An account of the time Instagram and I broke up
Anyone who has watched the hit sit-com show “Friends” instantly recognizes a certain line:
“We were on a break!”
Ross and Rachel, dating, decide to gain some space in the relationship when Ross, ever the relational dunce, deals with his pain by going to a party/bar (can’t remember which) and ends up sleeping with the copy girl from the Xerox place.
Yeah, not the most moral of stories. Ever after in the show when something comes up about this happening that drove them apart for years Ross would emphasize “we were on a break!”
Yeah, whatever, Ross.
WHAT HAPPENED WHEN INSTAGRAM AND I BROKE UP
There aren’t any great tie-ins to the story above and my own, other than hearing the word “break” always makes me think of Ross and Rachel.
Breaks show us things that are hard to spot when in the middle of something. It reveals weaknesses, highlights strengths, and gives us a ton to think about. My breakup with Instagram was a long time coming. All summer whenever I’d post something it was a matter of anxiety. If it didn’t get as many likes it hurt. If it got a bunch of likes I’d get even more scared about posting something else. It felt as if my identity was being swallowed up and it was getting harder and harder to keep healthy in my perspectives.
The weird thing was I could discipline my time on it, frequently leaving it alone for hours and hours. The trouble was mostly when I was on it: dealing with feeling inadequate, worthless compared to others, and like I was always doing something wrong.
Yeah, it had to go. Plus, I’ve had it on my list to paint a watercolor for the last 4 years, as well as read Hamlet. A break and those two fit together nicely so on August 23rd, in a fit of inspiration, I deleted the app.
The effect was immediate, as illustrated by this diary I kept about it, entitled:
IDENTITY CRISIS INSTAGRAM FAST
9:38a • Day 1: deleted Instagram app. Feel about 10 pounds lighter. Who knew IG weighed that much?
7:53p • same day: wish I could add photo of delectably BUTTERY potato pie while crying over “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.” Epiphany while watching movie: I am a slow person. Not in wit or intelligence, though those do lag often enough to keep me humble, but slow in relationships. Felt neither shamed nor exuberant about it. Just peaceful.
4:33p • Day 2: had the beginnings to a creative dream that was uninspired by Instagram. Found it felt a little like waking up on a northern summer day to a cool, sunny day
7:21 • Day 2: turned my phone on airplane mode since I was out of service anyway, and thoroughly enjoyed a sunny game of mini golf, nearly won it, couldn’t post about it, and down-sized my ego. Someone gave me a huge basket of hot drinks and biscotti. Promptly gain all the weight lost with Instagram.
10:43 • Day 3: listen in/participate to a conversation between two friends about parenting with the expectation of certain results. Hits me that I’ve been writing to please people vs. writing what I need to write and letting the chips fall where they may.
In the evening have the idea to film a couple of goofy videos with friends by an abandoned railway. Wish to post on IG story, but settle for laughing at it and posting it to Snapchat.
Find a $300 down parka for $15. Sweet Rings of Neptune, that was a good deal.
11:15 • Day 4: notice an improvement in phone battery life with no IG.
4:25p • Day 5: really starting to feel the IG-less withdrawal. Order watercolors and copy of Hamlet. Prepare to feel very depressed about the upcoming tragedy of Hamlet and my watercolor skills.
Later: Log in to Instagram for a client, can hardly stay away from new notifications. Resist.
5:25 • Day 6: buy lodging in Boston. Choke at the prices downtown. Would like to whine on my Instagram stories about it. Chop lettuce instead and prepare for a period of famine to afford this trip.
6:59a • Day 7: see falling leaves in dawn light. Instinctively snatched my phone because it was so beautiful I wanted to share it with friends. Stopped myself and realized, this moment was just for me. Some moments are like that. Some get shared, some you treasure up in your heart and mind.
8:30a • Day 8: wear picturesque skirt and sit at coffee shop to read and write. Barely have to resist thoughts of posting the double espresso on ice. Think about personality assessment profile work paid for and realize that aesthetics are indeed a strong motivator for me; beauty refreshes and gladdens me.
12:01 • Day 9: painted a water color of blue mountains. First goal, done. Went out with friends and had a carefree, child-like evening. Fun, dorky, and completely comfortable.
12:01 • Day 10: this whole fast was to look for my identity again, and I realize that up until this point I haven’t identified as a single, unmarried person, but rather as a human. Is that ok? Get an idea for the first chapter on my book about the human problem of loneliness
Day 11: hiked, hung out with friends all day, and went to a new brewery in the evening to try out their beers. Hadn’t had food since morning and must’ve been dehydrated, because I got all light-headed with a delayed reaction time of a second or two later than was my normal. As a result walked a straight line to prove to a friend I wasn’t drunk, rode a Bird scooter, and discovered an amazing new Thai place. Food helped so much.
