I am sitting here yet again, another early morning, breathing frantic shallow breaths and trying to steady myself as the room is spinning around me. Because yet again, I’ve found myself in a cycle of compulsion. An urge that compels me to propel myself into the world of writing, capturing, creating, performing and producing something not for myself, but for others to see. I often wonder what this all means, why we continuously feel that we have to be productive, and why cannot just allow ourselves to rest. I thought I was getting close to understanding it until I began a new chapter that led me to the same old story. One that craves attention, one that needs others to tell me whether I am good or completely dreadful at something, a story that saturates every aspect of who I am. A story that I need to be completely honest about. Because this story is about Twitter addiction and what I did to overcome it. The very first part of that is writing this blog post. Because I have to be honest to myself, and say this publicly to be able to move forward and who knows, perhaps it will help others too.
I write about Twitter a lot. It’s the only social media platform that I’ve used for personal expression. Unlike other platforms I’ve used for work, it’s a place of personality, identity, emotion, rivalry and at times a lot of conflict. It’s made me cry, been a source of frustration and at times absolute fear. It has given me panic attacks and has caused serious problems in my personal life. To be honest, I truly cannot stand the place or what it does to me, and if it wasn’t for the friends that I have there and raising awareness of what Aunty Social World is I would honestly walk away and never look back. Right now though, I have to.
There’s a lot of debate about social media addiction, and I’m not going there. I’m not writing this to prescribe or say whether it's real or not for others. I simply want to share my own story, because for me, I know that I am addicted to Twitter and no one will convince me otherwise. I know what I’ve been through because of it. I’ve given up smoking in the past - I know that the withdrawal and willpower then are much the same as abstaining from Twitter now. I know that I have to abstain completely to be able to walk away from it. Because Twitter and its world of attention destroyed me. A difficult thing about this form of addiction is that there isn’t really any help you can seek for it, there isn’t a helpline or a medical professional that you can call. But the impact of the addiction is severe, at times it has made me suicidal, and I know that if I give myself an inch on Twitter my compulsion will return. It’s frightening because I am not in control and at times I tweet without even realising I’m doing it such as in the middle of the night.
When we think of social media addiction, it is often the subject of debate, that or reserved for social media influencers, those who are ‘on it’ every day and seen widely. We often don’t think of the everyday people who use the platforms, the nobodies like me. I don’t have a huge following or any real form of status at all and honestly, throughout all of my compulsive behaviours, I never strived to be an influencer (that would terrify me). But I did want to be seen, to have my words read and validated by others and to feel accepted. It’s not something I’ve ever really experienced before my digital existence, and I’m sure you may relate to this - when you’ve been an outcast for so long that feeling of acceptance and people liking your stuff is so exhilarating. It makes you feel like you have finally found a place where you belong. That’s what I thought Twitter was giving me for so long until it all went wrong.
My Twitter addiction sparked off around three years ago now, during the first COVID-19 lockdown. Like many people during this time, we were spending more time online and finding new hobbies and things to keep our minds and bodies occupied. For me, it was photography that unlocked an entirely new world of Twitter. I started sharing photos I had edited, they were probably awful as I had no idea what I was doing, but people started to notice them and over that first year, I went from around 700 followers to 1,500. I know that this isn’t a huge or dramatic increase but for me it was big, and I felt as though I was being seen for something other than just a political rant or a chance encounter with someone or something. I was finally being seen for something positive, something creative - a version of myself that I had never seen before after years of striving to be an academic. It was new, fresh and completely addictive.
The problems began when I started to feel the urge. If you have ever felt it you will know what I mean when I say this - it’s a deep gnawing feeling that even when you’re exhausted and really want to wind down, you have this overwhelming compulsion to post. I used to call it ‘getting a bit edgy’ because it felt like I could not settle until I had posted something. Until I had that ‘flurry’ - another term I use for likes rolling in, I could not settle and at times I would literally sit down and shake or I’d be pacing the room with ‘I just need this one’, or ‘just one more flutter’. I use these terms cringing now, but that’s honestly how bad it got. At one point I had to return home from a day out because there was no wifi or phone signal and I needed to see how a photo ‘was going’.
