sharing my day, and, of course, sharing my grievances. The degree of validation I got from the DMs affirming my “realness” and ability to “tell it like it is” was massive, and something about which I am now pretty embarrassed.
I found myself starting to live at least partially outside of my life, constantly thinking about how my real life played into the version that I put online. I caught myself thinking in captions and hashtags. On more than one occasion, I asked my girls to repeat behaviors so that I could capture their cuteness – not for the family photo album, but for the consumption of my followers. I now realize that I said “yes” to outings, when I was exhausted, because I thought it would make a good post. I started wearing makeup to places I usually wouldn’t, like track practice, because I knew I may “need” go live.
I was doing all of this – trying to be engaged in my life as it happened, as well as playing narrator for the life I was presenting online, deeply invested in the maintenance of both my spontaneous and reflected public face – while trying to deal with the increasing frequency and intensity of my bouts with anxiety.
So many of my anxiety triggers are inherent in being a single mom: Will the kids be ok after being asked about their dad by a classmate? How am I going to afford to send them to camp with the rest of their class? What if I am swamped at work and late to pick them up?
So many of my anxiety triggers are inherent in living in Southern California, too. Driving anywhere is a time-sucking, schedule-altering, emotionally-draining, combative, unpredictable nightmare. Everything is over-priced. Nobody is young-enough, cool-enough, or fit-enough. Nothing God-given is ever enough, and everyone is always busy.
I found myself anxious more often than I was at peace, and that is not ok. I realized that part of dealing with my anxiety was working on my own reactions and coping mechanisms for that anxiety, which is induced by things that are beyond my control – like the traffic and cost of living. But part of it was that I needed to stop inviting anxiety into my life. It was that realization, in the middle of the night, as I tossed and turned, that prompted me to open my computer and search academic journals for “social media and anxiety.”
In hindsight, I think I was hoping that the research would provide some skepticism and allow me to give myself permission to continue to live my virtual life. Instead, it prompted me to grab my phone, in a state of sleepy assuredness that best resembles the love child of a zombie and a droid, and just start deleting. I thought it would be hard, but it wasn’t. It was liberating.
I woke up the next morning and felt like my life was my own for the first time in years. My brain automatically defaulted to thinking about what attempt at witty faux-humility would kick off my day on my digital story. Surely, it would be something about the mundaneness of Mondays or the unending pressures of being a working mom. Then I realized that I didn’t have to say anything to anyone about my morning. I could just get up, drink my tea, and read the news. It took a moment for this new reality to register in my brain. I didn’t need to do anything other than just exist. There was, finally, no documentation or grooming needed for anything I did that day. I could just do it.
As great as my new freedom felt, the coming days did bring some rough adjustments. I missed scrolling through to find words of encouragement from other single moms. I missed seeing the pictures of distant family. I wondered who had gotten new jobs, was in a new relationship or decided to move. I missed that feeling of community and the feeling that my every passing thought could somehow entertain, support, or provoke another person. I still miss those things. But, I don’t miss them as much as I enjoy the peace of just living.
For me, this was the right choice. I have since reactivated Facebook for work purposes and will continue to share my monthly blogs and certain major life events on that platform, but I won’t return to being a daily poster. There is too much to worry about in life already. As anyone who is anxiety-prone can attest, the brain will do its best to invent things to worry about! So I am stepping out of this virtual space that is so ripe for anxiety. I am simplifying and finding peace in the version of me that exists in only one place, at only one time – free from the worry of how to package and convey the value of that place and time to anyone else.
Thanks for the memories, but it’s time for me to move on. So long, social media.
By A. Smith