I used to love Twitter, but it’s been sending me down a self-hatred helix. So I’ve quit

Social media brought me better jobs, close friends and love. But its judgment was shaping my life

Laura Snapes: ‘It is refreshing to be private for the first time in my adult life.’ Photograph: iStock

Laura Snapes: ‘It is refreshing to be private for the first time in my adult life.’ Photograph: iStock

 

In March 2009 I type in “twitter.com” and sign up for the next 12 years of my life. I am 20, in my first year of uni. I have three friends and hate it here.

But on Twitter I can talk to real music journalists, my longed-for future people. Two years later I move to London to work at NME. My social awkwardness makes life in a new city feel like dredging the River Thames with baggy tights. On Twitter, however, I have blossomed into a magnificent little chaos magnet. Even on sad, drunk Friday nights in, my phone-sized kingdom glitters.

Real life improves, often thanks to Twitter. It leads me to John, still my boyfriend 10 years on, and many of my closest friends. Thanks to being a woman in a male-dominated field, the odd viral review and little talent for discretion, I end up with 60,000 followers. I don’t take it that seriously, but acing my first popularity contest feels like winning Miss World – if she had bad posture and trigger-happy thumbs.

You can’t simply delete it: you have to complete a period of deactivation, presumably because Twitter knows it is addictive

Visibility brings better jobs and gives me a platform to retaliate against music’s many dirtbags. The mute button silences reply guys and trolls, and I haven’t searched my name in years, ever since John likened that always-upsetting habit to self-harm – an overstatement that nevertheless rang true.

But I am blind to the fact that I am still a masochist. I don’t consider my articles complete without a reaction. Twitter, teeming with peers, matters more than a general comments section. I let approval smother my self-loathing and am convinced that criticism bounces off a hide already calloused by spending my adolescence on message boards, where I was told I looked like “Lily Allen’s gangrenous older sister”. Evidently, it isn’t water off a duck’s back: the stickiest criticism spawns brain fleas that last weeks.

I often read that it is good to leave Twitter, which seems like advice akin to getting up at 4.30am for hot yoga: in principle, sure, but actually I’m really happy here in the rat cage! It isn’t until Twitter makes me feel especially glum – a mixture of diminishing highs and the criticism that accompanies being mildly prominent and wildly fallible – that I realise how totally I rely on it for my self-esteem.

So one evening this year, spiralling down the self-hatred helix after agreeing with a subtweet aimed at me, I deactivated my account. You can’t simply delete it: you have to complete a period of deactivation, presumably because Twitter knows it is addictive. I am certain I will be back the next day. But I stay off.

I learn that people change only as a result of feeling good; you can’t bully yourself into it

There is no immediate relief. In fact I feel worse after quelling the squirts of dopamine that have intermittently sluiced my rotten internal landscape. One evening, as I cry into my dinner, John makes me outline my self-image. In brief: my best efforts always fail and I must punish myself into being better. He is horrified. I thought everyone felt that way. Clearly, the only bits of Twitter I took seriously echoed that view.

This revelation illuminates other self-destructive behaviours. How will I ever help myself if I don’t believe I am worth it? Commence Project Self-Esteem: Entry Level.

I read the behavioural scientist BJ Fogg’s excellent book Tiny Habits. I learn that people change only as a result of feeling good; you can’t bully yourself into it. I am especially self-flagellating when stressed; learning how to rest is a start. After publishing my next big piece, I still find myself searching Twitter to see if anyone likes it. But, after gorging on feedback one morning, a new neural bouncer stepsin. “Snapes,” she says, “you’re barred.” I don’t check the responses to that article again and tell friends about my pathetic achievement. Picture the anime butterfly guy meme: is this … acting in my own best interests? If I stopped this behaviour, I wonder, what else could I tackle?

There is an adjustment phase. Disconnecting from praise briefly makes me apathetic about work. What is the point? I have to get reacquainted with why I do what I do. I won’t miss the nightmares about logging on to Twitter, although I don’t take for granted that, as someone with a staff job, I can quit without experiencing the anxiety around “disappearing” that a freelance colleague might feel. My focus improves.

It is good to abandon the flimsy awareness that can pass for seeming informed on social media. I know that extolling life offline runs the risk of looking like a scold. I still envy committed tweeters. If I could have rational fun there, I would be toasting my brain on the hellscape with you.

It is refreshing to be private for the first time in my adult life, too. I am not pinpointing the specific circumstances that prompted me to quit, because someone on Twitter would mock me for being a whiny little baby. I know the rules!

But fervently attempting to be nicer to myself has taught me that sometimes you have to treat yourself like a whiny little baby, to ask yourself: what is the precise cause of distress behind this inchoate wailing? Does baby need a rest? Reprieve from the horrors of daily life? I can’t offer the latter, but I can confiscate the magnifying glass. – Guardian

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