It is completely shameful to admit even just these things. Who really wants to admit that something as trivial as social media can do this to us? With all of the big problems that are happening in this world, how selfish does it feel to be this way, completely obsessed with attention? We’ve all seen people being mocked for doing things for attention, the horrors of people taking and posting photos of sites of travesty, taking a selfie in the wrong place or the wrong context. Honestly though, having seen what my addiction did to me I can understand that those things are probably also caused by digital addiction. After all, the online world is saturated with mostly similar content, so people want to get an edge - they want to cut through and they want to be seen. If I’m completely honest, is this now why I am revealing something so personal about myself? Is this my addiction doing this to me?
The answer is probably both of these things. Part of me is wanting to cut through, I’ll admit that, but the other part of me is wanting to be honest about who I am and why I can’t do Twitter any more. Because the thing is, in the present day I don’t get a lot of attention now. I set my account to private last year and following that I am seldom seen. My photos these days gain a handful of likes, and at times they aren’t seen at all. As difficult as this is at times, I know it’s the right thing to do because my addiction became so bad that I was awake in the night creating the next big picture or write up and I couldn’t even have a conversation with my family. All because I had to be on Twitter. Sharing, posting, and calling out for attention. That’s what makes me feel ashamed and sad, is that I was craving so much from strangers on the internet, and barely acknowledging the people in my life who know me and care for me. Right now, today, I have fallen off the wagon yet again, written and posted several angst tweets in a cry for help, knowing full well that no one will respond. It’s a form of self-harm when I do this. I write tweets that I know will achieve the exact opposite of what I want and I then tell myself that the lack of attention is validation that I’m a horrible person and no one likes me. That’s how much this addiction has taken hold of me - I’m writing things I don’t want to share. Consciously, I don’t want likes any more, but something inside me still craves them. This is only a small part of this story, and I am not sure I am ready to write out everything in full just yet (or whether I need to), but I know I need to be honest with myself. This blog post is the first step.
In terms of the next steps, I guess we might consider, what’s the answer to all of this? Well, firstly, I know that I have to be honest with myself and admit I have this problem and like with other addictions, it will now always be a vulnerability. Secondly, I cannot use Twitter any more unless it's controlled and vetted by people who care for me. I don’t trust myself to not engage in compulsive behaviours such as posting tons of photos, deleting the ones that don’t take off or jumping around in a hive of excitement when it goes well. Running around the room, falling into a ball of tears and saying things that are completely embarrassing in the quest for attention.
I really don’t want to be that person any more.
As well as this, I have to think about others. My family, my loved ones and the work we are doing for Aunty Social World. Building an online community and movement takes a lot of work, work that cannot be interrupted or shaped through the cage of digital addiction. And this is really difficult because it’s similar to being an alcoholic whilst working in a pub. The temptation is always there, and I know that if I allow myself I will spiral once again. For this reason, I have to take a back seat in using Aunty Social World's Twitter, which is sad because there are some truly lovely and genuine people who interact with us there. But I just can’t do it myself, because my vulnerability is too great right now.
I know I need to spend some time working on this problem for myself, as well as hopefully raising awareness to help others in the future. Because right now, there is very little support and a lot of stigma that keeps this topic taboo. But one thing I do know, is that the online world can be a great thing but many social media platforms promote all of the wrong things. The status-based metrics, the likes, the followers, the shares and even the blue ticks. All of these things are signals. Signals that we have confused as being a measure of our own self-worth. Johann Hari talks about these signals in his book ‘Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention...’, why we crave them and what the effect is on our ability to focus. I lost my focus through addiction, an addiction that gave me so little in the end.
So as I sit here to finish this article, I don’t really know what else to say right now because I’m in the thick of it and completely exhausted. So instead I’ll leave some notes I made last week, before my crash. It helps me to read both of these, maybe it will help you too.
My signals had diminished before I’d even walked away. As I wrote another tweet that was unseen and unread, I started to feel less connected, and less validated. I already felt that I didn’t matter, but that feeling, as awful as it was, might actually be my freedom in the end.
Go not to the places that take from you, but those that give you everything you need.
If you are someone who is reading this and has been affected by this issue, know that you are not alone. This form of addiction is as real and valid as other addictions. Help is limited right now, but from experience speaking with a GP or even a helpline can be of support, as can being in nature away from it all.
We’re not clinical professionals but please feel free to comment below or email us at email@example.com if you would like to connect in a healthier way, away from the hive and flurry of social media.