Cold Turkey: Day 2 (Mon)

I’ve slept quite badly the last two nights, but in a good way. I say that since it’s mainly because my head has become full of thoughts and ideas and memories that there weren’t space for when I was constantly stuffing it with dopamine and lots of tiny bits of pretty useless information.

I actually spent quite a lot of time online yesterday, but without Facebook it was mainly reading articles, and reading them all the way through. That’s in contrast to what I usually do which is read the headline and the first paragraph, share it, then look for the next thing. So although I spent a lot of time online, I felt much better than I would have done if that had included Facebook, and I felt like I’d actually learnt some things and absorbed some interesting information. I’d still like to cut down my overall online time, but it feels ok to have been in a sort of transition for Day 1.

Last night and today I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about, and at one point even dreaming about scrolling Facebook. That emphasises for me the extent of the problem and that a week’s cold turkey is the right thing to do. Overall I think I spent quite a bit less time online today than yesterday, with a fair amount of time getting some admin work done for my business, as well as meditating and trying to catch up on some sleep (which proved difficult because it’s very humid today).

I’ve been frequently experiencing a strong sharing urge since I started my cold turkey, which I think is as often to share a thought I’ve had as it is to share something I’ve seen online. I think the strength of that urge when I feel it is slowly weakening, and I’m trying to say to myself that having a thought and trying to remember it if it’s a good one, and reading an article or watching a video online and just having learnt something is enough.

I concluded some time ago that the most important thing in life is connection with other people. It turns out that if you misuse social media, what appears to be connection is actually disconnection.

Cold Turkey: Day 1 (Sun)

As mentioned in previous posts, I have a serious addiction to Facebook. Last night I decided that it’s more than a problem and it’s actually ruining my life, because it’s slowing, or even reversing my recovery from depression. Last night at 8pm I realised that I hadn’t been out all day and couldn’t really account for what I’d been doing. That’s actually not uncommon for me, but something about this time made me decide to go cold turkey for a whole week. I’ve done it for a couple of days before and it made me feel much better, but after I while I just slip again. I need to find a way to stop, so it’s time to “play hardball” (I don’t even know what hardball is but the phrase sounds good).

About a year ago, a member of my mental health support group who’s a recovering alcoholic suggested that if I have an addiction perhaps I need to go “sober” and not use it at all. I wasn’t convinced at the time, but I’m starting to think he may have had a point. Part of what’s stopped me completely ditching Facebook is that I use it to promote my business, and now even have a few selling groups connected to the business that I do daily maintenance on. So I’ve been telling myself that because of that I instead need to stay on it and try to control my usage. The reality is that it doesn’t really matter if I leave it for a week. When I think about it if I’m going to do marketing my time would probably be much more effectively spent treading the pavements doorstepping likely sources of business, certainly in the short term.

I’ve done a sort of mental cost-benefit analysis in on doing a week’s cold turkey and concluded that it’s really a no-brainer that the benefit massively outweighs the cost, even if I think of it only in terms of my business. I don’t of course, I mainly think of it in terms of my wellbeing. It very much feels like a downward spiral because the more time I spend online, the less I see people, so the harder I find it to contact people, so the more time I spend on my own, so the worse my mental health gets so the more I want to numb it out by spending time online. Then the worse I feel the more likely I am to struggle to cope with answering the phone and responding to emails so I lose out on work, which in turn means I have less money, the stress of which makes me feel worse which feeds back into the whole cycle. So it’s not a good situation.

I realised some time ago, that the fact I spend a lot of time on my own probably also makes the antidepressants I take less effective. I say that because they work by stopping your body from re-absorbing too much of the serotonin that it naturally generates. The problem with that is that serotonin is mainly generated when you engage in social interaction, so if you spend a lot of time on your own the serotonin isn’t really generated in the first place for the medication to stop it being re-absorbed.

Writing this post is of course partly alleviating the strong urge to share what’s on my mind that’s part of my addiction, but I think that’s ok.


I live in a shared house that has 5 bedrooms, I’ve lived here for 3.5 years. It’s unusual because unlike most shared houses, where someone moves in based on them meeting the existing housemates and everyone deciding they will fit in, here the agent shows someone round and they just move in. This suited me when I moved in because I’d been having trouble finding somewhere long term to live and was relieved to find somewhere where I could just pay the money and move in. This meant avoiding the frankly exhausting process of getting to know another set of housemates, who could potentially dish out yet another dissapointment by deciding someone else was their favourite prospective tenant. Experiencing this ease of moving in from the other side however, is less positive. It’s made me realise just how important it is who you live with, and not having any control over that can feel quite disconcerting. This is not helped by the fact that the first we hear about someone new moving in is when they come to the front door saying “Hi, I’m the new tenant”.

