I took a month away from social media and this is what I learned.

How lovely it is to have found peace again. I recently removed myself from what I have discovered was the unrestricted source of my anxiety. That addictive, appealing realm of the internet that draws us in and captures our thoughts, time, and soon enough, even our motivation. In the past month or so, I removed myself completely from social media. What I found was an unexpected, and wholly welcomed, shock. While away from social media, I learned an incredibly lot. My days were not saturated with staring at my phone or mindlessly scrolling past the lives of others. I was not engrossed in the fascinating stories on my Instagram or the gossip-drenched commentary on Facebook. Instead, I found myself with a new, real peace. I found authenticity in my life again. Last summer, I vividly remember writing of the deep yearning I had for intimacy in my life. I felt as if I was living superficially, for the outward view. In truth I was. I have been living my life through the perception of myself online. I viewed my worth by the praise and friendships I generated online. I felt my identity in the 140 characters of a “bio” I could fit on Instagram. I was enveloped in titles I had given myself – scientist, researcher, biochemistry student, fitness fanatic, reader, intelligent, young woman. I knew who I was and was confident in this person because of the identity of who I was online. The great flaw in all of this is the rigidity to change that comes online. I became scared to change who I am, my interests. It did not fit in with who I was online so it could not be so. Interestingly, even the motivation behind my actions was pressured by those social media obligations I felt. Walking from the lab – take a picture for others to see. Doing something fun – take a picture for others to see. Reading a good book – spend 20 minutes trying to get a cute picture for others to see, and by then the time I had to read is gone. Express, with sincere gratitude, the blessings I had been given. Try to inspire others with words and images. The former qualities, common themes I see among social media, are incredibly toxic. In living my life online, I was quenching the life I was actually living. I spent more time focused on taking photos of the moments than the moments themselves. I was more motivated to do something for the sake of a photo or share than for the actual activity itself. Social media, though it can serve a democratic and good purpose, was draining my life of its goodness. It was capturing my time, my energy, and my emotions.

I don’t mean to demonize social media or its purpose. Indeed, I missed the positive motivation I gained online – from role models, friends, and family. I missed that. Everything else though, I did not miss. I did not miss the comparison I felt against every image that scrolled past me. Not that I intently analyzed everyone’s posts, but simply a natural inclination to take a photo or comment and compare it against my own life and self. This is inherent to our nature and cannot be avoided. I don’t think social media is bad. I don’t think it ruins lives or intends to cause harm. In fact, I think it can be very important for a business and for staying connected with long-distance friends and family. It is how our generation operates. I don’t think that necessarily means it is good for us though.

Let me tell you about my month. I did this fast from social media with other members of my church, Ethos, here in Nashville and across the globe. Thirty days of supplication to God without something crucial to our lives. I chose social media for personal reasons. The first few days I was anxious with what I was missing, the messages I was receiving, the likes and followers I was generating, and the photos I would never see. I was faithful to my promise though, and persisted. Instead of getting on my phone, I would read. When I did get on my phone, I would find an online article or play a game. Even better, I would talk to those around me. The weeks passed and I found myself in a very lovely, vulnerable place. I spent more time with my thoughts. I cried often. I laughed often. I felt a freeing, empowering sense of authenticity in my life. I experienced the reality of failure and the satisfaction of reward. I stopped removing myself from some of the ugly things going on in my life and I let my emotions run unrestricted. I looked at the sky as I walked and I listened to the birds sing as I traveled. I examined the countenance of those I passed and grew curious about their lives. I thought about my own life. This is important. I thought about my own life, but not in the context of what I want others to perceive it as. I thought of my own life in the image of what I want it to be. I thought of what makes me happy, what makes me sad, what powers me, what defeats me, what inspires me, what angers me, what encourages me. I prayed often. I felt, for the first time in a very long time, a real intimacy with my life. I made some decisions. I was intentional with my time. I was a more focused student. I studied for longer periods without interruption. I don’t need mental “breaks” on social media anymore. I have reconditioned myself to be focused, intent, and aware of my surroundings and of myself. I worked hard in the lab, and I saw the beautiful, synchronized beating of cardiomyocytes that I cultivated, maintained, and cared for. I worked hard problems and defeated difficult exams. My days often felt like rollercoasters because, truthfully, they were. I am not invincible; I am not Superwoman. I am, however, a super woman. I am worthy and purposeful. My talents make me unique, and in these past weeks I felt less compared to others than I have in my entire life. I felt like me.

Every day, I wrote. In the mornings I would write. In the afternoons I would write. Walking to class, in my mind I would write. On the treadmill, I would write. I won’t act like it was all gold or articulated in a lovely way. But writing enabled me to feel again. It brought me closer with my life and the complexities and hardships that I have avoided for a long time. Writing caused me to reflect and to think about what I am experiencing in this crazy world! I remembered the deep passion I felt for writing. I realized why my writing has been so dry the past year – it was motivated by my blog and by the attraction I hoped to gain. In this goal the ingenuity of my writing was lost among the aim to appeal to others. Throughout this month, I have tucked away writings in my journal, my computer, and my mind. These are treasures that I hold dearly, words that were motivated purely for my own expression. I wrote diligently and fell in love with it all again.

I will continue. I will continue to write. I will continue to study the intricate, complicated science of the world. I will do so with a deep appreciation for this past month away from the social media-sphere. I don’t know if I will go back online for a while (truly, my grades would appreciate it if I maintained my current activity). I write this to encourage you to step away from your phone. You may find that you are much more complicated than you thought, and that you have a passion within you that has been suppressed by lack of time. I can say that I feel incredibly thankful that I made a small decision and learned a lot as a result of that decision. To me, that will always be a success.

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