What It's Like To Be Off Twitter

• 4 min read

I've been on a Twitter hiatus for ten days.

This is the first time I've stepped away from Twitter since late 2015, and yes, that sentence radiates a dark energy. At the end of 2015 my Star Wars Tweets went viral, and the notifications caused my phone to overheat, and my Twitter following got big and then kept getting bigger. It's been my primary social media platform for three and a half years.

In that time, the only way I've been able to manage the constant stream of interaction and notifications has been to regularly clear out my unread mentions. When I have something go viral, which happens with some frequency, I declare bankruptcy on my notifications for at least twenty-four hours. When I've been targeted for harassment by fascists and their allies, I've handed my account over to trusted friends who can manage the overwhelming influx of rape and death threats for me. I have strategies for managing this thing that lives in my pocket and on my bedside table and on my desk, this platform through which people can tell me anything that they think any time they want. They might think that phytoplankton is neat (correct) or that I should be trampled to death by a giraffe (less correct but who am I to say what the future holds), and no matter which opinion they hold they tell me. Over the course of the last three and a half years of constant exposure to those opinions, I've learned how to deal with the deluge.

And now, for the first time since I started tweeting about my inaugural viewing of Star Wars, I've put it down. I've walked away. Not forever -- probably not forever -- but for now, until I feel ready to pick it back up again.

It's strange in the way that putting down a heavy bag is strange: the sensation flooding back into my clenched fingers, first heat and then tingling and then pain and at the same time, a sudden and disorienting lightness in my arms and chest. I'm dreaming more vividly because I'm sleeping deeper, not startling awake at night with the certainty that I've missed something, I've said something wrong, I've forgotten to say the important thing or I haven't said it the right way at the right time. Only a few of those newly-vivid dreams involve people from the darker parts of the internet making good on the things they've promised to do to me. (Most of the dreams, if you're wondering, are nonsense per usual: a snail the size of my fist is in my living room and the only way I can communicate with it is via semaphore but my semaphore flags are in the wash today, etc). I've been cooking and writing and reading and going for walks and going to therapy and taking naps; I've been doing things that a human being might do if they disconnected their brain stem from the best and worst parts of the internet.

The disorientation of being disconnected passed after a few days. I was like a mouse learning to breathe an oxygen-rich gel to prepare my tiny rodent body for spaceflight -- thrashing and gasping and panicking and then, finally, breathing. Now, I'm practicing breathing this strange new medium, trying to decide how long I want to stay in outer space, trying to decide how uncomfortable it will be when I decide to cough up that oxygen-rich gel and go back to respiring the old-fashioned way. The vacuum is refreshing and the sights are lovely, but outer space is lonely and gel is tricky to exhale.

Once a day or so, my brain will shout a familiar refrain: Go Look At Twitter, It Will Feel Bad! This refrain is familiar in the context of Twitter, but more than that, it's familiar from book reviews and comment-sections. Go Look, It Will Feel Bad! Expose Yourself To the Venom of People You Don't Know! I have long since learned to ignore the impulse in those corridors, and I know that I will learn to ignore it in this corridor as well.

That, I think, will be how I know I am ready to come back: when the impulse to breathe earth's atmosphere stops feeling like a nod toward self-harm, and instead becomes homesickness for a planet that taught my bones their density. When I start to long for the sight of a finite horizon, the blue and changeable sky, the wind in the leaves. When I'm able to miss the way it was to feel safe in the embrace of the miracle that is gravity, instead of just feeling afraid that I'd be stuck to the ground forever: that's when I'll know it's time to return.

- Gailey

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