The unpredictability doesn’t end with who we share with. Because the bedrooms have locks on and we have separate tenancies the landlord is not required to give us notice to access the house (as I found out when I challenged them on it not long after I moved in) and they take full advantage of that. Fairly often we get random tradespeople, who they’ve given keys to just showing up and letting themselves in the house.

Then there are the prospective tenants who we didn’t know were coming knocking on the door because the agent is late, or a couple of times hasn’t shown up at all.

Occasionally they send us a letter giving us notice that someone is coming round to do something, but most of the times they’ve done that, no-one actually comes. It’s almost like they are trying to mess with our heads.

The agent responsible for our house is also utterly incompetent and I have no idea how he got his job. The only good thing he’s done is tripped over our coffee table and faceplanted on the carpet, which provided some entertainment for my housemate. Sadly I wasn’t in at the time.

I’m afraid…..

I’m afraid of us not leaving the EU, and what that will mean for the future. All other things being equal I’d much rather we stayed in the EU than left, but all other things are not equal.

In the 2015 General Election, 3.8 million people voted for UKIP and although they only got one MP, they came second in 120 constituencies. The rise of UKIP is the main reason why the Conservatives gave them what they said they wanted, and held a referendum on EU membership with the intention of stopping them in their tracks. This strategy worked….for a while. When the 2017 General Election happened, the government had triggered Article 50 a little over two months earlier, negotiations had begun and the government had committed to taking us out of the EU. For UKIP this meant they tanked in the election compared to their previous performance, getting only around 600,000 votes. Likely because most of the people who voted for them in 2015 had only done so because they wanted to leave the EU, and thinking leaving the EU seemed certain, returned to their natural “home” party.

I said that leaving the EU is what UKIP *said* they wanted. I said this because I think what Nigel Farage says he wants and what he actually wants are two very different things. He says he wants the UK to leave the EU, but I’m fairly convinced that what he actually wants is to be the Prime Minster of a fascist dictatorship. This is why I’m afraid.

Since the 2017 election we’ve had endless political infighting, MPs repeatedly voting against the agreement the government has negotiated, followed by delays to leaving, first by a few weeks, then by six months. Because of all this, I get the impression that the people who want to leave the EU generally feel lied to and betrayed and are far more determined than they were in 2015. Add to this the fact that Farage’s new Brexit Party is even more single issue than UKIP, while all the other parties are suffering from the same problem that “the left” has done historically with the Conservatives, that they are broadly against something without being able to agree on exactly how to oppose it what they want instead.

As things stand it seems likely that there will be a General Election before our current scheduled exit date of the end of October. I’m afraid it’s a very real possibility that in that election Farage’s party will win a significant number of seats, and that he may even become Prime Minister. I’m sure a lot of people would think this alarmist and say “it couldn’t happen here” but if the last three years has taught us anything, it’s that the unexpected can and does happen.

My point in all this is that if UKIP’s performance in 2017 is anything to go by, the way to stop Farage is to give him what he says he wants, and leave the EU, consigning his apparently single issue party to history. The risk is that not leaving will instead give him what he actually wants, to become Prime Minister, and he’ll take us out of the EU anyway.

If the choice is between fascism and leaving the EU, I want to leave the EU.

Breaking habits/Forming new habits

For quite a few months now I’ve had the words “The key to a better life really is as simple as sitting and thinking about things” written in big letters in marker pen on a piece of paper on the corkboard on my bedroom wall. This refers to the fact that probably since I was in my early 20s (I’m 37) I’ve occasionally spent time sitting somewhere quiet and just letting my mind wander. When I do this, it helps me with things like remembering the things I need to do that day, remembering friends that I’ve not seen for a while, and I often find that I’ll accidentally solve a problem I’ve been having in my life, or come up with a new idea for something. I guess some people would say this sounds like meditation, but I’ve never really thought of it as that because it was just something I started doing because I felt like before I knew anything about meditation. In recent years I’ve looked into mindfulness and tried it a tiny bit, and some element of that has coloured what I do now when I sit down for a mind wander. This process tends to result in me having a much clearer head and suddenly I become much more productive and sociable, and in the years since I’ve been suffering from depression, from just doing this once I probably end up getting more done in the following few days that I would otherwise do in a month.

