Months ago I received a letter from my sanity imploring me to go off Twitter. It was delivered first class, so it must have been an emergency.
However, I wanted to stay on Twitter, so I just filed the letter away. In recent days, however, my sanity began blasting me with emails ordering me to go off Twitter, or else it would pack its suitcase and move to Australia. I have bipolar disorder. When my sanity delivers ultimatums, I listen.
I complied by vacating my Twitter account, walking away from over 50,000 followers. i have not checked my notifications since December 16. I emailed my sanity to ask if Google Plus and Facebook were okay. My sanity wrote back and told me to go stare at a lake or a tree.
I have to give my sanity credit; since immersing myself in the world of social media, my formerly laser-like writing concentration had shattered. My schedule kept veering off-course due to mood-crushing notifications. Emotional instability was making it hard to form a coherent thought, much less write a novel. I was disoriented. And I had become entirely too emotionally invested in trying to decipher configurations of pixels which had no bearing on my actual life.
Thus, I have been mostly offline since mid-December. Since then I have been thinking a lot about why I went on Twitter in the first place.
I went on Twitter mainly to find an agent for my novel, but to my surprise, it had another benefit: it filled a lonely void I had not known was there. I had never had writer friends before. Now there was an entire community of writers online. I did not even have to talk to them; I could just write at them.
Before I knew it, Twitter had pervaded the atmosphere of my mental world. I felt like I was plugged in to a massive, collective mental construct, otherwise referred to as being connected. Whenever I tried going offline for more than a day, loneliness set in.
As an introvert I am actually very good at being alone. But to my dismay, it turned out that I must have had some deeply repressed and unacknowledged social tendencies. Feeling like I had friends online, a community, made Twitter powerfully addictive. What had originally been promotional had become emotional.
Before long, I was constantly tweeting in my head, whether it was a humorous observation or a reply to a message from a friend. For the reward of having friends all over the world, I paid the requisite tax: giving Twitter limited access to my mind.
I even began to feel like Twitter was my job, a kind of virtual office I had to show up at every day as an essential part of being a writer.
Over a period of months, the boundaries between my writing and Twitter blurred. Twitter became so enmeshed with my life, I had trouble imagining how I had ever gotten by without it.. Plus, it was a place where I could share my blog posts with new readers and get immediate feedback, which was usually praise, which quickly became addictive
The problem with praise is that, like all addictions, the drug becomes an end in itself. Bathing in the warm glow of approbation, I forgot to ask whether praise was doing anything to help me establish a career or make me a better writer. I forgot to ask whether high numbers of retweets for book links were doing anything to help me sell books.
A couple of months ago, I got a hint when I tweeted a link for my free story anthology Becoming the Story. The number of shares was a swooning new record: 105. I was anxious to see how many books had been downloaded, but my stats page starkly revealed how many people had actually clicked on the link: zero.
In fact, I had two less book downloads than the day before. I wondered, if I am unable to give a book away on Twitter having over 50,000 followers, how can I hope to sell? And is being on Twitter worth the emotional toll?
By far, the worst part of being on Twitter has been the unpredictable ways it has affected my emotional stability. Since I have bipolar disorder, that is a big issue.
Every time I checked my notifications, I was giving Twitter power to affect my mood. Sometimes I won the emotional jackpot with a kind note from a friend, a mention, or praise for a blog post. It was those kinds of rewards that kept me going back.
But Twitter could also swing my mood into sharp descent. Sometimes someone would get offended because they took one of my jokes seriously. Or a troll would critique my tweets. Or a tweet I had spent thirty minutes trying to perfect would sit stillborn on my profile page.
I dreaded the daily spin of the emotional roulette wheel. The looming obligation to check notifications tinged each day with anxiety. The website became such a potent mood trigger that for a while I limited checking it tonight time. If I checked Twitter in the mornings, it could plunge my mood and throw my writing schedule off-course. Even if I checked it at night, a disturbing notification could leak into the next day. During the holidays my mood settled into a full-fledged depression as grim as any I have ever had.
I had gone on Twitter for practical reasons, to promote myself as a writer, to find an agent, to get new readers for my blog. But too often Twitter has proved to be far more emotional than promotional in ways that derail my writing progress.
When I was feeling depressed, I could remember better days, a time in which my main source of good feelings was writing, just writing. I remembered feeling joy, and I wanted to return to what I had been doing before to make me feel that way. I wanted to obsess over writing, not how to get more happy-hits from cyber-compliments and link shares. I wanted to solve the right problems instead of playing the wrong game.
Playing the wrong game was turning me into someone I did not want to be: a petty, dependent validation hog. An embarrassing example: If someone did not like or retweet one of my tweets within three minutes after posting, my anxiety would skyrocket to the point that I would delete it and post something else instead. Or I would post at a different time. Trying to “please” Twitter followers became a compulsive, life-draining pursuit which violated my core philosophy of “Write what you love, not what you think others will like.”
I was sinking mental energy into solving the wrong problems. I could have been using that energy to write an awesome story about sentient robot bunnies, but instead I was focusing on matters that had no consequence, and the more I tried to control what happened on Twitter, the more Twitter controlled me.
Detaching from Twitter did not deliver immediate bliss. I underwent a painful period of withdrawal. At first I felt an ache of loneliness. However, after about three weeks, my mind became clearer. My writing concentration has returned. I am more prolific. I am sleeping better. My depression has evaporated. I am enjoying peace.
I am especially enjoying the silence. Silence is more than the absence of sound. Finally I am free of excessive mental noise, which leaves me free to concentrate fully on my writing projects.
That is not to say that I am always bursting with happiness. In fact, sometimes I feel sad about giving up something that for three years has been an integral part of my life. But at the same time, I feel hopeful.
My new home reinforces the feeling. About two weeks ago I moved from Ocala, Florida to Pompano Beach in South Florida. Living in a new place near the ocean has helped distract me from the occasional urge to go back to Twitter. Since the move, I have done what my sanity asked me to do in its aggressive email campaign. It so happens that my new apartment balcony looks over a lake, and next to my balcony is a giant palm tree.
While lakes and trees are not circuses, they are far more pleasant to look at than ads for breast augmentation supplements, diet pills, and life coaching services.
I have been seeking alternative activities like drawing, reading, or writing, and if I ever want to escape into an unreal digital world, I have video games. While video games do not give me a place to share my blog, I am willing to sacrifice exposure for the prize of not subjecting myself to arbitrary emotional determinant every day. My freedom from emotional wildcards is a great relief.
To its credit, Twitter has exposed my blog to many readers who never would have seen it otherwise, which is one reason I could not bring myself to suspend my account. A friend lost all her followers when she suspended hers, and deleting 50,000 followers is like deleting a high score from an arcade video game. The vainglorious nerd in me demurs.
However, I did worry that someone on Twitter might post a link of mine or send me a message that I would never get to respond to, and I would be unable to thank them. But there had to be a cut-off point. As soon as I responded to anything online, I would be back in the game.
That being said, I will miss certain aspects of Twitter, like the ubiquitous cat pics and the awesome science quotes from Neil deGrasse Tyson. Most of all, I will miss my Twitter friends. To my online friends who have helped promote my books and blog, I greatly appreciate all that you have done. I will never forget it, and I wish you all the best.
If you enjoyed this post you might like my other writing. Take a moment and sign up for my free starter library. Click here. Also my story collection “Remembering the Future” is available for purchase on Amazon.