I spent last week visiting my mom and her husband in Maui. I went with my boyfriend and Alma, my daughter; we’ve been talking about the trip since the cold, COVID-heavy winter months in New England and we were all really excited to go.
A couple of weeks before we left, I’d interviewed my dear friend Elena Brower for my podcast. She mentioned that a friend of hers totally changed the way she looks at social media. He told her, “When you post, you do it for yourself—only for yourself. It’s only for you.” She said this perspective shifted hers, and now she thinks of Instagram as her own personal yearbook. She uses it to celebrate her wins, her milestones, her joys. When she said this I did the whoa-whoa-whoa thing. I asked her to repeat what she’d said. We discussed a few more things about using social, like how she deals with haters, and then moved on.
In April, I wrote a long blog post about my decision to leave social media for at least the summer, but probably—maybe—forever. I shared it on Instagram with a note to subscribe to my newsletter if people wanted to stay in touch. I said that The Luckiest Club (TLC) social media manager, Mary, may post things on my account occasionally and that she would sign her name if she did so people would know it came from her. I deleted the app from my phone. I logged out of the account on my computer for good measure. I deleted my ~30K Facebook business page that I’d been building since 2014. My Twitter account was already gone.
I felt so free. A little nervous, but free. I’d finally listened to myself and done it.
For the next month, I couldn’t believe how different I felt. I could just… do whatever it was I was doing... without the compulsion to capture it. I read something like a dozen books. We were in a really busy season with The Luckiest Club and it was easier for me to be present. Most importantly, that ever-present nagging anxiety was gone. Like a station that had been playing only static had finally been turned off. Not turned to a lower volume, but off. I did wonder how I would deal with my upcoming podcast launch, but put off thinking about it.
At the end of May, I sold not only my next book, but my third one, too. An incredible, pinch-me two-book deal with Penguin Random House. I really wanted to share it! So I had Mary post it on Instagram. Then I got curious about the comments, so I logged into Instagram from my browser. While I was in there, I checked my DMs. I saw an exciting invitation to be on a podcast sent in April. Fuck! I thought. I would have missed that—I can’t be missing these things. This nagged at me.
June rolled around and the podcast I’d been working on for ten months was finally ready to launch. I’d announced it in my newsletter, but how would people find out about it otherwise? The week of launch, I downloaded Instagram again and posted a quick announcement. We’d put a ton of work into the show and it felt like the right thing to do, and harmless. As the show got going and I was training our social media intern, I found myself in the app more and more, to check things and then make my own posts when new episodes were released. Instead of deleting it each time after I posted, I started scrolling, checking other people’s accounts to see what they were up to (danger). I checked follower counts on other authors (warning). I messaged an author whose book I’d just read to tell her how awesome it was and we corresponded (dopamine rush).
Then, I had my conversation with Elena and a fire door swung open.
The second day in Maui, I found myself sitting on a beach chair at my mom’s house, the world ablaze in technicolor: blue sky bursting above, aqua ocean waves crashing up against the seawall five feet in front of me, lush green grass at my feet and palm trees above, and my daughter and her friend looking at turtles in the water. I thought, What the hell? This is crazy! I’m happy and I want to share it!
Within five minutes I had downloaded Instagram, posted a picture of me in my new red bikini, sharing about my conversation with Elena and how it shifted my perspective. The comments started rolling in and it all felt so fun! And familiar! And exciting! Why had I been so dramatic? All I’d needed was a break!
In the next 24 hours I posted twice more: one, a picture of me and my boyfriend with the Maui backdrop, the other, a picture of my Kindle in my lap with the cover of Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid on it, posted moments after I finished it.
I also, in those 24 hours, checked and refreshed the app hundreds of times. My phone never left my hand. I couldn’t get through more than a couple of pages in my book without checking it. I turned my screen away from my boyfriend so he wouldn’t notice (I hadn’t told him I’d posted). I woke up in the middle of the night and checked it under the covers so as not to wake him.
99% of the comments were kind, but one guy left a barrage of trolly comments. In one, he said I sounded bipolar. In another, he said, “everything is so dramatic: first, a long post about leaving social media, then another long post about staying. It’s like a car crash and I can’t look away” (he’s not wrong about the drama!). In another, he said he was surprised to learn I was in my mid-40’s, “ngl I thought she was in her mid-60’s.” After I looked up “ngl” (not gonna lie) I laughed hard, then blocked him. But still, his comments—and the fact that hundreds of people had unfollowed me since I posted that first “I’m back” post—sat like sour stones in my stomach. I knew how petty and stupid it was, how stupid it sounds even now as I type this, and yet I could not get my mind to stop racing.
As the hours ticked by, I felt like a big, meaty hand was squeezing tighter and tighter around my throat. I couldn’t really hear my boyfriend when he talked to me, or Alma, or my mom. I was rubbing the corners of my jaw to release tension and didn’t want to do anything except hide in a dark room. Then, of course, I chastised myself for that because I was in fucking Maui on our long-awaited vacation.
The thing is, these feelings were not foreign. No, I know the exact texture of this particular hell. The circumstances were different, but I felt exactly the way I used to feel after I drank. And because I’d been there, I knew what to do.
I texted my people. I spent an hour on the phone with my coach talking through it. He reminded me that relapse isn't failure, only feedback. I laughed, even though I wanted to vomit; it was, indeed, a relapse! I told my boyfriend how anxious I was, and that I thought *maybe* it’s because I posted on Instagram. (When I left in April, this was after months and months and months of long conversation—he had witnessed my struggle.) His response was, “Well, yeah, honey. That’ll do it,” which was validating. I read this edifying piece about author Zadie Smith’s thoughts on social media. I listened to the beginning of Deep Work by Cal Newport again. I meditated and wrote. I reminded myself of my own wisdom. And I asked for the fear and the anxiety to be removed—for my perspective to be right-sized. I went in and deleted the posts, deleted the app, and wrote in my notes app in my phone: I don’t ever want to feel this way again. I don’t ever have to feel this way again.
It took a couple of days for me to steady out, but by the time I got home, I felt a lot more grounded. Still, the whole experience was humbling. Even writing this, I know how dramatic it may sound to someone who doesn’t experience social media this way. But, I remind myself, that kind of thinking is what keeps me stuck. Just like with drinking, it doesn’t matter—it can’t matter—how it is for other people. How it is for other people will never change how it is for me.
How it is for me is: my body rejected that shit like a bad organ.
Like with quitting drinking, I have big fears: fear I will disappear, fear I will miss out on opportunities and connections, fear that being on there is critical to my professional success, and if I leave my publisher will drop me. Are these things true? Maybe. I don’t know. Nobody knows. But also? It can’t matter.
It took a lot of faith to jump off the cliff of drinking, of a known career, of painful patterns in love, and this takes faith, too. Of course it does. Whatever your thing is right now, the thing you believe you cannot give up or thrive without: it’s going to take deep, deep faith to cast off. Perhaps the deeper the faith required, the more important the jump.
P.S. I don’t know what I’m going to do about my Instagram account. Perhaps in the future, I will have someone manage it for me. Maybe I’ll delete it altogether. I have a personal Facebook page, which I've had since 2007, use infrequently, and it doesn't impact me negatively at all. That'll stay.
The manuscript for my next book is due in January. We are publishing new episodes of Tell Me Something True each Thursday, and that has been fulfilling and challenging in the best way. I'll continue to write here on occasion and in my newsletter weekly. That's all I know today.
Thank you for going along on this weird, loopy ride with me. I love you.