Other than a minute or two, I took the past few days off from social media. Yes, I did succumb to the temptation to glance a few times for a minute or two. I didn’t feel like I broke any unspoken rules because it wasn’t an intentional break. It was a necessary one. One that happened because my subconscious knew I needed it, not because I chose it. And I needed it because my social anxiety was starting to overwhelm me.
Like a lot of people, I’ve suffered from pretty severe social anxiety as long as I can remember. From the time I was little I was terrified of groups of people, large or small, familiar or not. I refused to meet new people. Unlike my brother, I was completely mortified of places like playgrounds, which required socializing. I would find a place to hide and be left alone until we could leave. Or until my brother made friends and would introduce me to them. I really didn’t have many friends until junior high or high school. And even then, it was stressful and scary. I felt like a phony, like I didn’t belong.
It wasn’t until the past few years (read: my late 30’s) that I really started to learn to cope. Because that’s all we can do is cope. I forced myself into situations where I had to be around people I didn’t know, and I would force myself to interact with them. I would go to a bar or a show alone. Then I would start talking to someone next to me. I kept reminding myself that even if I make an ass of myself, I’ll never see these people again so it doesn’t matter. A friend of mine had mentioned that when he goes out, he always sits at the bar so he’s next to someone and can start up a conversation. I remembered this tactic and used it. And it worked. I got more comfortable chatting with people and making friends wherever I went. My friends recently made a joke that I could make a conversation about cereal seem interesting.
I grew from the dorky kid with big glasses and no friends into a well-adjusted social butterfly of an adult. But not really. I get exhausted in social situations. It’s a lot of work. Which is why I love hiking and backpacking alone. I love going out to somewhere where I’m the only human, where I know I don’t have to interact with people. It’s like my mind knows it getting a well deserved break
When I’m around people I have to fight every instinct in my body and mind to run and hide and be quiet. I have to completely ignore my inner monologue telling me that everyone hates me and is thinking horrible things about me and wishes I’d just shut up and go away. It’s draining. And being on social media is no different. A lot of people feel this way. I know I’m not special in this regard.
What IS special about social anxiety now is that we don’t have to leave our bedrooms to experience it. Just go on your phone. Hop on Facebook. Instagram, Snapchat, etc. And as my Instagram profile grows in followers, likes, comments, messages, I start to freak out. I started my account just for fun (see my blog post about how it started). I didn’t think it would go anywhere or be much of anything. But it has. And I appreciate the love and support. But it overwhelms me. When I see messages in my inbox I get anxiety. When I see someone tagged me in a post or wants to repost my pic I get anxiety.
So no, I don’t respond to every message, or like every comment. I gets lot of them, and more all the time as I gain followers. I’m not complaining, I actually find humor in it. I share with my girlfriends how astonished I am and we have a laugh about it. One girlfriend said “What did you expect? You’re posting naked pictures on the internet!”
In order to keep things fun, which was the original intent, I can’t read every message, I can’t reply to every comment, and I have to take a break now and then. I know a lot of people get overwhelmed, whether their accounts are big or small. It’s all so exhausting – scrolling, liking, interacting, remembering to say “happy birthday” to that person you haven’t talked to since eighth grade. Because people take it all so seriously. I’m not out here trying to actively offend people (though there are plenty of those types of people on the internet). In the immortal words of Atmosphere: “I’m just trying to find a balance.”