What I’ve learned about me (and why it’s important to share)
At the beginning of September I took an unplanned break from social media. The return to school for my children, secondary school visits and choices to be made for my eldest, selling my childhood home, and increasing working hours all played a part. I couldn’t keep up and I needed to take a breath to sort my diary, organise myself and refresh. I meant to take a couple of weeks away from my social media, in particular Instagram which ordinarily dominates my time where apps are concerned. Not that I’m an influencer or some sort of whizz, and I genuinely enjoy the conversations I have across the internet, but something needed to be put aside to concentrate on the pressing priorities of the month ahead.
Those two weeks rolled on and rolled by and something changed. I stopped sleeping so well (or so I thought). I found it hard to concentrate. My memory seemed fuzzy. I struggled to get through the seemingly simple list that I had set myself, and there was no way that I felt able to dive back into the world of social media when I was finding it hard to keep upright. Plus I really had nothing to say. Nothing of interest, nothing new. I felt a little overwhelmed by the idea of stepping back in when my world was so consumed with hard decisions and I had a need to sit and process rather than throw myself into talking about it. Talking therapy is great, and talking to strangers or semi strangers through the internet can be very refreshing. But for once I felt at a loss. The words not only didn’t come, they weren’t even there.
I focussed instead on what I could. I went to as many secondary school open evenings as I could fit into the diary, and walked miles through countless corridors until my feet swelled to the size of watermelons. Along with my siblings I handled the sale of our childhood home, saying goodbye to the trees and the fabric of a house that was a much loved safe space for almost 40 years. I set aside time to take on additional work whilst also squeezing the calendar in every direction to fit in extracurricular activities, real life socialising and family time. Together Jacob and I made changes to our home. Painting, installing blinds, putting up shelving and carefully arranging our books in a way that makes them readily accessible to each one of us. We paid attention to the news, and I spent time learning, throwing myself into better understanding areas of interest, such as climate change and energy, basing my research on science and data. Challenging myself to learn, retain and make sense of information in a more academic way.
Two months on from setting social media to one side I noticed another difference. I was sleeping again, but more soundly and in a more relaxed manner than I had done for some time. I was no longer falling into bed with my brain buzzing from late night screen time, or internal conversation about what I had read or heard on social media. I didn’t pass out when the adrenaline crashed out of my system and my body demanded sleep. My fuzzy head was back to regular CFS/ME status. Taking considered, proper breaks throughout the day made it manageable to work for longer periods overall, and my work patterns fell back into a more 9 – 6 type of day rather than erratically punctuating the entirety of my waking hours. I regularly left my phone in another room. I’d hear it if someone called but I lost the feeling that it needed to be about my person at all times. I felt anxious about social media, but more confident about real life in person conversations.
I found a sense of calm. I watched the glowing hue of the autumn coming through on the trees around our house and didn’t feel the need to share. I listened to the dawn chorus and watched the sun rise across the garden on my own time. In the quiet I didn’t reach for something to do, I looked for something to learn. I noticed the things that I enjoy about life and the things that I don’t. I made sensible decisions and started to look after myself better. Then, for the first time in years, I took a week off over half term with the children. No work, no external responsibility of looking after a house I don’t live in. Just me, my immediate family and our ‘fun’ diary. A while ago I would have considered such a break something decadent and, perhaps, a little selfish on my part when there is always so much to do and be done.
The to-do list is an ever present thing in the lives of almost everyone. There is always something on the list, inevitably the task that drops down, the one that gets forgotten until the last moment, the one that gets ticked off in a whirl of productivity. I love the idea that was so popular during the pandemic lockdowns, of life having the swell of the ocean tides, whilst we all ride them in different vessels. My life is easier than many, and harder than some. I have more opportunity, but plenty of intrusive hurdles.
Why am I sharing this? I think we all deserve the opportunity to sit and watch the light flicker through the branches of trees, or glimmer on the ripples of the stream without guilt. I think we all have the right to take a break and some time out without feeling the need to seek permission. I think we all have the right to say no silently, and with actions rather than words. And I think that we all have the right to sit safely, calmly, contemplating our slice of life and how we may choose to spend those hours without some crushing self-perceived need to share.
There’s nothing new in any of that, but what surprised me the most was that putting social media to one side for a while genuinely felt like having a detox. A deep clean of an internal system so used to being wired on the addictive elements of modern life that unpicking yourself from it was a task and a half and took much longer than two weeks.
I’m not saying that social media is now gone from my life. I have and will continue to dip in across whichever platform takes my mood at the time. No doubt this very post will be somewhere to be found on one or other of my social profiles. I have noticed that I no longer rely on it though. The need to share, to inhale gossip from others and compare how I pass my time unfavourably to those who are virtually around me is diminished, and I am confident that it will stay that way.
Join the conversation!
Do you feel overwhelmed by social media, or do you keep a healthy distance? Let me know in the comments below.