About a year ago I finally admitted to myself (closely followed by my counsellor) that I’m addicted to the internet, especially facebook. Now I think about it I’ve probably spent an unhealthy amount of time looking at computer screens since I was a child, before we even had the internet at home (can you imagine? It makes me feel about 100 just saying that). I’ve always resisted getting a smartphone because I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea for me, so I guess some part of me has known that I had a problem with the internet for a long time, I just hadn’t properly faced up to it. Since admitting my problem I’ve discovered the concept of the Cycle of Change, which is most commonly used in relation to addiction but can be applied to anything where you want to change your own behaviour. My interpretation of the cycle is essentially:

Admit you’ve got a problem
Think about doing something about it
Do something about it
Maintain a change in behaviour

I’ve gone through this cycle quite a few times now where I’ll do quite well at limiting my use for a period then something will happen that will cause me to relapse. It could be being ill, being really tired from a physically demanding work day, or just running out of willpower. The next thing I know it’s weeks later and I realise I’ve slipped into my old habits and I have a moment where I say to myself “shit, what am I even doing? I really need to get off the internet”. Then I’m motivated by my lapse to take action again. The theory is that each time you go round the cycle you learn something that you can use to do better next time round, and you get quicker at realising you’ve lapsed and doing something about it.

The reason I’ve talked about both the seemingly unrelated “meditation” and the internet addiction is that I remembered something I’d read a while back in book called Willpower for Dummies (found in a charity shop, surprisingly good). It says that it’s much easier to actively decide to do something than it is to not do something that’s a habit. So instead of trying not to go on the internet, I decided I would commit myself to trying to do at least 30 minutes of “meditation” a day, knowing that when I do this I’m much less likely to spend significant time online that day. I heard somewhere (probably a TED talk) that it takes 8 weeks to form a new habit so my current goal is to try and meditate for at least 30 mins a day for 8 weeks and hope I can make it a long term habit.

To Tube or not to Tube

A few weeks ago (maybe longer) I decided I would try and start making YouTube videos, and I even bought a cheap webcam. I wanted to share my experiences of mental health difficulties and other aspects of my life, as no-one else really seemed to be doing that and I thought it might help me and other people at the same time. I came across a few popular YouTubers who’ve made a couple of videos where they’ve talked about their mental health, but I couldn’t find anyone who had a channel that was specifically about that from the outset. I think anyone talking, especially publicly, about their mental health is a good thing for the general way in which mental health problems are viewed by society and that many people feel ashamed to admit they are struggling as it’s still widely seen as a sign of weakness.  Now I’ve thought some more about it I feel like me making YouTube videos probably needs too much planning and headspace for me to actually do it, even tho I was planning for it to be fairly raw and honest. So for now I’m just going to try and post to this blog more often (ever) and maybe I’ll graduate to video at some point in the future.

A post without a cause

Tim Urban of Wait But Why, in a post that I can’t find right now says that if you want to write a successful blog you should “always be jabbing” which is a boxing metaphor he basically uses to mean that in between the really good well researched and well thought out posts it’s good to try to write frequently even if you don’t have a huge amount to say. Clearly since I’ve not written a post in about 2 months, I’m not doing very well at exercising that theory. I think one of the big reasons for that is that I’ve just come to the end of quite a long lapse in my battle against Internet addiction. That’s also why I’m writing this now at 1am, because I’m 4 days into a concerted effort to spend a lot less time online after having a “wake up” moment. One of the side effects of this is that because my head is clearer my brain is much more active and so I’m having trouble getting to sleep. So I got up, made a cup of tea and decided to write a blog post on whatever came out of my brain.

The other thing that Tim Urban says is that basically in the early days of writing a blog a lot of your posts will suck, but don’t worry because you’ll get better with practice. This post definitely qualifies as “practice” but at the moment I don’t see it as much different to (from?) an extended version of writing thoughts on facebook, but this feels much more expressive and liberating. A huge amount of what I see people posting on facebook now is links to things that other people have said or created rather than the poster’s own thoughts, and it seems like when I share a thought it often gets no response. That’s probably 50% people reading it and thinking “whatever” and 50% Facebook filtering it out or it just getting lost in the noise. Writing things on here I seem to care a lot less if anyone is reading it (party because I’m pretty sure no-one is).

Anyway I’m feeling really good to have a clearer head and be a lot more conscious and decisive about how I’m spending my time. It turns out giving myself the space to get bored means that I’m much more often thinking “what shall I do now?” rather than just defaulting to scrolling my feed and reacting to notifications. What hasn’t helped is that for the last 3 months I’ve been working on building up some FB groups as a way of promoting my business, and it’s really easy to get stuck in a loop of responding to the next notification and the next and the next, interspersed with needlessly checking how many people have joined so far (every 10 mins). So I really have to use a lot of self control to try and limit how many times a day I check what’s happening with that while still making the progress with it that I want.

