Instagram Suspended My Account, and I Freaked the Eff Out

ettPy Images/David Espejo
It’s 6:05 a.m. on a Monday morning, and I think I could be having a panic attack. My breath is shortening, vision narrowing, cold sweat mounting. I perceive zero threats to my safety, but I am, to be frank, losing my s**t just minutes after waking up to start my workweek. Why? My Instagram account has been suspended.

Though I would soon feel better upon learning that thousands of others were experiencing a similar glitch—one that Instagram itself would soon acknowledge and correct within about two hours—the fear-laden response I felt at the initial prospect of my account being stripped from me made me reconsider my relationship with the platform and why I was so frantically out of sorts: Is my relationship with social media less healthy than I realized? Do I need it in an addictive-leaning way? Should I be alarmed that this is making me feel any sort of way at all?

Before realizing I was one of many with a suspended account, I was going about my usual early-morning scroll for about a minute before my screen shifted to a notice (just like this one) from Instagram. Confused, I clicked through to “disagree with the decision” to suspend my account only to have my profile totally deactivated. When I tried to log on from my computer instead, thinking it could be an app glitch, I learned there was no longer a user found under my name. As in, my account—and the 10-plus years of life memories it recounted in photos—seemed to be wiped.

At this point, my confusion shifted into worry and physical shakiness. I woke up my husband to tell him what was going on, in hopes that he could easily fix it. He couldn’t, so we were both searching online for answers as I was continuing in a downward emotional spiral. Yep, a downward spiral over my Instagram account.

“It's normal to have an anxious and fearful response about something being taken away from you that houses intimate information that can only be found on the online space.” —Minaa B., LMSW

Knowing I was in good company with licensed therapist Minaa B., LMSW, who also experienced the Instagram glitch this morning and says she experienced some feelings of anxiety as a result, helped me feel better about my response. “It's normal to have an anxious and fearful response about something being taken away from you that houses intimate information that can only be found on the online space,” she says. “Our feed and platform is irreplaceable and for some of those connections, they are only sustained through the app.”

Psychiatrist Nina Vasan, MD, chief medical officer at virtual therapy platform Real, agrees that feeling panic and a sense of loss about a revoked account makes sense, psychologically. “For many people, their social media account is like their family photo album, it holds their most cherished memories over the years and is priceless,” she says. “You might feel similar if you had something important stolen from you.”

Upon considering what I would be grieving if my account actually were wiped, that tracks. I use Instagram as a living record of the life events I feel compelled to highlight, and I enjoy looking back on those moments—along with reading the supportive comments from loved ones. These life events consist of trips with friends, weddings, and, most recently, milestone photos of my infant. (To that end, I’m sure the fact that the suspension took place on the morning of my baby’s first Halloween, before I could document his costume, hardly helped my emotional response.)

But according to Dr. Vasan, this type of reaction isn’t necessarily reflective of an unhealthy relationship with social media or an inability to cope. It might not even be about Instagram at all, but rather a result of being caught off guard and forced to immediately process an unexpected loss. “This is different from having a strong emotional reaction to losing Wi-Fi access for 30 minutes and realizing you can’t access your social media accounts. Something like that may be more illustrative of an unhealthy relationship,” she says.

Other signs of an unhealthy relationship with social media include having difficulty logging off; it interfering with your sleep, work, or relationships; and it bringing you more feelings of negativity than positivity. To gauge how net-positive your relationship with social media is, Dr. Vasan suggests checking in with yourself: “Does your time on social media bring you joy or satisfaction, or does it increase your anxiety or stress?”

For me, that answer is definitely joy, because what I would mourn if my account had been deleted is the record of life I’ve compiled on it—not any supposed dopamine hit of “likes” on my photos, which might be associated with an unhealthy effect of social comparison.

All of that's to say, if you’d like to see a baby dressed up for Halloween, check my account. And if not, don’t—I really don’t care. What I do care about is that I can access the memory for myself down the line. With that in mind, I’ll add “create physical photo albums” to my to-do list for a forward investment in my early-morning sanity.

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