I stopped telling social media about my runs. I stopped cataloging every mile, detailing the weather, photographing my shoes or low angle action shots. I quit telling everyone about every workout I was completing, but not because I was consciously avoiding the narcissistic expressions social media enables, but rather because I just lost the compulsion to do so. I’m not entirely sure if there was a definitive breaking point, or knife edged thought change, but maybe more just a slow withering of desire to advertise myself. Maybe, that narcissistic dwindling was a product of the same dwindling in ability and drive to compete after my last surgery. I don’t know, but whatever happened, I just felt…too self conscious to advertise my running.
There were a couple moments that I mentioned my running, when I realized friends and connections were genuinely interested in my well-being, often marked by my ability to run and train, so I made a couple posts, but even those felt weird. And yeah, it’s weird I’m even writing about this, except that for so many years this was my main focus for social media. It’s primarily what I found myself expressing more than anything else, more than veganism, more than politics, more than the absurd ideas and jokes that come to me on long, boring car trips. So, in a way, it’s telling that I even feel compelled to write about NOT writing about running.
I think, ultimately, I just felt over the self-absorbed expressions that related to what is just a hobby. Sure, a very rewarding, fulfilling, obsessive hobby, but still just a personal endeavor. Then there has been that shift to focus my efforts and privileges for the benefit of others over the past handful of years, which when you find yourself acting on others behalf, in much less fortunate circumstances than your own, all your individual hobbies seem selfish and inconsequential. It’s hard to spend time talking about your latest ten miler when you could be putting out ideas or sharing information that aids someone else. But, of course, the inherent compulsion of social media is about the individual, the ego, the self-advertisement.
Which brings me to the now, where my expressions are finding a more detailed release in this blog, as I’ve cut myself off from social media completely. No Facebook. No Instagram. Just like that. I wasn’t planning on cutting myself off, where I counted down the days to a defined separation, but rather…just stopped. Just like that. It was a handful of days ago on vacation, and I’m not entirely sure what prompted me to do it, but I did. I tried to delete my accounts, but they make it so hard that I put up some sort of temporary halting, even though I’ve deleted them in my mind.
Regardless, I think I cut myself off due to the self-inflicted annoyance of my narcissistic tendencies coupled with “the crush of humanity” to use a phrase I’ve lifted from elsewhere. And since then, despite the blink of an eye time I’ve been away, it has really been a unique experience. In the past I’ve stepped away, but more just from Facebook, rationalizing some lessened negative aspect of Instagram. This time, however, I’ve cut off both, and it’s made all the difference.
I told myself I was going to devote all the appropriate time I could to my son while he was with me this month, and maybe the break was an extension of that idea, but doing it was something else. When I did, however, the effect was immediate. I found myself continuously engaged with both him and Laura, not just when we were around each other, but when I was off by myself as well. I found that my thought patterns slowly drifted from sketching expressions designed for a wide audience on social media, to a more immediate consideration of their needs and our time together instead. When we are in each other’s company, my mind isn’t elsewhere. I’m not daydreaming or out of mental focus or lost in that realm of distraction and haze that it is so easy to slip into through social media or any non-present media. There was something very immediate and physical about our time together, and ultimately, very comfortable.
I’m not trying to romanticize this or present anything that most would respond with a resounding “duh” as magical, but it’s been so long that I’ve allowed my continuous daily moments to be as simplified as they were prior to social media that it’s a wonderful reminding of that reality, of that simplistic enjoyment of just being around those closest to me in my life, both mentally and physically. I lost the compulsion to grab my phone in lulls, to post a thought to a removed, unanswering audience, and to instead just be ok with the immediate.
Admittedly, it’s not without some degree of concern that I’ve just cut myself off from a degree of communication with a wider circle of friends, considering our world has very rapidly come to embrace the ease of this communication as default. I’m not trying to practice a deliberate neo-luddite ideology or anything, so it is with a little apprehension that I’ve cut myself off from people that I’ve shared a certain reliance upon and with over the years. I can’t help but wonder if this psychological relaxation I’m experiencing is preceding a painful shooting in the foot. Right now though, it seems worth it.
On the other hand, the change of pace I’ve established in my running practice, which I wrote about recently has also fostered a change in identity of sorts. If not a change in identity, then at least a change in expression of identity. If social media is about any unspoken or unrecognized intent, it’s the continuous expression of our personal identities, our associations, our moral parameters. Some of them based in reality and some of them what we wish to be true. One of my greatest fears in quitting running in the past was the shift in identity. When you’ve spent so many years dedicated to one act, day in and day out, the fear is not in stopping this act, but rather how you perceive yourself once you stop doing what you DO. When you no longer do the thing you do, who are you as a person?
This is the dilemma so many face when they find they can’t physically do what they love, suddenly, whether that comes from disease, physical impairment, or any unforeseen change of life circumstance. It’s not the reality of impairment as it is the mental difficulty in changing and adapting to a new reality. I see this often in members of the military, old and way beyond their military engagement, but expressing their rank with such great vehemence. Or the cancer patient, who found themselves identifying as a fighter and survivor, only to be diagnosed as cured and now fighting to retain their recent identity that has been abruptly taken away. I’ve seen so many competitive runners struggle with the same difficulty, recognizing their diminished physical abilities and fighting so hard to remain the runner they’ve always been. They simply don’t know what else to be if they don’t have running.
For me, to abandon social media is to, in a way, abandon my identity as a competitive runner. Or, to have reconciled myself as no longer a competitive runner, but just a runner, the desire to express that identity has quickly waned. But, as I was mentioning before, there is a certain absurdity in the professed importance of our identities, of our narcissistic expressions towards others, of our self-absorbed involvement with social media while others are forced to navigate the world with so much less, or struggles of so much greater importance. Ultimately, that 10 miler we did today…who cares? And I don’t say that as a critique of other’s expressions on social media…really just my own, because I’m fully aware that my narcissism runs rampant (he says on his blog) and I’ve spent years talking about every little thing I’ve done with running.
And maybe I burned myself out with my own ramblings, but it feels so nice to shut the hell up about my running, my narcissism, my self-absorption, and to escape the “crush of humanity” we’ve found ourselves in, and to instead just enjoy the quiet, the minimal slow of information, but most importantly, the time spent with those around me, both mentally and physically.
I still have my amorphous identity, my considerations and thoughts, my act of running, but not just a little less complicated, a little less loud, and a lot more immediate and personal. Now, excuse me, I’m going to spend some more time with Laura, in that sort of immediate, rewarding, present way we all used to spend time with each other before social media.