Useful link: How To Achieve Ultimate Blog Success In One Easy Step

The Thin Blue Line: A comedy of its time

While being stuck in the house with a stomach bug the last couple of days, it was a nice surprise to happen across the 90s comedy The Thin Blue Line on YouTube. I’ve quite enjoyed watching it but at the same time it struck me that it’s quite a good example of where things were at in the mid-90s in terms of the representation of gender, sexuality and ethnic origin (The series aired from 1995-96). It’s sort of like you can see they were trying, but at the same time having one foot in the past.

Here’s the make up of the main cast:

Inspector Raymond Fowler: White male, 40-something
Constable Patricia Dawkins:  White female 30-something
Constable Frank Gladstone: Black male 50-something (Trinidadian origin)
Constable Kevin Goody: White male 20-something
Constable Maggie Habib: Asian female 20-something

Detective Inspector Derek Grim: White male 40-something
Detective Constable Robert Kray: White male 30-something
Detective Constable Crockett: White female 30-something

In terms of ethic origin I think it’s actually unusually mixed for the time, to a point where it feels a bit constructed. What’s really interesting is the portrayal of sexuality. Kevin Goody is probably one of the campest characters ever to be on TV, but is apparently straight. His implausible attraction to Maggie Habib not being reciprocated is a running gag. I’m pretty sure the only reason the character isn’t gay is because the BBC probably thought the audience wouldn’t cope with it. There are a couple of jokes in the early episodes surrounding characters being offended by the suggestion that they (or in one case one of their literary heroes) might be gay. At the same time one episode features a character who isn’t at all camp and turns out to be gay, and this isn’t given any negative connotations. DI Grim is clearly homophobic, but the script avoided these two characters interacting.

Throughout the first series, CID consists of 3 characters, one of which (Constable Crockett) is female. Crockett’s first name is never mentioned, she doesn’t actually speak until episode 4, and is mostly mute for the rest of the series. A few times there are even situations where she and DC Kray are jointly given orders, where her lack of response is conspicuous, with only her male colleague giving a (lengthy) reply.

I feel like there should be a conclusion to this but I’m not sure what it is. Would be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Pointless questions

It’s funny how in a lot of conversations people ask questions that are seemingly irrelevant. The obvious one that springs to mind is that when discussing a music festival the default first question seems to be “where is it?”. Now unless the person asking is about to travel to the festival in question, the answer is neither interesting or useful, and is sort of a conversational dead end. Even if the person who brought it up did so because they’ve recently been to said festival, the chances are quite high that they either won’t know anyway, or won’t be able to remember in any more detail than “in a field less than 3 hours drive away”, partly because unless the local scenery is particularly beautiful a music festival’s location is probably the least interesting thing about it.

This subject came to mind because I was in my local Chinese/Chippy and the guy in front of me in the queue was asking at the counter if they served anything that was vegan, which was a difficult conversation for both of them, and seemed to have left them both confused. Anyway I asked the guy if he knew that there was a vegan chippy nearby. He said he didn’t and asked me where it was (which in this case was useful and relevant) and thanked me for the information. Then he confused me by asking “how did you find out about it?” which I wasn’t really sure why he wanted to know. I told him I wasn’t sure and mentioned I have some friends who are vegan. Afterwards I realised that the answer was probably actually “by driving past it at least once a week” which I’m not sure would have been useful information to him.

Another example that’s become gradually less common over the years but is still observed among the older generation is when answering the phone to someone who’s calling from a mobile is to ask them as the default first question “where are you?”, which although in some cases is useful information, the answer is generally neither interesting or useful.

Fighting procrastination: your life in squares

Yesterday I watched a hilarious TED talk about procrastination by Tim Urban. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post I’ve always struggled with procrastination and it’s effect has been amplified since I’ve been living with depression, so this really struck a chord with me. However the bit that had the biggest impact on me was right at the end where he makes a passing mention of the idea of giving yourself a constant reminder of the fact that the time you have is finite by using a diagram of your life split into weeks, assuming you live to 90. I thought this was such a good idea that I printed it out and stuck it on the wall on a blackboard so I can write my goals for the current week next to it.

In a way it’s quite daunting and makes me feel under a fair bit of pressure having my life laid out in such a stark way, but hopefully it’s going to help me get things done. It also really brings home the thought that you don’t actually know how many weeks you have left. It brings a whole new meaning to the term “deadline”. The more hopeful and less scary perspective on it is that all the people who’ve achieved great things also started with the same blank grid of squares, and how you choose to use yours really is up to you. Once I’d filled in the squares for the weeks I’ve lived so far I couldn’t help thinking it looked a bit like a Windows Defrag screen.

You can find more info on this concept and get hold of your own grid on Tim’s blog.