When I tell people that I signed off of social media for more than a year, the usual responses are “Wow, I could never do that!”, “How did you survive?”, and some sort of pat on the back like I just finished a marathon. And to be honest, sometimes I felt like I was 13 miles into a marathon I had impulsively signed-up for without thinking it through. But after finishing this year-long race, I have never been more appreciative of the uncomfortableness of that time.
So why on earth would a 20-something gal living in New York City, many family and friends far away, sign off of social media for a year? I vividly remember sitting on my couch on May 8, 2015, after having posted a picture on Instagram, I refreshed my screen every 10 minutes to see who had “liked” the picture. Minutes later, someone else posted a picture of a bunch of people hanging out that I hadn’t been invited to. There was this sinking feeling entering my mind that said “No one cares about you. Look at these people not inviting you to things and rubbing it in your face - then they have the gall to not “like” your well-thought out post?!” That’s when I knew I needed a break - and not a little week or two like I had done in the past with no change. “One year off? There’s no way I can do it that long!” So I knew then that it had to be one year. I needed to prove to myself that one year was possible.
Two weeks into the fast and I was really regretting it. Two couples from my church had gotten engaged and I had missed the mass invites to the engagements via Facebook - not to mention the number of birthday parties, hangouts, announcements, and general day-to-day updates that I missed! Honestly, it wasn’t until about 6 months in that these feelings started to go away.
What changed? God showed me that these feelings of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and the need for others’ approval went much deeper than social media. While an unliked post on Instagram may show my need for others’ approval, my brokenness ran a lot deeper. Underneath all of the hurt I felt towards social media was a girl longing for approval and acceptance in every area of her life. I realized this when I had posted something funny in a group text and no one responded. “How dare they not think I’m funny?!”
While social media has an excellent way of connecting people throughout the world, it does an excellent job of allowing people to show only their highlight reel which in turn causes us to question the pain and struggle we feel, alienating us in our feelings. I saw other people hanging out without me, pictures getting "liked" more than mine, people living happier lives than me. It fueled the feelings of loneliness and inadequacy.
One moment in particular stands out in this year-long fast. In early December 2015, I took a week-long trip to London with my best friend, Tori. It was medicine for my soul. We saw, we did, we laughed, we enjoyed. And you know what? Only Tori and I experienced it. No one else saw all the beautiful sites, no one viewed every meal we ate with 12 hashtags attached to it. And no one else told me what to feel. Everything I felt was authentic without validation or disapproval from anyone. Every emotion I felt about that trip was uniquely mine.
On May 9, 2016, my one year anniversary of being off social media, I was in Poland and Italy on vacation. Technically, by rules of the fast, I could sign back on. I chose to stay offline though because I wanted to be completely present with my surroundings and my best friend. I needed the silence of others to hear what God says about me, how He tells me I am worth it, how I have the approval of the only person that matters.
When I returned from that trip, I signed back on. And yes, catching up on people’s lives was a little thrilling. However, I realized I didn’t need social media to be social. People can hang out without me - that doesn’t mean they don’t love me. People can scroll over my post without a “thumbs up” or “heart” in approval - I still know that I am worth it. I’m still a work in progress. I don’t have all these feelings completely worked out but I do know that when something in your life feels off, don’t be afraid to give something up in order to sit in those emotions - to feel and explore all that they mean. In sacrificing what I saw as “essential,” I realized how unnecessary it truly was and what was truly essential.