8:52p •Day 12: tomorrow a two day work thing in Charlotte. Very much looking forward to the mental stimulation. Still don’t miss IG unless really tired. Apparently I treat it like my pacifier.
9:53p • Day 14: that last post was about a week ago, ok, yesterday morning feels like a week ago. Charlotte was good! Gained some more insight into my next steps as a human. Key word: action. Moving to Oxford also came up as an option
10:27 • Day 18: definitely slacking off journaling here, and don’t know that it matters. Last week was nothing particularly noteworthy, other than finding a skirt at Good Will that cost $700 ish new (which should be flippable for a pretty penny) and finally, finally going grocery shopping. Do you know how it boosts the morale to have actual food sitting in ones fridge? So tired of take-out.
10:29 • Day 19: had the best dance class tonight, back at it after taking a month’s break. Several of the dances were on fire, and once again I remember how good it is to be part of such beauty, motion and complexity. To fly again...
Commented to the roomie that I’m enjoying this Instagram break so much I might continue it, but also, kinda hurts to login in for a business reason and see 50 notifications I may not view. Gah.
I didn’t know who I was anymore on Instagram, and find that while not focused on posting about it, I absolutely love my life.
9:52 a • Day 21: in all the talk about “curating and branding” one’s Instagram feed I realized that I’m not actually trying to market anything, but I was still kind of “selling” my life to the business of validation in likes and followers. I told myself it was just to engage with people and promote my blog but that wasn’t all true. I had to get away because my identity was getting tied in with a social media feed, and it was hurting my confidence and freedom. Meanwhile I’m posting whatever the harry I want on Snapchat and loving it. I hadn’t realized how much I was trying to conform to what I thought people wanted to see.
11:23p • Day 25: left my phone for 5 hours. Caught up on all notifications in two minutes flat.
4:18p • Day 22: can’t find Hamlet at local library so I check out “Taming of the Shrew” instead. Have the idea to intersperse short personal stories and watercolors in my book.
6:37 • Day 28: finish reading “Taming of the Shrew, get all mad at Shakespeare for the tone of the play, and realize I’ve fulfilled the requirements of my break. Don’t want to quit the break yet and kind of want to hold out for a new phone. This one’s screen is so old and ugly Instagram isn’t much fun.
4:21p • Day 32: realized I could get back on Instagram today. Decided I’d like to hide out a little bit longer, the idea of feeling that pressure again doesn’t appeal. Obviously more time is needed.
Then in a moment of feeling weak I think, I could get on IG to try and forget my trouble of the day, or maybe post about it! Realize I’d only download it to complain. Resist.
That was last week. I might get back on now that I have a new phone and might not. That feeling of being 10 pounds lighter just for not being on Instagram is still with me and it’s been wonderful to live life without feeling like I need to present it just right.
Also, whether or not this is selfish I don’t know, but it’s been unbelievably good (good to the point of feeling a bit teary right now) to not have to conjure up happiness 50 times a day for someone else’s good fortunes or food. The overdose of trying to find a gladness in my heart for 400 different people for the awesome present a boyfriend gave them, or the announcement of a new baby or relationship, or the excitement of them being in the 10th amazing new city while I was dealing with road re-paving nonsense in my little town, or feeling incapacitated by their talent in art and creativity to the point where I didn’t even try out my own talent, or simply being overwhelmed by all the amazing living being done by everyone else.
It probably is selfish, but it was all too much for me and withdrawing on my part is a way of finding my own strength, my own talent, my own joy in relationships, my own way through a tough day without having to be all inspirational about it. I’ve finished at least 4 books since then, done silly things that will always bring me joy, spent at least 16 nights in other people’s company without being on Instagram at all or sometimes even on my phone (that’s how much I love being with y’all) and have learned a bunch of things about myself and the world.
Breaks tend to do that. They’re about something small or temporary, and then they end up showing us great things.
The most important thing I’ve learned is it is ok to withdraw from good things. Just that. Sometimes we just need a break from things that are actually beneficial or necessary: food, social media, sex, study, church, rest, exercise, doing, being…
Do what you need to do. Whatever just popped into your mind. Do it. This year has been a landmark one for me because I stopped thinking about whether or not I should do things and just did them. Exercise program for six months. Check. Dancing classes. Check. Get off Instagram for a break (took me long enough though). Check. Organize trips I’ve always wanted to take. Check. Read books on the list to be read for the past few years. Check. Buy watercolors. Check.
Not to drown yourself in doing; all I’m talking about is that one thing that’s been niggling at you. I bet you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Just do it.