Gender & Identity, Life

How disappearing helped me find myself

What I needed to be myself was to not exist.

At seventeen I was an unhappy, restless teenager. I had to pick a university and basically a path for my life. It was stressful and heavy, like I was picking which prison to spend my next four years. And yet, on social media everyone was happy, everything was easy. I watched friends get early acceptances and cry over 95% grades when I was just trying to scrape together the average mark recommended on half these universities websites. The fact I wasn’t floating through life seemed to mean something was wrong with me. I didn’t have time to make happy posts about everything I was doing, nor did I have the willpower.

I picked a university, moved out, and started my four year sentence. It was fine, but the problems I had in high school still followed me to university. I was still watching everyone’s easy lives, their fun in university with all their friends. I had picked a university no one else from my high school picked in the biggest city in Canada. I was alone, and according to what I was seeing on social media, that was bad. So I tried to make friends, I posted pictures with them, I pretended everything was great and that I was great.

I was stressed all the time from school, and every time I looked at my phone I was told I shouldn’t be stressed. People would drink all night, take a midterm the next day and still get better marks than me. And I would know this because of their snapchat story the night before. It was endlessly frustrating and the pressure to present myself as fine grew and grew as I felt worse and worse.

In a rash decision, I deleted all my social media, and less than a week later my phone broke. While at my service provider, they asked if I had backed up the phone before they wiped it to fix it. I hadn’t, but for some reason I didn’t care.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said, and handed off all the photos and screenshots and social media passwords from the last year to be destroyed. I felt lighter than I had in months. I went home with a crappy replacement phone that barely connected to the internet and an empty photo album.

The next week was still stressful, I still had school and still had responsibilities, but there was a release from the added pressure of keeping up without what everyone else was doing. I didn’t have to try to think about whether or not something would be a good picture, or if a party was happening without me. I never truly cared about what other people were doing but I had kept up with social media because it was accepted. When I gave it up I was free.

I was in a new city and I knew no one. I could go to the grocery store in the ugliest clothes I owned and no one would know. I could wander around the city and not worry about bumping into anyone I knew. I slowly started to do more alone and care less. I was free from having to document my life for everyone to see. It was like my life finally became about me and not how I wanted others to see me.

Subconsciously, I was constantly comparing myself with everyone around me. On instagram, in class, I was taking in everything around me so deeply it was affecting everything from how I felt to how I acted. How could I be okay when everyone else was so much farther ahead than me? Cutting off contact put me in bubble, a bubble of just me and my thoughts and my impressions. My morning thoughts turned from, “is this outfit cute?” to “do I want to wear this all day?” My days became more of “what do I need and want to do” instead of “what do I have to do”.

Simple changes manifested purely from the fact I wasn’t performing anymore. There was no audience online or in the real world I cared about anymore. That’s not to say I was blind to strangers, it’s just their gazes held less and less weight. Life is already hard, school, work, the constant state of global affairs are a constant weight. Why add another one?

  • Audrey Schmidt

    Audrey Schmidt is currently a biology student at York University in Canada. She has been writing since she was a kid and learning for longer. She likes asking questions just a tad more than she likes hearing the answer.