Leaving Social Media Didn’t Solve My Problems; It Just Hid Them.

Photo by Bastian Riccardi on Unsplash

he day RBG passed away, I fell into a mental panic. Instead of focusing on my mental health, I jumped to the one place sure to rile me up, Instagram. I don’t have an echo chamber. The folks in my life cross all extremes or live in the gray with me. On a day when I needed affirmations, meditation, fresh air, I indulged my anxiety online. I read posts celebrating, grieving, calling us to action, and even perk up buttercup; you can’t put hope in one person. I couldn’t hold space for all the dissonance. So, I made the rash but right decision to delete Instagram.

Overall, Instagram didn’t make me happy; any external validation was short-lived. Mostly, I felt numb, envious, or angsty. I needed to quietly rediscover my version of joy, worth, and identity. Not scrolling the lives of others helped me reflect on my values and observe myself. I want to rejoin the world online, but this time with intention.

Intention isn’t a moment in time; it’s choosing to define something for yourself and then deciding every day to keep choosing it.

So why do I want to be on Instagram, and why did I quit cold turkey. The short story — I quit because I felt disconnected, and I want to join to feel connected.

Why did I quit?

If I was Marie Kondo-ing my life, it didn’t bring me joy.

I wanted to share my feelings, but they always seemed out of touch to the virtual reading of the room. In moments of chaos, I still had tiny moments of magic at home. I wanted to share my growth, my family, but it seemed off in the context of the bigger picture. As a Virgo rising, being okay with imperfection is a struggle.

I feared saying the wrong thing. I’ve met almost all of my followers; however, most don’t intimately know me. My meaning could be so easily lost. When I did post — I left feeling more disconnected because it was never the full story. When I did scroll — I felt lazy or behind in my journey.

Mostly, I was overdosing on and living in the news. Instagram felt like a place for more consumption of anxiety and fear. I didn’t want to deny people those feelings or feel like I had the luxury to ignore those feelings. But living in the feelings was eating me, and I needed to develop skills to navigate perfectionism, comparison, and anxiety.

What happened when I quit?

At first, my hands kept reaching for my phone. I started an epic journey of doing NYT crossword puzzles from 1996 on my phone. By month two, I could be without my phone; in fact, we spent most of our time in separate rooms.

In month three, I started reaping the benefits. I felt present. I wasn’t living my life through a camera lens, hoping to capture the perfect, shareable moment. Our memories were just for us. I craved connection, but instead of scrolling or posting to an audience of friends, family, and high school bullies, I set-up phone dates. I had some of the best conversations with my friends, colleagues, and family. Quantity went down, but quality went up.

My mood steadied. I kept the news relegated to a part of my day instead of taking it in again and again from Instagram feeds. Space allowed me to recognize both the privilege in that and the benefits to my health as an empath. I wasn’t helping my family or team when I lived in so many emotions. I felt more impactful as a leader and even wrote one of my all-time favorite pieces on Mental Health.

My feelings of comparison + envy faded. It’s easy to forget that we’re all on our own journey — we start where we start, and we carry different goals, talents, strengths. On Instagram, I felt insecure about my beauty, my words, and my journey. I also didn’t feel like I had an audience of folks that accept me in my current form. I’ve evolved a lot in 5-years. So many of my connections remember a version of me that doesn’t exist anymore. I struggled with being both the me of today and representing all the past versions of Courtney.

Stepping away, let me fully sink in and appreciate the Courtney of today. I feel more joy, contentment, and confidence in who I’m becoming.

I needed to stop the influx of others’ thoughts to unearth my own.

Now, I have this urge to share with the world and compare notes, if you will. But, I’m hesitant.

What’s holding me back?

My comparison + envy only faded. They didn’t go away. My current journaling work focuses on building an internal bar for excellence. Those feelings are still there, and while journaling helps me deal with them in a meaningful way, I don’t want a resurgence.

I rarely drink alcohol, but 7-years ago, my life involved weekday wine and weekend vodka. Every drink was in the quest to numb my anxiety, to push it down. Since alcohol only delayed my anxiety, it was a vicious cycle. When I became pregnant in 2014, I broke the cycle. I had to deal with my anxiety head-on without alcohol. I learned to painfully, awkwardly feel. Letting go of a decade-long crutch started a revolution in my soul. After Henley arrived, I didn’t jump back to drinking; I created an intention. Drinking would not be a “cure” or escape for my anxiety, but rather an experience opted into for fun. Every few months, I enjoy a fancy cocktail, dance through the giddiness of the champagne bubbles, and wake-up hangover + anxiety free.

Just like alcohol, Instagram needs a redefinition for me. There’s always a shorthand with friends that allows you to fill in the blanks + assume the best intentions. The internet doesn’t understand shorthand; it’s fickle like that. That internet isn’t always kind, and sometimes it completely ignores you. So, I can’t rejoin social media with the idea to just start posting again; I need purpose, I need a safe space to talk about my blend of interests — fashion, company culture, crystals, my daughter — and for it to make perfect sense.

And I need a curated feed. I’m happy. In the past year, I spent a lot of time centering myself, finding purpose in work, and being grateful for everyday magic. For so long, I needed to feel the collective emotions around me. I couldn’t experience joy if I knew someone else wasn’t. I skipped family outings to stay on social media, holding space no one asked me to hold for everyone’s emotions. As a child, I wrote a biography of my grandmother. I wanted to tell her story because I imagined it rugged and tragic in the 1930s-40s. But everything she told me felt dreamy. I’m relearning happiness doesn’t need to be extinct in hard times. I can move through chaos and uncertainty. I can learn and grow. I can recognize the balancing act of life.

What does redefining mean to me?

It feels dorky to type, but I have a brand. I love the complexity + intricacy of people, causes, politics, curiosities, and more. I like joyful, optimistic, inspirational quotes, art, vibes. For so long, if I couldn’t be everything to everyone, I was just nothing. I know who I am; I just tend to hide that person. For Instagram to not be deleted off my phone again, I need to focus on what I want to share instead of what I think the room wants to read.

So what am I going to post?

I like astrology, company culture, personality paradigms, self-reflection, crystals, animals, gardening, gentle parenting, journaling, everyday magic. I want to talk about those things and connect with folks that like those things. I want to read about the environment + nature and how it all ties back to everything. I want to read the political posts that, instead of being one extreme, offer thoughtful reflection. I want to say things that are honest, raw, and hard, and just be heard without someone trying to fix me or pity me. I’m also going to try out this hashtag thing. Some of my best connections in 2020 came from folks stumbling on my Medium posts thanks to tags. It’s an interesting reminder of how you can know people for years but feel more connected to strangers because, with no preconceptions, they just get you.

For so long, Instagram’s felt like a fair-weather friend. As a shy, introvert, social media from the beginning (2004!) felt like a way to connect through my quiet shell. But, Instagram’s mission is not authentic connections. And that’s what I need. I don’t expect the world or the app to bend for me. But I’m still going to try. Follow along @court_branson.

p.s. Do you feel the same way? As I map out how to rig Instagram to be the community I want, I wonder who else needs the same thing? Can a platform dedicated to curated reality live on forever? I’m not sure the collective mental health can take it.

culture + people executive | gentle parent | storyteller | gemini | counselor | daydreamer | lover of animals, flowers, cloudy days

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