Deleting Myself Online
In early November, on a particular day, six people messaged me 'happy birthday'. Three of them were relatives (my mother, cousin and an aunt), the other three friends. That was all. This was the result of my first birthday off social media, making my 26th birthday probably the most sincerest one I'd had in over fourteen years. To contextualise: a month prior I had decided to log out and block myself from all of my social media accounts. Admittedly, this was initially undergone as a form of temporary hiatus, but last week I decided to make the change permanent. Last week I went back and logged into all my social media platforms with the sole intention of deleting/deactivating them. Nothing prompted this move from me particularly, aside from the gradual realisation of how much my life had improved, and the sudden wave of dread I felt at the thought of having to one day return from my hiatus. I wasn't logged on for more than sixty seconds at a time, but whilst on my accounts I saw I had hundreds of notifications. An extremely quick glance however revealed to me that none were personalised. They were notifications about events, birthdays and highlighted tweets from other people: all completely unrelated and irrelevant to me as an individual. Having known I had gone on a social media hiatus, no one had wasted their time leaving a birthday message on my page or dropped me a message. Here I'm going to lay my cards face up on the table and admit to you that before logging on for what would be my last time, I had been silently hopeful to see something in particular amidst the notifications which, I'm sorry to report, was not there. There were a couple of people I had really hoped to have seen a notification from, and it broke my heart to discover my concerns and anxieties vindicated.
I had two friends in my life who I truly admired, rooted for and thought highly of, and over the past year I have missed talking to each terribly. I had reached out several times to both of them throughout the year, either hoping to strike up a conversation by sending funny little images or gifs in their direction, or by dropping them messages, but I never received a reply from either (aside from a 'like'). I tried connecting more physically, posting birthday gifts to them along with a couple of postcards, and whilst I received a thank you in response, no conversation ever flowed subsequent to those two words. I wrote it off as business. They were too busy, dealing with their books being published and their new jobs; but seeing no birthday message from them online, and having received no text message from either of them on my actual birthday, I realised it was time to accept the reality. These friendships which I had made on social media were as sincere and real as social media itself. It was, however, thanks to the response (or lack thereof) by these two individuals that I felt more assertive in my decision to transform my hiatus into a permanent status.
I am done with social media, and bloody hell it feels incredible. Having had a following of a few thousand people online I'm sure many are curious about what happened in my life which made me take such "extreme" action. People from school and university probably assume I had another breakdown, that maybe I've gone through a horrific breakup with my partner or that I'm ill again with some mental illness, consequently effecting my physical health. My old colleagues probably assume from my swift and passionate departure from the organisation (i.e. I abruptly quit) that I'm hiding from the shame of unemployment, and I'm sure some of my exes get a boost, narcissistically believing their hurtful and negative impact on me was so significant that it made me retreat from my whole online life. In all fairness their logic is correct: something incredibly life changing did happen to me which caused my immediate departure from social media, but it wasn't a breakup (we're moving in together soon), nor a job loss (I currently have two full-time, much better paying jobs) or a relapse (I'm completely off all medication and I have maintained my healthy body weight). What happened was that I finally, after nearly twenty-six long years on this earth, decided to start giving a sh*t about myself.
2017 has been life changing. At the beginning of the year I experienced physical and mental abuse from a "romantic" partner which opened my eyes to how I've allowed people, particularly those close to me, to take advantage of me, bully and mentally abuse me. As I'm currently writing a book which discusses this topic in more detail (all supported by research I've undertaken) I won't go into great detail about the psychological reasoning behind this behaviour, but in brief it can be attributed to a co-dependent disposition. I wasted years of my life trying to get everyone to like me at the detriment of myself; I would tolerate atrocious behaviour to appease the perpetrator, seeking their validation as the weak do that of the strong in some extremely construed and deranged perception of power worthy of admiration.
Thankfully the revelation came quickly to me, and my response was immediate, albeit difficult and painful. I broke away from not only this abuser but all others who were toxic in my life and amended my behaviour, or rather, my responses to bad behaviour. I assigned the socio-moral standards, which I personally uphold, to others, instructing myself to never accept treatment that I would never dream of inflicting on others. Whilst I had always rigidly preserved my principles of 'treating others how you would like to be treated', I overlooked how I was being treated by many, and therefore wrongly focussed my attention on treating them better and better, instead of demanding respect and kindness (or, if unfulfilled, merely walking away).
