At the beginning of summer, I decided to take a self-imposed sort-of break from how I participate in social media, commentate on the news cycle, or just scroll Instagram because I’m bored. Surprise to no one, this is the longest stint my mental and emotional health has felt somewhat stable in a very long time.
The practice of selectively choosing what online noise affects you is often labeled a privilege; “you don’t care because you don’t have to care.” And yes, there is a vast majority of folks hellbent on remaining unbothered by tragedy and suffering and evil and inequity, choosing to embrace the comfortingly destructive lie that their perception of the world is, in fact, how the world works.
However, if I may offer a secondary perspective – perhaps a season of selectively tuning out certain types of noise is what is needed to return to your body, return to the wonder and intrigue of your own thoughts and feelings, to heal and rest a racing mind, and to nourish new life and ways of being.
Five days after the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, I found out I was pregnant with our second child.
My body was barely keeping up with the collective grief of the rapid-fire mass shooting incidents in the month of May alone – Milwaukee, Buffalo, Laguna Woods. And now little children in Texas.
A few hours after I took the pregnancy test, I remember standing over the stove, preparing lunch. I absentmindedly opened Instagram and the first 7 posts were outrage over gun violence, systemic racism, and political hypocrisy. Swiping through peoples’ stories was even worse.
I could feel my heart racing, my breathing speed up, feeling the rush of cortisol flowing throughout my body. Connecting the dots between constant stress in pregnancy to potentially adverse physiological symptoms in a fetus is well documented across medical research. In that moment I knew that whatever was making me feel obligated to keep up with current events at the risk of my own physical, mental, and emotional state, it wasn’t worth it if this pregnancy were to have any chance of survival during the early weeks and to mitigate any potential long-term effects on the baby from my personal stress levels.
It took several days to ease the cacophony of voices saying that my activism was dependent on staying glued to current events. But after a while, almost like weaning yourself off caffeine, the drumbeat slowed down to a gentle rhythm in the back of my mind. My online participation simmered down to a casual scroll when I had the energy and when the weight of despair started building up, I’d close the apps and focus on what was in front of me.
The news cycle certainly didn’t slow down; more gun violence, the Supreme Court’s ruling about reproductive rights, the FBI raid at Mar-A-Lago, the Jackson water crisis. There was no short supply of enraging and tragic events.
But I was finding myself becoming steady. Not immovable or unbothered, but less whipped up into a frenzy by the commentary. I could face the heartache and urgency of the world with the assurance that the best antidote I can bring right now is my commitment to the life that is in front of me. The opinions and hot takes, advocacy for political action, reading books and listening to thinky podcasts – those are all extracurriculars to come alongside living in my here-and-now, but they are not the essence of life itself.
And when I do venture back to Instagram to offer some commentary, I’m getting better at rejecting the projected urgency of social media; I’ve fallen back in love with speaking when I actually have something to say, not out of obligation or fear that my silence is an indictment on my character. (To be clear: a content creator’s silence during a torrent of global tragedy is not indicative of questionable character. Silence in an effort to avoid addressing harm perpetrated and accountability? Nah, fam.) It’s quite freeing.
And through it all, baby has been thriving. This pregnancy has been easier than my first, we’re halfway through, all the ultrasounds show a happy and healthy little one, and he is due to arrive in the winter. Delighted is a common theme these days.
This social media-specific idea, that you must be constantly submerged in the world’s tragic goings-on to have an effective voice, is a lie rooted in the capitalistic narrative that your health and wellbeing is worth sacrificing for the greater good.
As if the “greater good” doesn’t start with knowing in your depths that you, just as you are, are good. And good enough. And sometimes that requires rejecting the noise for the still, small voice inside.
I can feel the heaviness of the world while knowing it isn’t all mine to carry. This understanding acts like bowling alley bumpers to my emotional reactivity while scrolling. Having boundaries for how much I’m allowed to be affected by the internet has become key to interacting with it in a healthy manner and affects how present I am to my own and family’s real-time needs.
Burnout, emotional exhaustion, constant despair – they aren’t prerequisites for taking space from the things that set your energy to a frenetic pace. Social media, a relationship turned sour, a community where you struggle to be heard – no one can do it for you, but you can put it down for a bit and rest. Don’t worry, whatever it is, it’s probably not going anywhere. (And if it does, maybe that’s for the better.)
The creativity and conviction of your voice is nourished in the stillness and quiet of your body, mind, and spirit. Draw close to what makes your eyes light up with wonder and warmth and light and see your inner life flourish. Awareness of current events and a dwindling spirit don’t have to go hand-in-hand.
The attention economy we find ourselves in loves to create fleeting (and fake) priorities to distract us from the true work of resting, restoring, and resisting in tangible ways that feed the root structures of our daily lives. Yes, stay aware, keep learning, keep pursuing growth. And don’t forget to return to yourself in the middle of it all.
You’re a glory to behold and you deserve to enjoy yourself and your life, too.