Stepping away from social media
On making the decision to leave Instagram and start a new writing journey.
On Sunday 14 August, I posted a generic sunset over the sea photo on Instagram, taken the evening before, captioned “Going on another social media break. Maybe for good this time….”
After another bout of poor mental health, I deleted all the social media apps from my phone and tablet. Except this time I felt in my bones it was likely to be permanent.
I just couldn’t take it anymore. The incessant repetitive Reels, the weird dances pointing at hovering words (I don’t get it?), the endless ads that began to work on me. The constant push to follow more and more accounts.
I am still questioning why I felt the need to follow an account that posts identical daily Reels showing a gamer’s pretty room set-up. I should not have that much knowledge of a stranger’s bedroom.
The FOMO, the misery from comparing my life to others, the endless scrolling without even stopping. It had become an addiction, any spare minute was filled with more scrolling that left me feeling empty and worthless.
It made me feel like I was wasting my life. It motivated the toxic voice inside my head. I don’t have enough friends. I haven’t travelled to all these stunning places. I’ve not had all these magical wildlife encounters.
Every time I went for a walk in nature or for a day out or basically did anything for fun, I felt this need to capture it on camera. If it’s not on Instagram did it even happen? My once inviolable policy of not touching the internet when on holiday got lost somewhere along the way.
I’d get frustrated if my ageing phone couldn’t quite capture the reality (which it never can). I would be thinking about what approach would look best on Instagram. I’d deliberate on what to write for the caption and the hashtags to go with it, all instead of enjoying and existing in that moment.
When I got my rescue dog, Koda, things got worse. I followed dog behaviourists, and other rescue dog owners. I thought I could learn from them and bond through the shared experience.
But instead, I saw the progress they made. The fancy expensive gear. Their perfectly trained dogs, their constant commitment. I didn’t have the energy to keep up. I would compare Koda’s progress with these other rescue dogs. It left me feeling like the worst dog owner in the world.
I have lost touch with friends because of Instagram. It appeared that I was having the time of my life instead of reaching out. Nothing could be further from the truth. Similar to many, the pandemic years were my worst.
I spent most of that time struggling with chronic pain and poor mental health, not something I intentionally tried to hide. To quote ‘Dolores’, a song from one of my favourite bands, The Wandering Hearts, “Everyone’s fighting a battle you know nothing about”.
I don’t deny that I have been a bad friend at times, but it’s because I was wrapped up in my own problems. I actually used Instagram as an escape, a way to share the few good moments from my life with friends when I didn’t have the energy to talk to them.
It also came to feel like a poor substitute. Friends would ‘like’ a post about a life update instead of asking me about my real life. It hurt, but I probably did the same in return.
Instagram had once been a happy creative space for me. A place to follow my interests such as nature and art. A place to see beautiful things, and connect with like-minded people and friends. Ads were sparing and sometimes welcome as they were mostly relevant.
But algorithms changed. Ads became more frequent and pernicious. It got to a point where I wasn’t even seeing the content I had chosen to follow.
As a blogger, I also felt pressure to use social media to promote my blog. This led me down a dark path that I had once resisted. I set up accounts just to promote my blog. The desperate need for more likes and followers overwhelmed me. I’d compare my account to similar bloggers and despair.
I’d spend hours on strategies and content I didn’t care about to increase my following. And for what? My social media content didn’t increase traffic to my blog. A low point was when my most viral post (over 400 likes!) of an adorable grey seal pup resulted in zero new followers. But I battled on, clearly, I wasn’t trying hard enough.
Good SEO, however, did wonders for my blog. Google sent thousands upon thousands of visitors my way. But that led me into a different trap. I changed the focus of my blog to reflect what people were searching for. My personal posts and nature writing barely got a look in when it came to views so I stopped writing them.
I invited guest bloggers to feature on my blog but then I was bombarded with enquiries seeking backlinks and free advertising. I felt pressure to accept them to keep my blog active, especially when I’d lost the heart to write myself.
Only days into my social media break, a headline in my inbox grabbed my attention; Why I’m quitting Instagram written by one of my favourite bloggers, Hippy Highland Living. After searching, I found other millennial bloggers and content creators who were feeling the same way.
It made me realise I wasn’t alone. Perhaps, I am not a social pariah by choosing to abandon social media. Maybe there is another way.
I’ve not posted on Instagram since. I have barely touched the app except for work and to look things up that only exist on there (like updates from my vegan book club, why?!). I have been using that time away to reflect on my unhealthy relationship with social media.
Life is so much better now. I have more time to read, to play with my dog, to chat with my partner. I’m better at living in the moment. Now when I spend time in my favourite place, out in nature, I’m enjoying its rich sights and sounds.
Most of the time, capturing a photo doesn’t even cross my mind. If I do stop to take a photo, it’s to capture a special moment, a memory for myself.
Cutting out social media better aligns with my values of living a simpler and more sustainable life. It’s helping me build the life I want, not the one society tells me to lead. As a result, I feel more like me. I am happier and my mental health has improved enormously.
I’m not going back to Instagram. I reluctantly still use Facebook to meet people through local groups and events. Some of the groups I’m a member of have supportive and welcoming communities I’ve come to rely on.
Twitter I’ve never really got into. I’ve always felt like the unpopular kid at the party. Twitter also harbours the cesspit of humanity, I’d always somehow get sucked into it. With Elon Musk’s takeover, it seems like the perfect time to stop visiting. Reddit was another unhealthy addiction for me so that app is gone.
Even before my latest social media break, I have been reevaluating the purpose of my blog. I began my blog to follow my passion to inspire people to connect with and take action for nature and the planet. It supported my career goal to work in communications in the environmental charity sector.
And it worked! It helped me move into my first communications role. I definitely recommend having your own blog if you want to go down a similar path.
Now I have my dream job, working in communications at an international environmental charity. But now I’m here, I don’t need to spend my spare time creating those kinds of content. And nor do I want to.
Yet, like many a writer will have experienced, I have so many words fluttering around my brain that need to escape. I’m a quiet, introverted soul with a loud mind. I have so much to say but the only outlet I have for it is through writing.
I want to write for me and about what feels true to me. I wish to share my experiences with nature that fill me with awe. I want to write poetry. Follow wherever my creativity takes me. I want to share my journey to live a wilder, simpler and more sustainable life, in case it helps and inspires anyone else on a similar journey.
And I want to do all that without depending on social media. Is that even possible in today’s fast-moving social media-obsessed world? Will I be able to find readers and create a more authentic community? I don’t know if it is possible but I plan to try.
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