(This post first appeared on Substack: Writing Magick with Maggie Sunseri. Click to subscribe.)
I officially have a cover for Book 2 of The Lost Witches of Aradia series! And it is gorgeous. Want to see it? Click here. I’m also sending out some early copies of Book 1 this week, which is both awesome and terrifying. All set for my big launch in January. Yay!
I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving—I for one am still feeling food-hungover and groggy this Monday morning (when I first started typing this.) Anyone else feel like it’s a million times harder to get back into Work Mode after a break? My brain got too used to being shut down, and now it’s taking its sweet, sweet time to reboot.
When I fell behind in my writing schedule and needed an extra focus boost, I decided to delete all social media apps off my phone and go off the grid for a month. I ended up enjoying how it made me feel so much that I repeated that break multiple times over the course of last year, making sure to announce it to all my Twitter followers each time because they definitely cared, and totally did notice my absence. (No they didn’t x2.)
As an indie author, I could only get away with escaping social media for so long. Once the first three books of my series were written, it was time to get serious about branding and business—which was annoying, because if I had it my way all I would do is write and vibe all year round. Sad.
Taking these breaks did teach me a lot, however, and they provided me with a whole new outlook on my relationship with social media, and in return social media’s relationship with all of us.
Shoutout as well to the documentary The Social Dilemma on Netflix if you really want to learn more about the dystopian horrors that are impacting not only our mental health and our relationships, but also our democratic processes. Highly recommend!
What I learned:
1. This one might seem obvious, but I discovered I do a lot of mindless scrolling.
I prided myself in not being like those people who spent every waking moment scrolling through apps, but I realized I was caught in the same web as soon as I went off the grid. Suddenly I would wake up, reach for my phone, and discover there weren’t any apps that were calling to my dopamine receptors. There was just this… empty space. And that empty space was there again whenever I needed a work break. Just like in the morning, I would reach for my phone and remember I was media-dark. At night while watching TV, I would also be confronted with that emptiness. Which is strange, because you’d think one source of steady entertainment would be plenty.
2. The emptiness is scary.
I never would have admitted or understood this before I went off the grid, but social media was absolutely a comfort blanket for my brain. Sitting in silence and actually having to work for my dopamine hits was a whole new game. When I wasn’t writing, had to go find articles to read, watch movies with my full attention, talk with friends instead of interacting with their posts, listen to podcasts, crack open books, or just… sit. Look around. Think. It was horrifying at times, but like with all things, I got better and better at it.
3. I gained so much time.
I shaved off at least two hours a day of phone use. The 1-2 hours I still spent on my phone was concentrated in messaging apps and Safari. That’s two hours I could spend actually relaxing and doing things I love rather than doom scrolling or mindlessly filling that empty space.
4. Whenever I’d take a peek back online, I was horrified by what I saw.
Not to be dramatic or anything, but after so much time just staying in my own lane and focusing on the things that make me feel happy, connected, and purposed, when I logged back on Twitter it was like peering into a digital hellscape. The visceral anger and cruelty was jarring to me after so much time away. I mean, Twitter was never truly pleasant, but I at least thought I was on the “good side” of the Internet. Turns out even the people I agree with can be toxic, angry, hurt people. And that’s what’s at the core of most social media these days: anger and hurt. Hurt people really do hurt people, and we live in a society that is overrun with traumatized humans on all sides of sociopolitical divides—people who take their unhealed trauma out on others by perpetuating cycles of both physical and psychological violence. How we got here is a topic for another day, but for the purpose of this post I just want to reiterate how incredibly draining all that anger is for our minds. I didn’t even realize how much a random post or comment was affecting my mental states until they all went away. Seeing cruelty day in and day out grows all kinds of maladaptive neural pathways in our poor, impressionable brains.
5. I told myself a lot of lies about why I use social media.
This point may be a little controversial, and I want to preface this by saying that I’m speaking from personal experience, and this will not be true for every single person, especially those who actually do amazing work in the activist or political sectors. But I used to absolutely be one of those people who would tweet and post shit like “your silence is deafening!” in a way to subtweet anyone who wasn’t speaking about whatever issue was blasting on the media cycle that week. This was not only incredibly annoying, but also very unhelpful. The idea that someone must check off a list of issues to post about online in order to Not Be A Shitty Person is… unhinged. Drawing attention to injustice and writing about ways to make a difference in people’s lives is amazing! But to expect every single person to not only be aware of every single issue and problem all over the globe, but also to be actively doing something about them, is unrealistic and counterintuitive. I had to ask myself: What am I, personally, capable of contributing to the issues I’m passionate about? And, in regards to social media, what are the things I’m wasting my energy, outrage, and sadness on that will ultimately be unaffected by anything I can do online?
6. Staying in my own lane is awesome.
Our poor little prehistoric brains were built to address the immediate needs of ourselves, our families, and our close-knit communities. They were not built to take in a steady stream of transnational doom and terror day in and day out. We do not need to martyr our mental health just to claim the title of Very Informed. Not to mention, there are plenty of ways to stay up to date and delve deep into learning about the economic, sociopolitical, and historical processes that shape modern society that have nothing to do with Twitter or Facebook. Putting our own mental health needs first is in itself a radical act in a society that would rather see us dissatisfied, angry, jealous, and stressed—all states of mind that make targeted sales and marketing a whole lot easier. (Social media is also currently under fire for intentionally manipulating our mental states and spreading disinformation, after all.)
7. My mental health improved noticeably.
I was far less anxious and edgy, and gone were the days where I’d feel utterly hopeless after seeing a swarm of trolls voice their Very Cool Opinions about women deserving to be murdered or whatever. Or those headlines claiming we’ll all be underwater or on fire in five years unless global leaders act on climate change. (Spoiler alert: I’m not a global leader, and I have absolutely no sway over what those old white dudes decide to do. My unharnessed worry and outrage over our planet’s demise will do nothing but keep me from living my own short life the best I can.) Basically, the scary emptiness of my media blackout started to become a friend. It was the calm and focus I was hoping for.
8. The inspiration for my books went into double speed.
My original goal was simply to get focused and write the books I’d been stalling on. And it worked! It turns out when you free up some time and clear away the mental energy social media used to drain, then better things will flow right in to take up that space. My main purpose in this life is to write. Social media is just a tool to help me spread that writing and connect with others. That was the original intent behind it anyway… and that’s the intent I’m claiming. Because what it has become for us now is a different, far more dangerous beast altogether.
Not everyone can go social media dark, especially people who need to use those platforms for their own life purpose, work, or activism. Apparently that includes me, and I’m not particularly happy about it. My urge to run off into the woods and write my silly little books and only talk to like seven people for the rest of my life has only grown stronger in recent years. I know I’m not alone in that.
But everyone has the ability to reassess their relationship with the platforms they use, and there is always space for boundaries, breaks, and changes. Anger is an easy state of mind to claim in a world that systematically pits us against each other and broadcasts injustice, violence, and cruelty every day of the week. But we must use our anger and sadness constructively. Drowning in it won’t help anyone. We must find ways to be kind. To choose love over fear. If you’re in a space online where kindness and gentleness is ridiculed and vilified, then you might be in the wrong network. Immense personal suffering is not a prerequisite for effective change. It is possible to make a difference through community-building, love, art, and joy, too. We live in a world of duality. There must be a balance between justifiable anger and destruction and compassion and creation.
Take care of yourselves this holiday season. It is not selfish to put your mental health first. Go fearlessly into the life path that was meant for you, and find ways to help others along the way. There are many more discussions to be had and nuances to explore on this topic, but for now, I will leave you with my final lesson I learned from my social media break:
I wasn’t missing much.