How cancer fixed my toxic relationship with Bookstagram
Five years ago I had the pleasure of being introduced to the world of bookstagram while working at HarperCollins. I had dabbled in Instagram a bit before, occasionally posting photos of what I was reading but I had no idea there was a whole community on Instagram dedicated to books. Tumblr was where my book community lived at that time and I was slow to move away from spending 6 million hours on Tumblr every week.
In 2015, unemployed and trying to find a Librarian position, I finally started to embrace my publishing past and took on the world of bookstagram. It was a slow process for me, I started posting bookish content more often on my personal account before discovering that creating a separate account strictly based around bookstagram was the preferable option. Once I well and truly dove into bookstagram as Regularly Reads an undeniable spark was lit. I was addicted. I HAD to post everyday. I looked at people like @pollyandbooks (now @polly.florence) and @abookishloveaffair and marvelled at their success. I would beat myself up every time I lost followers or got less than a certain number of likes. I refreshed the app constantly tracking every analytic that I could. You could say that bookstagram and I had a fairly unhealthy relationship. Perhaps you would even call it toxic. I remember crying when I hadn’t hit 10k followers by the first year. I wasn’t even close (and I’m still not). What was supposed to be a fun hobby to keep me connected to the bookish world I loved so much had quickly become something entirely different.
In early 2017, now employed at the best library ever (I may be biased), I was still obsessed with my bookstagram success. My inability to grow my account had me doubting everything about myself. I had my self-worth so tied up in my success or failures on bookstagram. I wasn’t even enjoying bookstagram anymore, it felt like an obligation more so than a fun hobby. My book buying stopped correlating with my TBR (which was a business all of its own). I was spending money I didn’t have just to keep up with new releases I wasn’t even interested in. Bookstagram and I were seeking couples therapy. Then came my cancer diagnosis.
Honestly, I’m not even sure how I managed to operate at all during 2017 (and 2018)… let alone keep the pressure on myself to not only perform at work but also keep up with my bookstagram. But I did it, for a while. I started to miss posting a day here or there, then a whole week, then a whole month. I would just feel so terribly guilty and upset for letting “my followers” and myself down. And thanks to the algorithm changes, my lack of posts made me essentially disappear. I was devastated but I was going through cancer treatment, I couldn’t even work. So why should I be berating myself for not keeping up with a hobby when my whole life was busy being turned upside down? It turns out that denial really isn’t just a river in Egypt. In the middle of treatment I found myself having a full on breakdown and it wasn’t because cancer sucked (which it did), it was because I had lost over 100 followers while I took time off to receive treatment. Crazy right? At the time it totally didn’t feel like it. My friend sat me down and asked me one simple question, which she probably learned from Marie Kondo via Emily Gilmore. She asked “What brings you joy right now?”. I automatically listed off a few things, some of which were napping and not throwing up, none of which were bookstagram. So I made the obvious choice. Take a break, step away from the ‘gram and take care of me.
It’s over a year later and I’m still in recovery mode. I’m cancer free but I’m working on getting back to normal. Which has been interesting because my old normal doesn’t seem to fit anymore. As far as bookstagram and I go, we are still in recovery as well. I’m getting my bookish spark back, starting with enjoying scrolling through bookstagram again and supporting all my fellow bookstagrammers. I’ve made room for myself to read as I wish and what I wish, with no pacing obligations or pressure. I’m taking it one day at a time, participating as I feel, making my contributions to the community more worthwhile and finding my self-worth in other ways. Like allowing myself to enjoy the person I’ve become and being proud of what I’ve made it through. I feel so much more connected to the words I’m reading and the community I’m surrounded by, simply by allowing myself the space to do so. Bookstagram is amazing and a lucky (hardworking) few may make a career out of it but forgetting the real benefits of the community can be toxic. Your worth is not made up of followers and likes.
As for bookstagram and I, we are headed toward a full reconciliation and a potential happily ever after. Bookish love just might be in the air.
Until next time,