It’s the beginning of a new week as I am writing this, and my weekend offline is, technically, over. During these 48 hours, I have been a couch potato, but I have also: cleaned the house, caulked windows, scrubbed the stove and the oven, done yoga, journaled, caught up with my favorite Netflix series as of late (“Undercover”), danced like a freak at a home-party for three, and, last but certainly not the least, watched Joe Biden and Kamala Harris win the US election. I barely got out of the house, yet life felt so right.
For six months, I have been logging off Instagram every Friday before midnight and only going back on Monday. It started as a little experiment to figure out what spending the weekend off social media would do to me. I gave myself no pressure there; the goal was to see the extent of my addiction to the virtual world. I was curious to know if I could make it without.
I knew I was hooked because of how often I checked my Instagram (veeeery often,) only to end up realizing I had wasted another hour, or more. Scrolling did not feel good anymore, but, like a good addict, I was expecting to feel hungover with no dopamine kicks; to squeak like an animal in a trap. To my surprise, the opposite happened.
Let’s go back in time for a minute. I started my Instagram account to create content about my love of Amsterdam and talk about how my well-being seemed so inextricably linked to the city’s way of life. I used the app intensively, but I also created intensively, so my presence on there felt intentional. It’s not that I was unaware of spending an ever-increasing time of my life online, but it still felt worth it because it brought me an audience, people who gave me a sense of how my writing resonated with them. My work got showcased, I went freelance, and so many opportunities came my way thanks to social media. Everything was great until it was not.
Fast forward to 2020; not only was I not using most of my time on Insta for creation, but I was not learning anything significant anymore while on there. Nor was it a restful occasion. Scrolling and clicking on red notification signs over and over again still required some degree of attention, and I found myself increasingly frustrated. Sometimes I would get very reactive with political matters; other times, I would get envious of my peers and dissatisfied with my own life. It bogged me as my online activity started from joy in the first place, joy in myself and the city I call home. The feeling of falling behind in life got recurrent. Sometimes though, what got hold of me was something more abstract that I could not exactly pinpoint, like a blurry dread of existing, if this makes sense. I wondered why did it feel like I was scrolling against my will. It was only later that I learned that in a certain sense, I was.
When The Social Dilemma came out last September, and I learned about these platforms’ inner-workings, my digital behavior started to make more sense. By the time this documentary gave me the vocabulary to explain how these apps affect me, I had been spending weekends offline for roughly four months. The difference in my quality of life during the week versus the weekend was stark. I started to look forward to Fridays: the ritual of wishing folks a good one, logging off knowing that I have two full days with no mindless distraction ahead, the closing off of the workweek.
If you remember 2017 – 2018 Ana, you know that I chronicled many aspects of my life on Instastories. Those years of intense documentation were good fun; I will not lie, but as much as I was having the time of my life, my mental health was suffering too. While social media is certainly not the sole origin of any psychological ailment, it definitely aggravates it. The details of my emotional breakdowns are unimportant here; still, I can tell you that my anxiety levels went through the roof back then. When I say anxiety, I mean it, panic attacks included. The funny thing is that my work online bore fruit, and I got prized for being so active. It is tricky to have boundaries when productivity is the primary measure of our lives.
Looking back, I see that once I exhausted the thrill of instant connection, I was faced with a choice. I could keep relentlessly documenting, or I could direct my energy to more purposeful work. I chose the latter. Being offline for the weekend, I had a taste of being able to focus again. It seemed miraculous. No more absorbing random information all the time, from politics to my acquaintances’ whereabouts, nor where there is an excellent place for margaritas (I don’t even like margaritas, for Christ’s sake.) Weekends are for being able to listen to my own thoughts. Next, I started noticing being more present in my own life. Without the ongoing compulsion of picking up the phone, I was less on edge and got more tranquil, more grounded. I spent more time doing things I valued, like reading. I also got into the habit of listening to podcasts that add something to my life. I became a plant-mom and started teaching myself to make reparations in my home, like caulking windows – both a source of great pride. I always knew there was a handywoman in me; I just never believed I could be so domestic. What a peaceful brain feels like: I had forgotten that too.
Last Saturday, my journal shows, I told myself that I need to keep at it. For context, there’s this project that I want to materialize, which I have been procrastinating on (as I do) because it requires laser-focus. I think I’m afraid to work at that level. As a creative who works from home, the challenges I am facing are not unique to me. They are not a sign of some defect but a natural consequence of persistence. This is how it feels like to make things happen, my inner parent wrote. It’s not that I didn’t know these candid truths, but it helps to brain dump. So I have promised myself that my weekly two-day retreat will get a Monday morning extension from now on. I am using my rested mind for the benefit of writing. Redefining priorities and acting on them is the long-term result of being able to think more clearly. To get here, I had to consistently block unnecessary noise and distraction from my life so that my energy gets channeled to what matters most. Boundaries, that’s what my offline weekends boil down to.
If this space brings you some kind of joy, consider supporting it via Paypal. Any modest contribution will keep the creative juices flowing ♒︎ and help pay rent ♒︎ Thank you very much, dear you ✧