Scrolling to Get Away From Myself

(Image from Canva.com)

In March of 2020, a lot happened. I definitely do not need to tell you about what was happening in the world. But, what I do need to explain is that I was turning 25, and my partner and I were heading up north to a cabin to celebrate when they said something to me that has been a repeated phrase looping in my head ever since. We were listening to the audiobook How to Not Always Be Working by Marlee Grace and pausing at the end of each section and debriefing it together. It was in one of those debriefs when my partner said to me, “You’re addicted to your phone.” I immediately became defensive and began listing all the reasons why being on my phone so much was a good thing. Such as how it was bringing me a sense of community and that I felt less alone than I ever have because of it. At that time, I was a month away from my appointment to start hormone therapy to begin my medical transition. I had added myself to a bunch of Facebook groups for transmasculine people. I didn’t have a single other transmasculine person in my life (at least close to me) at that time and being active in the groups was breathing life into me as I was anxiously awaiting my doctor’s appointment. I was not ready to look at myself and the attachment to my phone that I was cultivating. I was not ready to see how this had been a cycle for a long time, even before the Facebook groups. All I could see was what was right in front of me.

Still, I got a lot out of that book. I thought about it at least weekly for every remaining month of the year. It changed a lot about how I approach my life and how I think about work. It launched me on a serious journey into self-reflection that I could not access in the years prior to my medical transition. Everything was too cloudy then. As I became more comfortable in my skin, I was able to see the patterns and behaviors that I had accumulated while being in that fog.

Now, I feel a call to return to myself. There is a lot I have been ignoring. An internal voice that I often mute. A sense of being in my body that I have not allowed myself because of the dysphoria that was in the way.

My addiction to my phone, specifically to social media, stems from my avoidant tendencies. Social media is a perfect distraction. It disguises itself as feeling productive, especially now, with such a call to action to be an activist through what you post on your feed. For me, scrolling feels GOOD. It calms my brain. It becomes a way to fidget and feels like I am letting myself unwind. And don’t get me wrong, there are HUGE benefits that can come from social media. I have experienced them! I have made friends, I have made money and started a business, I have met celebrities, I have felt less alone and isolated during the pandemic, I have planned successful events, I have found answers to problems, all because of social media! I will even credit social media for being how I have learned so much about my own body and what is happening to it through my transition.

But my truth is that social media distorts my vision of myself. I confuse what my goals are and where my priorities lie. I can’t create. I get so caught up in comparison that thinking of myself as an individual is almost impossible. When I start to create a post, all I can think about is how I “should” display myself for others. The scariest realization I have had is recognizing that it has impacted how I see my own transness, to a point that I have experienced losing touch with what I ultimately want for myself.

Upon reflecting during this past year, I have recognized that I have a strong desire to be liked. So much so that it gets in the way of what I truly want to be doing. I get caught up in what it seems like other people want from me, more than what I wish for myself. I also have a strong desire for people to see me as a creative person. Social media, especially Instagram, was built to prey on people like me. This has been a big challenge for me to accept this. I have had to sit in the discomfort of the reality that if I don’t get some space from social media, I might actually end up somewhere I don’t want to be. Social media is not serving me enough anymore for it to be worth it. It is not allowing me to be the best version of myself that can serve others and be a good citizen of this earth. I have falsely subscribed to thinking that my presence on social media is doing some great work, but the truth is that is not MY work. It might be someone else’s, but it is not mine. My work is creating. My work is writing. Reading. Teaching. Being in conversation with others. And to show up fully to that I need to look away from the screen. I need to look around me.

I am starting slowly, pulling away and seeing where I end up. Over the last month, I have experimented with a lot of different strategies, from days where I deleted apps to just putting my phone away more often. Currently, I have been putting my phone away every night at 8pm. I have also started my mornings by not looking at my phone for at least an hour after waking up. I am no longer on Twitter and have limited the amount of time I spend on Instagram and Tiktok since those apps are built to scroll forever. I still find myself stuck in the scrolling vortex every now and then, but I have been finding that I am feeling less invested in every form of social media. The more I make space to reflect and the more I allow myself to say that YES, social media has hurt me the better I feel.

I am writing this to hold myself accountable. I am also writing this because I know that I needed to feel like I was given permission to think about this. I felt so much shame about being attached to my phone but I find freedom now in admitting my feelings about it. This is just my truth and I know (because I’ve met them) there are others out there like me, who feel like they MUST stay on the apps in order to be a good, relevant person. Everywhere around us, that is the messaging that we receive. I do not think there is enough conversation happening about the very real ways that we distract ourselves. The ways that we hide from ourselves and our true dreams and desires. So as much as I am writing this for myself, I am writing it for the people who need to know that it is OKAY to leave the apps. It is okay to take a break for no set amount of time. You are still good and relevant and you deserve to put yourself first. I promise.

I can see a hurdle that I need to overcome. I am really ready to approach it. It is a beautiful feeling that washes over me in waves throughout the day. I feel it when I look in the mirror and see myself fully. I feel it when I devote time to listening to music. I feel it when I crack open a book instead of leaning into the urge to look at my phone. In the last month, I have begun to feel a sense of clarity that was not there before, almost like a veil has been lifted. There are days when this clarity brings feelings that are painful. Now, I lean into those feelings. I find tangible ways to express them and work through them. I have a list on my desk that I keep returning to of things I can do that are good for me, activities that allow me to feel my feelings, instead of diving into my phone to bury what is coming up for me.

All of this reflection and the choices I am actively making to limit my time on social media is me saying that I am ready to live my life and do my work. After years of not feeling like I could show up for myself, I am ready to try to be who I am meant to be.

What a gift that is to give yourself.

Sage is a queer and trans writer living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is the creator of Songs of Ourselves, a virtual writing community for LGBTQIA+ people.