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How Do You Define Yourself Without Social Media?: Social Media Cleanse Rambles

Good morning, folks! It’s been a while since I’ve posted on here, but since I’m slowly weaning myself off of social media, I find myself much more willing and able to devote myself to the things I really want to do, like blogging.

Within the past month or two, I’ve been in the process of kicking my bad social media habits. In fact, I deleted my Twitter this morning.

Okay, just my three-year-old public Twitter account. The account I’ve had since 2011 lives on – though now on private. I’m not going cold turkey quite yet. I did however find myself questioning why exactly I had so many social media accounts in the first place. Did I really need four Twitter accounts? Or five on Instagram? Why do I feel the need to segment myself off into different handles on the same platform? I would often find myself going to tweet on my private Twitter account and then closing out the tweet and just posting it onto my public account. My justification behind this account was to have something accessible that companies could see whilst I apply to jobs. Since I have a marketing degree, a lot of jobs I apply to do involve social media in one way or another. My professors in college often advised that we all create our own personal brands on social media for when we start out our careers. But I figured out something recently: I don’t care.

There is joy in privacy. There is joy in a lack of being perceived. Having these separate, publicly accessible accounts was just another way to create an alter ego of myself. The professional, liberal, city-loving, marketing enthusiast version of myself. I’ve come to the realization that sharing everything online for all the world to see doesn’t truly matter in the grand scheme of things. In fact, doing so can come at the cost of personal connection.

One of the biggest obstacles to me just impulsively deleting all of my social media is FOMO. Not FOMO in relation to events and celebrities, but people. Friends that I don’t text but do reply to their Instagram stories. How will I know what’s going on in their lives? Spoiler alert: I’d have to contact them individually via text or phone call. Social media has become a sort of one-stop shop for being updated on what’s happening in everyone’s lives. But how updated are you really? When someone posts a story to their 1,000 followers, that’s 1,000 different people to cater to. I don’t know about you, but I act differently around different friends. I’m not an entirely different person, but I take others’ interests and quirks into consideration when I speak and act. So a story post is actually way less personal than you would think. What your friends post is the condensed version of what they want to convey. How would they talk about something if it was just in a one-on-one setting? You’d probably learn a lot more about what’s going on from a simple conversation than from stalking their Instagram stories.

So, how do we stay in touch with people in the age of social media? Well, we text them. We talk to them one on one. I was talking to my therapist recently about feeling a little depressed and she asked me about my social life. She stressed that group chats and social media are no substitution for getting together with friends – having face time and real conversations with people. That’s what I want more of in my life. I want to meet up with my friends and just catch up. Instead of knowing they visited San Francisco, I can ask what they’ve been up to and learn what they really thought of San Fran. It’s so much more personal and meaningful to have these offline connections.

Alright. I’m going to contact people more often instead of scrolling through their profiles. Got it. But what about myself? As an avid social media poster, how do I transition from sharing to withholding? Simple: I learn to define myself without social media. Okay, maybe that’s a lot more complicated than it sounds. Who am I if not the girl who’s wearing green eyeshadow in her Twitter profile pic? The one with “she/they | cancer” in their bio? The one who posts all their latest baking shenanigans? It’s all very if a tree falls and no one is around to hear it, does it makes a sound? If I do something without posting about it on Instagram, did I really do it? Short answer: YES. Sure I can post a picture every time I go hiking, but does that make me a hiker? No. I used to define myself as someone who loved hiking, but I never actually went hiking all that often. I simply posted a photo whenever I did, sort of as proof of this interest. Now, I’m trying to grapple with this defining interest of mine. I can go hiking every single weekend and not tell a soul. Does that mean I am still someone who enjoys hiking, or, am I being perceived as someone who enjoys hiking? The real secret: You don’t have to be perceived by others to define yourself, your identity, or your interests. Let me repeat that. You don’t have to be perceived by others to define yourself, your identity, or your interests. This is something that social media has started to push back against. But when I think back to my childhood, I think about how much I loved writing and illustrating stories. This was before social media, so nothing was ever shared with anyone unless I took the initiative to share it with people individually, in the real world. I did love storytelling and that was a core part of my identity even without social media. I’m trying to get back to that headspace.

Social media takes up so much of my free time. I often think oh, if I only had more time in the day. If I simply limit my time on social media, I can get back to doing the things that I love, the things that define who I am, without the influence or pressures of social media. I am my most authentic self when I am doing the things I love. That’s how I am defining myself now. Instead of scrolling through tweets about books I should read, I just read them. Instead of watching people do their makeup on TikTok, I experiment with my own makeup. The other day I put on bright green eyeshadow just because I felt like it – and it looked good! I haven’t expressed myself through my makeup in a long time, and I missed it. I had gotten so used to just expressing myself through my social media platforms, that I forgot that self-expression exists outside of social media. I can do my makeup, cut up my clothes, paint my room a random color, and more! Now every time I find myself about to enter the endless social media scroll, I think about what I would rather be doing. Then, I do it. It’s as simple as that, sometimes. And when it’s not simple? When the days get hard, and the depression and anxiety prevent me from doing the things I love, do I turn to social media to vent? No. I journal. There is a sense of peace that comes with venting all your feelings without sharing them with people you haven’t really spoken to in years. It provides me the same relief I felt when creating a finsta post, but without the constant infodump about my mental state on my friends. That isn’t to say I’ve stopped leaning on my friends for support, but rather that I can now work through my feelings on my own instead of shouting them out into the Instagram void. If I am to be someone who prioritizes mental health and takes care of themself, I need to be able to do so without relying on social media.

