A few days ago, I reactivated my Instagram account.
This was the third time that I had reactivated my Instagram blog account after having temporarily disabled it. Third time’s the charm, right? I felt that I was making progress with myself and that things were really starting to look up, so naturally, I decided that it was time to throw a wrench in the mix and boot up the good ole ‘gram.
In the past, I’ve had trouble with using social media in a positive way as I quickly get caught up in the addictive, comparative, and competitive nature of it all. I once had a profile with almost 2,000 followers, which I ended up deleting for the same reasons. Nevertheless, I told myself that this time would be different and I would use it purely for positivity, connection, and expression.
The first day of having it back and active went fine. I posted some stuff, somehow managed to gain about 100 followers, and exchanged some words of encouragement along the lines of “You got this girl! You’re amazing!” See, there’s no problem here, I thought.
While things might have started off as harmless inspirational quotes, you-go-girls, and good vibes, I quickly noticed that my toxic social media habits were picking up right where they left off. I would post a picture and tell myself, “Okay, great, that’s done, I’ll leave it alone for today and check back tomorrow,” only to find myself reaching for my phone and tapping the Instagram icon numerous times throughout the day.
At one point, I opened the app and noticed that around 50 people had followed me—I could feel a surge of worthiness flowing through me. Every red heart and a new follower was a sign that I was liked, accepted, and heard. That rush of good feelings left me wanting more. I would post something else, and the whole cycle would repeat.
I found myself checking my phone all day long. Even when I told myself it was the last time, my hand sneakily found its way to my phone as if possessed by some monster whose nourishment depends solely on validation.
I also couldn’t help but compare myself to the people I was following. In this social media world, followers seem to equate to how many people care about you, or like you enough to want to see what you have to say or what you are doing every day. In my now anxious mind, “likes” became like a virtual hello, a sly wink from across the room, or a friendly thumbs up.
In reality, though, these friendly gestures on Instagram are only empty versions of the real thing. I saw how easily I could get lost in this world, substituting red hearts for actual real life communication and connection. I could see how, once again, I was seeking validation from the outside, rather than finding true self-worth and love within my own beating heart.
Not to mention, I was spending too much time mindlessly scrolling, searching for inspirational quotes, planning out my next picture. I would find myself looking at profiles that I knew triggered bad feelings in me, almost like some inescapable form of self-sabotage.
With all this time spent on Instagram, I could have been doing a hundred other much more pleasurable, productive things, like writing on my blog. Writing makes me happy and having a blog space where I can share my thoughts freely without being bombarded with pictures of people’s acai bowls is wonderful.
Instagram, I realized, does not make me happy. In fact, I found myself getting more and more anxious and depressed every day, and slipping back into old thinking patterns that I’d been working so hard to shift.
In a last ditch effort, I deleted the actual app off my iPhone but kept the account active. Once I did this, I found that I would still automatically reach for my phone, only to find that the source of validation had been removed. Realizing this, I would seek distraction by checking my email five times in a row, or even my banking app, in the hope of seeing some notification. My brain was desperately searching for something—anything—to fill that little patch of emptiness I felt in my heart.
My patterns with social media made me stop and think, “Hey, I’ve heard this story before.” The compulsion to check the app even though I know it makes me feel bad, the attempts at monitoring it (okay, just once a day…okay, maybe just every Monday and Thursday), the seeking of something outside myself to feel whole.
It all reminded me of what happens when I drink alcohol. It’s just another emotional addiction. Another distraction. Another way to seek false acceptance.
Please click here to read Part Two: How I started Living after Breaking Up with Instagram.
Author: Katie Leigh
Image: Annie Spratt/Unsplash
Editor: Taia Butler