The year I turned 30 was the year I finally came to terms with the fact that I'm not, ahem, "normal."
I won't bore you with the reckless and repeated ups & downs of my 20s, suffice to say that it took well over a decade of denial (and let's be honest, fun), for me to admit that my long-term mental health is incompatible with recreational substances of any kind.
Booze, smokes, weed, party drugs, the whole shebang — once I turned 30 I had to chuck them all out of my life like I was spring-cleaning an old closet.
... That was nearly eight years ago. Haven't had a drop or a drag of anything since.
[ Sidebar: One tiny triumph I get out of this is when cops stop me at RIDE checks and ask: "When was your last drink?" because I get to say: "December 31, 2011." It's a small, smug joy, but I'll take it. ]
Whenever someone finds out that I don't drink, they usually say something incredulous, like, "Wow, not even one drink? Man - I could never do that."
More often than not, they're astonished at my resolve. They assume I must have an iron will and incredible self-discipline. (Or that I'm a religious fundamentalist.)
... Erm, not even close.
The truth is, I didn't stop drinking because I was addicted to it. I stopped drinking once I realized that normal people don't have to scratch and claw their way out of a bottomless hole of stick-your-head-in-the-oven despair the morning after they've had two drinks.
Addiction was never really an issue in my 20s. (Melancholic depression was, but that's a whole other story.)
But now that I'm in my late 30s, I have finally come to terms with the fact that I do have an addiction that I do need to deal with.
It's not a lifespan-shrinking habit like smoking, or a family-shattering disease like alcoholism.
It's a run-of-the-mill, barely-noticeable, completely-socially-accepted addiction to mindless Internet content, a.k.a cycling through Facebook, Instagram, Imgur, Reddit, Youtube, Netflix, and back again.
Over and over, until you realize you've done nothing pretty much all day, including talk to your loved ones, clean your house, or go outside.
... I think it might be the emptiest, stupidest addiction there is.
Now, some people are like the Internet-consumption equivalent of "social smokers" — they can have multiple social media accounts, unrestricted access to meme and video-streaming sites and still never spend more than about 30-60 minutes a day on them, on average.
(John is like this, and it makes me furious.)
For them, Internet consumption an indulgence, not an addiction.
If you're one of those people ...
Just kidding. But man. I wish I was you.
In contrast, I go through a very predictable cycle of crash-burn-recover that goes something like this:
1) Take stock of the fact that I'm spending too much time on my laptop looking at stupid shit.
2) Put my laptop on lockdown with various site-restiction extensions & tools. Tell myself I'm going to "start being productive" and "get stuff done" from now on. Make a bunch of lists. Feel good about self / prospects for about 24-48 hours.
3) Be reasonably productive for a few weeks.
4) Experience some kind of good / stressful event. Decide to reward / comfort self with "just a little" Netflix or Imgur.
5) Decide the site-restriction protocols are silly because I can totally handle my shit. Remove restrictions because ... I'm a fucking grownup and you're not my mom, okay?
6) Start bringing laptop into the bathroom so I can watch TV shows while I'm in the tub. (Yes, I know this is dangerous. But I have a system, I swear. )
7) Start bringing laptop into the bedroom so I can watch TV shows and / or look at memes while I try to nap and / or go to bed.
8) Basically spend my entire day carrying laptop around with me so I can watch TV shows / look at memes while doing pretty much anything — working, cooking, folding laundry — outside of riding my motorcycle or making human pretzels at the BJJ gym.
9) Sleep quality goes completely down the toilet. Anxiety levels spike. Mood turns black. Everything feels impossible and unmanageable.
10) Work piles up. Feel guilty / stupid / worthless.
11) John reminds me that I've fallen down the screen-addiction hole AGAIN and this is why I feel like garbage and maybe I need to cut it back? ... Please?
12) Go back to #1. Lather, rinse, repeat.
I realize that screen addiction is not a serious chemical dependency, but when I take stock of the cycle above, I can't help but think this has got to be SOME kind of a dependency. It is an absurd way to live. It also throws a monkey wrench into my work and personal life on a monthly basis with clockwork regularity.
I take some small comfort in the fact that as a person who works from home, I am not alone in this admittedly pitiful battle to #adult.
(Case in point this absolute gem of a humour piece from the New Yorker.)
But knowing I'm not alone isn't enough.
I have to fix it. Because it makes me HATE myself.
In that vein, I've recently come up with a new way to deal with my Internet addiction that, unlike other strategies, doesn't conflict with the fact that I have to be on the Internet in order to do my job.
... And I think it's actually working.
I'm about 30 days in, and my productivity & focus has VASTLY improved, as has my sleep hygiene and general mood. I procrastinate less, and thankfully this new regimen does NOT require wholesale, nuclear-mode restrictions on websites and apps, which invariably becomes a nuisance when I need to do research and/or engage with colleagues about work.
Curious to know what it is? I'll be breaking it down next week in a Part II post.
... But in the meantime, I'm curious:
Do YOU ever feel like you're addicted to the Internet?
... If so, do you think it has any impact on your quality of life?
... If not, how do you keep your Internet consumption in check? What works for you?