This post is sort of a ramble, but I think what I’m trying to get across is that there is more to me than who I am online. There is life beyond social media. It’s hard to remember that sometimes, since so much of what happens occurs online. However, working on myself and defining myself by my hobbies and things I do outside of the confines of my screen has been more fulfilling than any social media account I’ve ever started. Hopefully, I continue on this path and relearn how to live life authentically, not digitally.

Why I’m Considering a Social Media Cleanse

As someone who holds a marketing degree, you’d think that social media and I would be BFFs. For the most part, you’d be right. I’ve been on nearly every form of social media for almost a decade and have even recently succumbed to the lures of TikTok. I don’t usually allow myself to feel the negative effects of these platforms: last year I unfollowed dozens of celebrities and influencers that I only followed because I envied their looks/lifestyle/etc. I genuinely don’t feel bad about myself when I use Instagram (for the most part, anyway).

What I’m really curious about is, well, me. Growing up surrounded by other people’s personalities and profiles, I feel a sense of lacking when I think about my own. Is my curated, Lightroom-filtered feed really who I am?

When I look back at my posts from high school (which have since been archived, of course), I see someone who exudes individuality, someone who doesn’t care what other people think of her profile, someone who will post a bunch of pictures of leaves because she feels like it and not because she thinks it fits in her feed. I’m not sure when this switch happened — perhaps in the midst of marketing classes where I’ve been told that I need to market myself on socials for prospective employers — but I definitely feel the loss of who I used to be.

Lingering on this subject for too long leaves me wondering if I’m just being nostalgic for a person I’ve grown out of or if that was really the real me. It’s hard to tell these days what the real me even is. I’m inundated with aesthetics and traits that people brand themselves with. Am I more cottagecore or do I want to be dark academia? Which aesthetic should I try on this month? I’m tired of trying on personality traits like they’re clothes. I want to discover who I am outside of these labels, and I feel like I can only do that if I fully separate myself from the source.

Will I actually quit social media? Who knows. I do know that this soul searching has motivated me to become more introspective and less performative. Instead of retweeting an article, I will read it, sit with it, and perhaps do my own research. I’ve begun journaling (not consistently, though — that’s something I need to work on) as a way of getting in touch with my emotions and thoughts. Rather than projecting this image of who I want to be, I want to self-assuredly be one with who I am. To do that, I have to define myself outside of other people’s expectations. I want to be able to look at someone’s social media and not feel this strange sense of longing to change up everything about myself just to match the vibe. I want to be so secure in my identity that no one can take it away from me. I want to figure out what makes me, me.

The Mindset I Want to Take With Me Into 2021

2020 was one heck of a year. I had high hopes for 2020 after some devastating losses and realizations in 2019, but clearly, my expectations were a bit too high.

This year, I want to be conscious of my mental health and my self-care routine. I’m not trying to use buzzwords here: I mean I need to do the hard things that I know are good for me.

If you’ve ever been depressed, you know that everything suddenly becomes a struggle. So this year, I’m prioritizing getting dressed every morning despite not leaving my house, washing my face morning and night, and setting aside time to move my body. These are all things that I have been known to push aside from my daily routine in favor of being sedentary and sad (which is a very good slogan for being depressed: sedentary and sad). However, things like having good hygiene or starting off my day with stretching pretty much guarantee a happier, more productive day. So why have those things been so hard for me?

I had this realization in therapy recently. I often find myself in two states: Anxious or Depressed. Anxious Me operates at the risk of burnout but does in fact get things done. Depressed Me operates at the risk of digging myself a little depression hole: I essentially do nothing because that feels safer than doing something that could make me anxious, upset, frustrated, stressed, etc. When talking to my therapist about how I cycle through these states, she noted that I can choose the middle ground. I’ll put a disclaimer here and say that, obviously, mental illness is not a choice, but this was something I needed to hear. I operate in my own comfort zones. Depression is a comfort zone. Anxiety is a comfort zone. There come choices during my day where I pick either the anxiety-inducing option or the depression-spiraling one. Really, there’s often a third choice: a middle ground.

When making choices throughout the day, it is important to note not just what feels good and comfortable now, but what will feel good and comfortable later. For example, I know that moving my body makes me feel better, but I don’t often feel as though I have the energy to do so. However, setting aside time (especially in the morning) to do some light stretches is low-effort and leaves me feeling better about the day ahead. Committing to an entire workout regime puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself that often leaves me wanting to just do nothing at all. Ensuring I do some light stretches or unstructured yoga in the morning, however, makes me feel like I’ve done something good for my body without exerting a significant amount of energy. It also is an activity I consider to be productive. If the feeling of productivity continues, I could do some more intense workout moves, but if not, I have still moved my body that day. There is no judgment if I decide not to work out, but rather compassion for myself for doing something that benefits both my body and my mind. 

Taking care of my health— mental, physical, and emotional —should be my priority. In 2021, I’m looking to find more middle ground, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming months of self-compassion and growth.