It’s been nearly six months since I quit. There’s a new calm growing inside of me, a sense of peace and contentment. And yet, there is still some misguided, desperate part of me that misses being part of that world. There are moments when I feel completely disconnected and alone. As if everyone is living on a happy island together and I am adrift at sea.
It’s 8 pm and I’ve just wrangled the boys into their beds, fetching water bottles and teddy bears and turning over cushions in search of missing comic books. The dishwasher is humming, and I plop my tired bottom onto the couch and do what I do every night at this time — I reach for my phone and immediately tap the Instagram app. It’s like my brain sees it as some bizarre kind of reward at the end of the day. Oh, to just have a few minutes of mindless distraction! (As if it is ever just a few minutes). I scroll through reels with an easy flick of my thumb. There’s a girl at the gym showing “The Ultimate Booty Workout”. You’re making these mistakes with your hip thrusts!! the caption reads. Swipe. A couple slow-dancing in the hallway to Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect". Swipe. A beautiful woman at her bathroom counter surrounded by different bottles of various sizes. This is the only skincare routine you need, she says as she pulls her blonde waves into a high ponytail. Swipe. A mom with a toddler perched on her tiny hip, an older boy sitting on a wooden stool beside them. My thumb hovers above the screen. They’re in the kitchen, rolling out pastry dough and filling it with sausage, both boys helping in their own messy way. The dad is in the background helping, too, I catch a glimpse of his muscled forearm reaching for the pan. The mom’s soft voice is recorded over the video, she’s talking about how letting her kids help in the kitchen has helped their family bond. I click to her profile, and as I tumble deeper and deeper into the vortex of this cute pixie-cut brunette, I suddenly begin to weep. And it’s not out of happiness or because I’m moved in some meaningful way. Everything she is, is everything I am not. I’ve found her at an inopportune time; earlier that evening I fought with my husband and I’m still feeling guilty for snapping at the kids before school.
This family looks so perfectly happy in their aesthetic kitchen with its modern farmhouse flare, and I’m wiping away sticky tears because this image of motherhood and home and family life feels so foreign to me, so far from my own imperfect reality. My kitchen ceiling paint is peeling away in chunks, and the cupboards are spattered with sauce and greasy fingerprints. And when was the last time I cooked with my kids? How about…never? There have been the occasional pancake attempts, but they wander away bored after the liquids are added. Mostly, they’re starting at the Nintendo screen in the basement while I cobble something together upstairs.
I check the time and realize an hour and a half has passed. I peel my zombie-self off the couch and into the bathroom to scrub the makeup off my face, wondering what the girl from Instagram would say about my drugstore brand face wash and lotion. Then I topple into bed, numb and empty.
It’s no secret that these apps turn our phones into palm-sized slot machines, making them highly addictive and appealing. Instagram has completely skewed my perspective of what is normal. Instead of lifting my eyes from the glowing screen to see the perfectly ordinary people around me, living perfectly ordinary lives in kitchens that aren’t all white with natural wood tones, with kids who aren’t always wearing matching neutrals and who enjoy plenty of screen time, I continue to stare into this wormhole of carefully curated content, of highlights and edits and magic tricks. Though perfectly distracting in the moment, I find joy slipping farther and farther away from me.
I force myself to do an Instagram cleanse a couple of times. The first time it’s just for a week, the next time I manage the whole forty days of Lent. But when the time is up, I jump right back in, just as invested as before. These “relapses” give me the uncomfortable feeling of my attachment to the app being closer to an addiction than I’d like to admit. I can’t seem to find the balance that I’m hoping for, and it’s become blatantly clear that Instagram is doing more harm in my life than good. It’s not just a cleanse that I need. I need to delete my account once and for all. That whole idea of “everything in moderation” only works sometimes. In this case, it’s full-out sobriety I need.
And so, finally, I quit.
It’s 8 pm and I follow the boys into their bedroom, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone tucked under my arm. We squish together under the covers, their heads resting against my shoulders. I ask what happened in the last chapter and they blurt out what they remember. Then we get lost in the world of witches and wizards, spells and magic, good versus evil. After twenty minutes, when the yawns start to appear, I crease the corner of the page and kiss them goodnight. I putter to the kitchen to boil the kettle and make a cup of peppermint tea. As it cools on the coffee table I stand at the living room window enjoying the creamsicle-coloured sunset, a crescent moon smiling at me above my neighbour’s roofs, the glow of the first stars dotting the darkening sky. I take a breath, then another. I am noticing subtle differences during this Instagram detox. Sometimes I feel so bored I want to scream, but I no longer immediately run away from that feeling. It passes. I am finding it easier to delight in the simple things of my life, noticing the plants growing on my windowsill or tossing a baseball with my boys at the park. There is less restlessness, less second-guessing my decisions, less wondering if what I am doing is what I should be doing. With all of those other online voices gone from my life, with all of that chatter and noise removed, there is a new kind of quiet. I can hear myself again, and I’m beginning to trust in that voice.
I pull out my phone and text two of my closest girlfriends to see if they are free for coffee in the morning. A minute later my phone dings. Would love that! What time is good? I smile at the thought of seeing them, it’s been a while and I am anxious to hear how they have been. I make a mental list of questions I want to ask. How is the school project going? Tell me about your trip to Cape Breton! Is Zumba class getting any better? I pull the blanket over me and open my novel to the dog-eared page. The birds chirp their evening song outside the open window, a cool breeze blows across my cheek. I don’t know what everyone else is doing, but that really doesn’t matter as much anymore. I am getting used to this feeling of not knowing, of being detached and separate, and being okay with that. I am grateful. I am finally waking up to this perfectly ordinary life of mine, my eyes are adjusting to reality and I like what I see.