LOS ANGELES — I deleted my Instagram account. Not permanently — let’s not be crazy — but deleted it from my phone.
I’ve never been very active on social media. It takes me a lot of time to post anything because I have the misplaced belief that whatever ends up on social media is some kind of declaration about who I am as a person.
Last month, I posted an Instagram story in which I accidentally used the wrong “you’re.” You can’t edit stories and according to Instagram, 198 people saw that post. I’m now convinced that 198 people think using the wrong “you’re” is who I am as a person.
So, yeah, I’m not what you might call a casual user. It takes me thought and effort for me to contribute. But it takes absolutely nothing for me to consume.
And lately I noticed I was consuming too much. My typical day was: wake up, check social media; drink coffee, check social media; play with my son, put him down for a nap, check social media; take a shower, eat lunch, wash dishes, realize I hadn’t checked social media, panic, check social media.
It was a problem. Anytime I had a moment to myself, and often when I didn’t, I reached for my phone. During any silence, a tiny voice in my head would whisper, “Fill it. Fill it. Fill it.”
So six, nine, 12 times a day, I scrolled through well-lit baked goods, other people’s babies and celebrity clothing lines. I didn’t understand it. Why was I desperate to distract myself?
Was I so unhappy with my life that I had to constantly check in on other people’s? I have the cutest baby on the face of the planet (sorry, other babies), I love my job, I’m married to a fantastic man and I live in a state where the sun is constantly shining. I didn’t need social media to feel fulfilled.
To prove it to myself, I took a deep breath and deleted the apps. It was simple. It felt freeing. It felt powerful.
It felt like I might die.
Surprise! This is not a column about how to break free from social media — I won’t be giving a TED Talk anytime soon. (At least not on that subject, but stay tuned for my TED Talk, “How to Get Away with Less and Less Showering.”)
Unfortunately, I was nowhere close to having solved my problem. Because slowly, the real panic began to settle in. Even though the apps were gone, the urge was still there — stronger, in fact, now that I couldn’t satisfy it.
It turns out, removing social media was like putting a Band-Aid on a wound that actually needed stitches. Over the next week, I went through withdrawal worse than when I gave up caffeine. I longed for it, I dreamed about it, I wondered if my favorite accounts had posted new photos.
Of course I understand that social media isn’t all bad. It can be used as a platform for artists and writers, a way to share photos with family and friends or as entertainment just to be enjoyed.
But that’s not how I was using it. For me, it was so much easier to face filtered perfection than my own messy life. Easier than the complicated feelings that come with motherhood, with going back to work, with feeling anxious about it all. I’d rather breeze over photos, taking in the beautiful surface of everyone’s life than dive into the depths of my own.
But the thing is, we are not our filtered photos. My life cannot be summed up in a photo collage and neither can anyone else’s. Life is so much fuller and richer than that.
A photo of my son might be beautiful, but it doesn’t begin to communicate the depth of my love or the toll motherhood has taken on my life. And when we mistake a beautiful photo for real life, it damages the expectations we hold for ourselves. We compare our real lives with a fantasy and are reminded of what we aren’t doing, rather than what we are.
It’s been nine days since I’ve given up social media and the fever has broken a bit. This morning, I got my son from his crib and nuzzled my nose in his sweet, baby-hair bedhead.
We walked to the sliding glass door so I could let him greet the morning and stood in silence with him in my arms, both of us staring at a hummingbird moving through the morning light. This was better than anything I could find on an app.
It was real life — beautiful, tangible, right in front of me.
“Man,” I thought. “This would look great with a filter.”
Jessica Runck, who grew up in Wimbledon, N.D., and graduated from Concordia College, is a writer living in Los Angeles. Visit www.jessicarunck.com for more information.