A good day (just flip, no flop)

It’s 10:30 at night, and this is the first time I’ve turned on my laptop all day, just so I could write this. I’ve also hardly looked at my phone, and mostly been separated from it. Not that there’s much interesting I can do on my phone now thanks to my favourite blocking app.

Today I also did my washing up, went for a walk in the park, did a big supermarket shop and read a book. None of these probably sound like achievements to most people, but I’ve not managed to do a supermarket shop since I moved house over a month ago, and I’ve hardly walked in the park in that time, which when I’m doing well is an almost daily routine that’s really good for me.

In a way the biggest deal of these for me is reading a book. I’ve never been a massive reader, but with my device addiction I rarely have the inclination or attention span to read a book. This has also been one of my list of healthy activities to try and do that have been part of my goals for the CBT I’ve been having, and one of a list of healthy and enjoyable activities I’ve had on my wall for years, but rarely done.

I decided a month or so ago that I want to spend all my time in ways that are one of the following three things:
– Productive
– Enjoyable
– A Rest

So that’s the benchmark now when I think about how I’m spending my time. This partly came out of the fact that I realised that spending time on addictive websites or apps, or just going into a rabbit hole on Wikipedia are none of these things. If I’m not enjoying it, it’s not a rest or a break, and it’s not useful then what’s the point of it? It’s a waste of time. And worse than that it’s detrimental to my mental health.

So today I feel like I’m winning when it comes to my addiction. Last time I made this much progress it took going away for 3 days without my phone. This time I’ve managed to do it while being at home, which I think is a good sign for me having a decent chance of being able to keep it up for a while. But I’m not kidding myself, I’ll need to stay vigilant.

I read somewhere recently (I’ll come back and add the reference if I can find it) that if you regularly flood your brain with dopamine that your body actually reduces the sensitivity of it’s dopamine receptors, meaning you get less of a feel-good boost when you get normal things done in everyday life (like doing the washing up, going to the supermarket, or just eating something) which kind of blew my mind a bit. Apparently the body does re-adjust if you go back to a natural level of dopamine-inducing activity, but it takes time. This makes complete sense to me in relation to why I feel so terrible when I try to detox, but also become a lot more productive, especially after the initial discomfort is out of the way.

Device Addiction: Blocking apps that have worked for me

Although ultimately the only thing that’s truly effective is being away from my laptop and my phone, there are a couple of blocking apps that I’ve found very useful in helping me break the cycle of addiction. The most useful of these is Quality Time, which was actually suggested to me by my previous counsellor.

Quality Time is mainly intended as an app to track your phone usage, but it also has a function for taking a break. This function works by you selecting in advance a list of apps you’ll be allowed to use when it’s in break mode, and setting a length of time you’ll have to wait to unlock it from break mode to use your phone normally. You can also schedule breaks in advance. I have it scheduled so it’s permanently in break mode. The best thing about it is that once it’s in break mode, there’s no way to get out of it other than waiting for the timer to count down. I started with it set to one minute, then two minutes, then five minutes, but I still kept unlocking it. So finally resorted to making it thirty minutes.

Home screen
App launcher
Unlock timer

One thing you might notice from the list of apps I’ve allowed myself to use is that I’ve excluded anything potentially addictive. When I first started using Quality Time I also used BlockSite to stop me using certain websites, but that’s very easily disabled, so in the end I just had to disable the browser completely. I also don’t allow myself access to email as I found myself perpetually checking it. For some reason I’ve not seemed to have a problem with YouTube on my phone, and sometimes it’s nice to send people (who don’t use Spotify) songs I’m thinking of.

