As a young person struggling with my mental health, the internet has opened my eyes to the realm of self-help, whether it be self-soothing affirmations, self-care ideas or journaling prompts for self-discovery. While there is a sort of ridiculousness to a lot of self-help culture, I have been able to navigate this and find nuggets of positivity and small tips to integrate into my life. A while ago, I watched a video from the channel “bestdressed,” where the videographer, Ashley, chronicled a week in her life without a phone. I had always wanted to try this, but for me (and many others), a phone is essential. Videos like these, however, weighed on my mind, and I always wanted to emulate the freedom from reliance on social media for affirmation like these influencers talked about. They were always able to stop and appreciate the world around them better after these exercises. I used to have to justify my use of social media to myself to paint it in a better light, but I always knew the ways it contributed to the degradation of my wellness—from constantly checking to see if I had notifications and getting sad when no one wanted to talk to me every five minutes, to comparing myself to the posed bodies of Instagram models, from romanticizing mental illness, to procrastinating putting time into the more fulfilling aspects of my life. Ever the enjoyer of video essays, over spring break I watched Shanspeare’s video entitled “Femcel Feminism and Transgrrressive Girlhood” and was subsequently inspired: I was going to take back my life and be my own agent of change. While I didn’t find this quite as simple as just writing affirmations in my journal and drinking water, I did do one thing that has honestly changed my entire attitude: I deleted Instagram.
Sure, you may be asking, “What’s the big deal? It’s just an app for photos and memes.” If you find yourself asking that, then this Viewpoint may not be for you—rather I speak to my chronically online besties who share self-deprecating memes and repost Nina from “Black Swan” and Cassie from “Euphoria” with captions like “normalize being unhinged.” I used to indulge in these, I used to pride myself on how ‘manic’ and ‘femcel’ my explore page was. But over spring break, when I was at home sleeping until noon and staying up until 3 a.m. falling into the endless scroll of female hysteria memes, I found no joy. Instead, it was a sick reinforcement of my bad habits, which never failed to lead me to emotionally spiral. This literally messed up my brain chemistry—I would receive dopamine from laughing at these meaningless images, all the while reinforcing my mental illness and taking an almost sick pleasure in being all the more mentally ill. This emotional whiplash finally broke me, and it was when I was at my lowest point that I decided to end the cycle of negative self-talk and for once actually focus on learning who I was outside of my issues and how to live with myself.
Deleting Instagram was weird at first—I had so much free time, and when bored I would reflexively open my phone to find the place where the Polaroid icon once was. What was I to do with myself now that I could not entertain myself for hours on end? So I watched movies—maybe not much better, but I forced myself to think critically about them (follow me on Letterboxd @giannathehayes lol). I decided to get outside, take a walk, breathe some fresh air and exercise too, getting that endorphin boost and retraining my brain to seek dopamine from positive behaviors. I started picking up books for fun again, just like I used to in elementary and middle school. I could actually sit and read them, and my attention span was no longer reduced to 20-second videos and glances at images. I discovered new music and for once really listened to the lyrics, taking in every ounce of their meaning. I felt human again, like I was part of a collective consciousness, this population who lives and suffers and grows and appreciates. And this transformation was all just because I hit the uninstall button on one little application. You would think it’s inconsequential. But when one’s first reflex is to open reels or TikToks, without even thinking, you’ve let capitalism train your brain to be dissatisfied with life and, more importantly, with yourself. We should be okay with sitting in silence for a while, we should be okay with finding the quiet moments where we’re not entertained by self-deprecation, we should be okay with not being addicted to our phones, we should be okay not constantly looking at Instagram or Pinterest aesthetics to see how we don’t fit perfectly into these curated ideals, we should be okay with just being. Constant stimulation distracts us from what we should really be doing: deriving your own personal meaning from all that the world and humanity has to offer.