With my newfound, growing self-respect I began to become daring. I took risks, met the love of my life, and began embarking upon more fulfilling outlets of self-expression. Since quitting social media I began to write avidly. The daily selfies and snapshots on my phone about things I found interesting, intricately edited through artistic filters I cheaply got from a free editing app have all gone; they are no longer part of my day. I don't keep flicking onto random sites or apps to check my notifications or stress about not having anything political, thought-provoking or funny to say. I don't have to worry about not having a job title that I'm proud of on my Facebook profile because I don't need to fill that box in anymore, nor do I have to scroll through baby photos or holiday snaps of people I don't speak to and haven't seen in years. I don't have to worry if people think my hair looks flat or they notice I've gained a little weight, and I am no longer tempted to scream into a void and tweet a little sorrowful status about having a bad self-esteem day, worrying about Youtube subscriber counts falling or never having been retweeted a record number of times.
Now I don't exist, except in writing. My face isn't part of this anymore, nor is my accent or looks. I am now private. My job, career, ambitions, relationships, health are now only known by those directly around me (though, fyi to you few people who read this, I have never been happier or healthier). There may be glimpses of me on the odd video-podcast (I shall elaborate on this further down below), maybe a sneaky photo of me somewhere on my boyfriend's Instagram, but nowadays I'm pretty much gone. Only those who have my mobile number and whom I text with on a regular basis know anything about me anymore. The beauty of it all is that nobody has even noticed I'm gone. At a stretch, maybe ten people out of the over fifteen-thousand who saw me regularly online have noticed, and I see nothing but pure beauty in that: it allowed me to finally see myself in the realm of reality.
I clutched onto the numbers at first. It was 'only a hiatus' I told myself and others, but the truth of the matter was that I had an unhealthy relationship with external-validation and keeping up appearances. What I was doing was so easy, it took no skill, time or effort. Everyone can make a chatty video, tweet some random gibberish or a funny quote; now what I do is hard. I work over 50 hours a week but I get up every morning at 6am without fail to write. I spend hours researching, quietly, without needing to write a status about it or snapping a picture of the library I'm working in or my desk, because I don't need anyone to know about it. It's not about showing off my work ethic anymore, trying to prove myself as an avid reader or bibliophile to everyone else. I am just me: I know how hard I work, I know how much I read, I know how much I love books, and I show it through my writing. For years I was all talk no walk; now I'm all walk no-talking/snapping/tweeting/instagramming. My daily highs and fleeting lows are kept to myself, or shared with a dear friend or my partner: they're not on record anywhere.
Do I miss out on networking opportunities, invites, jokes, online friendships, events and social gatherings by not being on social media? Of course I do; but I realise that what I was producing on social media was not what I wanted to be known for. I'd rather have three people read this blog post and like it, or even a single comment on my whole website, complimenting something I've written, than twelve-thousand likes on a daily vlog. The biggest change I've experienced since leaving social media is an increase in strength. When I have a problem or something upsetting arises I seem to be able to take it and move through it far quicker than I ever used to. I suck it up much quicker. No one needs to know about it; and whilst sharing a problem is always the best option, I now only share it with my partner and we talk through it briefly until it's a nonentity. By the next day it's forgotten; it's not written on my kitchen wall the next morning to remind me of how I was feeling last night (unlike a Facebook status).
Earlier in this post I alluded to producing a podcast series and this is what I intend to do starting from December. After eight years of trying I finally realised that Youtube creativity doesn't fulfil me, so I decided to manipulate the platform to suit my writing interests. I no longer wish to conform to the Youtube pressures, but I will use the platform to publish video versions of my podcasts (which I shall be uploading for download elsewhere). The essay genre, whilst its appeal is minimal, is my one true passion, so I shall continue to take that path despite it resulting in a great loss of interest by those who just enjoyed seeing me prat about on camera. I'm going to lose thousands of followers, I will be swiftly unsubscribed from and my name will be forgotten, but I will finally be producing something I'm proud of and invested in.
I won't use twitter, Instagram or Facebook to network my content, I'm simply going to create. If it gets read or listened to by a couple of people: fantastic. That's a whole couple of people consuming content that isn't sexy, trending or personality-biased. A whole two people! Listening to my writing?! That sounds incredible! Podcasting and blogging will allow my writing to reach genuine listeners and readers who want to consume that content, not because they like me, but because they enjoy the content. I finally exist for something I do rather than someone I am; a pain I cannot escape in the real world but one I can finally retreat into in a way Ive been desperately seeking for years. I'm no longer a personality with a history, future and present: I'm just a creator of something. I want my writing to be my main trait rather than my body, image, style or even personality. I don't want to be known or liked; those are accomplishments which would be wonderful for my writing to achieve, but they're not ambitions I strive for myself anymore.