The blocking app I’ve used for my laptop is the StayFocusd Chrome extension. This allows you to limit the amount of time you can spend on a list of websites you give it. Once you’ve exceeded the alloted time for the day there’s no way to extend it. Of course you can uninstall the extension, but you can add the Chrome extensions page to the list of blocked sites to prevent this. I’ve discovered as I was writing this that you can also uninstall it from it’s page on the Chrome web store, so I’ve blocked chrome.google.com as well. The best thing about StayFocusd is it’s Nuclear Mode. This completely blocks you from accessing any sites on your blocked list for an amount of time you choose. After having previously used it for a day, then a few days, then a couple of weeks, I currently have Nuclear Mode on for a month. Those swipey dating sites are just too tempting.

Flip flopping

The last couple of weeks I’ve been alternating between periods of bingeing on devices and periods of a few hours or most of a day abstaining. I was just re-reading a previous post saying it felt dangerous to turn on my laptop, and it’s the same again now.

The worst of it was Monday and Tuesday this week where Monday late morning I decided to try to abstain for the rest of the day, and while sitting with my journal I felt a wave of intense sadness come over me. I think this is what happens when I avoid my feelings by repeatedly flooding my brain with dopamine and useless information. When I allow myself to feel it, it’s intense.

Despite lapsing for a few hours Monday evening I was still trying hard to abstain on Tuesday and this was when it got really tough. I felt terrible most of the day, by which I mean I felt a distressing physical feeling in my brain, and for a period of the day, including when I was walking in the park, I was actually twitching. So if anyone tells you that device addiction is not really an addiction, they know not of what they speak.

A cycle of patterns

Meditation tracker

It was probably dangerous to get my laptop out of the drawer and turn it on, but I felt like I needed to write. I’ve spent most of the day either actually meditating, or trying not to use my laptop or phone. When I manage to break my patterns and have a day like this I have a lot more space in my brain for thoughts and my brain becomes quite busy and I feel restless.

In attempts to break my device addiction I’ve had periods of going “cold turkey” from a specific addictive website or app, or from any devices at all for a couple of days. I’ve tried committing to meditating every day for a certain number of weeks. I’ve tried both of these strategies more than once, and I’d say that it’s the meditation that works best. I think this is partly because of what I realised a few years ago, that it’s much easier to actively do something than it is to stop yourself from doing something habitual.

Meditation is good for me anyway, and doing it regularly makes me less likely to have a significant lapse with my addiction. That’s not to say it doesn’t still happen it’s just less likely as it makes me more focused and aware of what I’m doing.

In order to meditate, most of the time I do have to be in a situation where all devices are either out of reach on the other side of the room, or in a different room, otherwise the temptation is too great. Sometime that’s not enough and it’s necessary to be completely away from them. That’s part of the reason why over the last few years I’ve gone through phases of driving somewhere in my van, leaving my phone at home and finding a quiet place to park and meditate. It’s a bit cold for that at the moment, because after a freakishly warm November (It’s almost as if the climate is warming) it’s now actually cold (-5C today) and it takes about 20 minutes of motorway driving for my van engine to warm up enough to actually heat the cab. It’s also a bit cold outside of my bedroom to meditate downstairs, and the default place to sit in my room is at my desk where my laptop lives, so that’s a temptation I’ve been struggling with, which is why my laptop has spent most of the day in a drawer.

The trouble is I often feel like I should be able to focus and meditate with these temptations around, but the truth is I can’t which is why one day a few years ago when I’d sat down for a half hour meditation, about 15 minutes in I found myself shopping on ebay.

I started CBT recently and had my third session yesterday. Starting that has involved keeping a daily log of how I spend my time, which has made me a lot more aware and think a lot more about how I spend my time, which I think is part of the reason I’ve spent today the way I have, trying to avoid devices. I decided to try again to get CBT on the NHS about a year and a half ago, and have been on a waiting list most of that time. I tried a long time ago, but that’s a whole other story. After three sessions I feel hopeful it’s going to help me.

