Last month, I headed to Byron Bay to visit a group of mates who’d made the sea change to its backpacker-studded shores earlier this year. While there, I had one of the best Saturdays of my life—the kind where you feel so rapturous, so blissfully happy, that you’re almost scared for it to end, lest your return to reality rivals the sugary comedowns of days past. To give you the abridged version, it consisted of: yoga, surfing, bushwalking, sunshine, lols on lols on lols, a Bali-esque day spa, and great food and wine at the country pub of my dreams. I floated on cloud nine.
But sure enough, the pendulum swung on back—although much more dramatically than I’d anticipated. To give some context, a couple of weeks prior to The Best Saturday Of My Life, I’d decided to delete my Instagram app. I was finding, with increasing frequency, that it was both impacting my ability to sleep like a functioning human and adding fuel to the fire that is my anxiety. A combo deal! I may have deleted the app, but that didn’t stop my little junkie fingers from opening up Instagram on Safari and scrolling through my feed as if it were a Herculean hit of crack cocaine after a desperate drought.
On this particular day, the first photo I looked at sliced open my heart, sent my panicked mind into overdrive, and completely wiped the euphoria the perfect, picturesque day in nature with friends had brought. From one image, I started to piece together entire scenarios, filling in the cavernous gaps with my own deranged, self-esteem-battered imagination. I fell quiet in the backseat of my friend’s car, deflated like a sad balloon at the tail end of a party.
In my quest to properly rid myself of Instagram, I temporarily deactivated my account, leading to a torrent of questions along the lines of, “OMG, why TF did you delete your Instagram?” and “Where am I supposed to send all the ~relatable~ memes now?” One friend went so far as to message and ask if I’d blocked her housemate on Instagram. She’d noticed my account wasn’t coming up in her list of followers anymore, which kind of affirmed that this is Instagram’s world, and we’re just scrolling in it. Along with feeling like I was making too much of a statement, I was irrationally scared that, if I temporarily disabled my account for too long, all my heinously filtered memories from the past four years would disappear forever. Tragic. So, six weeks ago, I locked up my Instagram (gave my friend my login details) and threw away the key (asked her to change the password and not tell me what it was unless I got down on my knees and begged).
Like intermittent bursts of self-inflicted sobriety, the downside to Instagram celibacy is a marked increase in boredom levels. Initially, at least. My body seemingly abides by the douchebag mantra of “treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen,” because every time I do something nice for it, it rolls its eyes, shakes its head, and politely declines to indulge in the benefits with me. Conversely, when I treat it like a back-alley trash can, it thrives. Since my fingers were still programmed to habitually scroll, I picked up new mindless, therapeutic hobbies, like hypothetically entering the property market by flicking through real estate apps. Riveting. This eventually rekindled my love of reading books, which leads me to my next point: Instagram really fucks with your sleep, the extent to which only became clear after I’d voluntarily checked myself into social media rehab. The reasons behind this are multifarious. It is engineered to be addictive. Every time a post of yours gets a lil’ loving, a jolt of endorphins is sent to your brain, akin to a ~mini high~.
Every time you pick up your phone before bed, a rabbit hole awaits. If you’ve recently posted a picture, it’s likely you’ll be reaching across to your bedside table to see how many likes have amassed in the five minutes since you last checked. Then there’s the issue of light. The light from our phones is short-wavelength-enriched, meaning it has a higher concentration of blue light than natural light, and blue light affects levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin more than any other wavelength. Hectic. Changes in sleep patterns can in turn alter the body’s natural clock, which is known as its circadian (not to be confused with cicadas) rhythm. Sleep deprivation leads to anxiety. You know what else does? Knowing what your ex-partner or friend is up to at any given time, or watching blow-by-blow accounts of people out having fun while you’re cocooned up in bed, friendless, suffering through a bout of FOMO.
I acknowledge that the Internet can be a beautiful place. Instagram had always been an endless source of inspiration for me, a place to find like-minded people, and a light-hearted way to show my pals the mediocre intricacies of my everyday life—until it wasn’t. I’m hoping that a period of abstinence will allow me to re-enter the game at some point, with greater control over the way I choose to engage with it. Until then, you can cash me inside, clocking up my Zs.
Words, Madeleine Woon.