Cold Turkey: 1 week

The last week I’ve had an awful lot going on. It was my busiest week of the year at work, as it was student move week, and actually my busiest work week ever, doing a record 30 hours. To anyone who works in an office that probably doesn’t sounds like much, but when it’s 30 hours of lifting and shifting with short bits of driving, trust me it’s a lot! When I woke up on Saturday morning, for the first time in my life my hip hurt. My shoulder had been hurting for a few days. So I spent Saturday limping around, but luckily I didn’t have much work on as the rush was over. My hip and my shoulder bother feel much better today.

On Saturday night I went to see a stage version of Blackadder Goes Forth in Cardiff, and stayed over at my Mum’s in Penarth. Sunday morning I took my niece for a walk along the Taff trail, then in the afternoon I went for the first time to see my brother-in-law in intensive care before heading back to Bristol for my last booking of the week at 4:30.

So I’ve been very glad to have most of the day off today, and have spent a fair bit of it asleep, in between watching episodes of Big Bang Theory and making it out to go for a walk in my favourite park.

In a way I think the first week of cold turkey has been slightly easier than it might have been because I’ve been so busy. I decided not to include TV in my cold turkey, but I feel like I could have done better at moderating my TV watching today and that I was using it slightly to avoid sitting with myself which is why the things that are addictive for me have become so much of a problem.

Cold Turkey: Day 3

22:55 Today has felt a little easier, helped by the fact I’ve been quite busy doing driving work. Overnight I felt like my brain was re-balancing and finding a more natural state. I’ve left it a little late to write this as I’m a bit too tired. I was expecting to be at a support group this evening but it turned out when I got there that it was cancelled. So I’ve spent most of the evening sorting out my room which had got into quite a state. So that feels good. I’m sure I would have spent the evening in a much less useful way before I went cold turkey.

Thanks to a mention of it in a Matt D’avella video I’ve discovered a really good Chrome website blocker called Stay Focusd which has a “Nuclear Option” that blocks all websites on a blocked list (or even all websites) for a period of time you set and there’s no way to get out of it. I was using BlockSite but that’s too easy to switch off by just going into the Chrome extensions screen and disabling it. It makes it slightly harder to get onto sites you want to avoid but for me it’s not enough. Initially I think I’ll probably set the timeout for a number of hours in the hundreds to keep me off blocked sites for quite a few days while I’m in the earlier stages of cold turkey.

Cold Turkey: Day 2

Today I allowed myself to watch two consecutive episodes of Big Bang theory as I’m still not totally sure if I need to make TV part of my cold turkey and maybe it’s best to start by cutting out the worst things, which TV isn’t. I also allowed myself to briefly go on Tinder to contact 3 people that I’d been messaging with for a couple of weeks, two of which I’d discussed meeting up with. I hadn’t messaged anyone on there since a week ago when I suddenly had more important things on my mind and had started to seriously question whether I should be on there at all. So as far as they knew I had just dissappeared, and it doesn’t feel great when someone just stops messaging, so I wanted to get in touch. My objective now is to exchange phone numbers with the people I already have conversations with so I don’t lose the potential to meet someone but can get off Tinder.

I made myself some new sobriety coins for days 1 to 6. The ones I already had from when I went cold turkey from Facebook in 2019 started at One Week. Maybe I had more determination or willpower then, or maybe Facebook on it’s own when I didn’t have a smartphone seemed easier to give up than it seems now to give up the worst aspects of having a smartphone, including dating apps. I don’t really feel like I have much of a problem with Facebook anymore, and I’ve never had the app on my phone. Maybe it’s just that I’ve moved on to other things which are worse.

A few weeks ago I went with a friend to see George Clinton. I used to judge people who videod gigs on their phone and watched through their phone on the basis that as they are actually there they should just enjoy experiencing it. But I was standing there when I should have been just enjoying the music, swiping on Tinder, which is so much worse. At least the people videoing it on their phones are focused on experiencing the event they are at in some format. I became aware of this contradiction, but couldn’t seem to stop. I guess that’s what an addiction looks like.