Browsing posts in: Device Addiction

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.

Tough times

I didn’t know what to call this post, and I’m not sure the title I’ve chosen really narrows it down. Sometimes I feel like I hate my life. Right now my brother-in-law who’s been in my life for over 20 years is in intensive care, after going into hospital on Monday with a panchreatitis. This is obviously a difficult time for my sister, made even more difficult by the fact that she and my nephew have long covid causing them to suffer from chronic fatigue. I’ve been doing what I can the last couple of days to support them. At the same time I’ve become very stressed about money the last few days, am trying to get out of a very bad lapse of device addiction, and today got very wound up by yet more text-based conflict with my housemate who for the year we’ve lived together has opted wherever possible to not speak to me, even when we’re in the same room/hallway. (we are rarely in the same room because we’ve got into a habit of avoiding each other). I wrote some detail here about what the conflict was about, but basically I threw away some carrots which looked rotten to me and I thought were intended for the food waste. The assumption was then made that I did this out of spite. I don’t think I’ve done anything out of spite since I was about 14. It even feels stupid writing this much detail because it’s over something so insignificant.

Part of my motivation for writing a post was that I don’t really feel like I have anyone to talk to about any of this right now. I thought seriously about calling Samaritans earlier, but I don’t feel bad enough for that now. I think going for a walk in my favourite park helped. That always helps. The last time I called Samaritans was probably 2012 when I had such chronic anxiety that I found it very difficult to function.

Writing things helps. I write a journal most days but a lot of days I just write factual stuff and don’t get as far as the feelings.

I feel like I’ve tried hard all my life to be a good person, but I seem to have had a few situations the last year or so where someone, presumably due to their own issues, makes wrong assumptions about me and decides that some or all of my actions are out of malice. And explaining why I did something doesn’t help, and if anything often seems to make things worse. I’ve admitted to myself recently that I avoid conflict. I’ve also realised that this extends to the fact that when I’m in conflict with someone I always try to remain reasonable and calm, which it turns out can be infuriating and I think often if I just said how I was feeling it would diffuse the situation.

This has turned out to be another stream of conciousness post, but hey whatever, writing this blog is more for me than for anyone else, and better out than in right?

Tinder is horrible. I had an addiction to Facebook before I got a smartphone (Oct 2019) that had a seriously negative effect on my life. But Tinder is so much worse. I’ve slipped quite badly since I went back on it after a relationship I was in ended after about 2 months in mid May. Since then I’ve increasingly felt it was bad for me and thought about going cold turkey but I seem to be actually doing that now. A few years ago I made some sobriety coins to help me stay off Facebook and I think its time to use them again. I think I need to include all dating apps, social media and even TV. Oh and porn. I’ve been through phases where I felt like I was becoming dependent on TV and just doing stupid amount of binge watching. Episode after episode after episode, even when I’d stopped enjoying whatever it was because I’d watched so much of it.

It’s after 11pm now and I’m tired and have run out of steam. POST.

Cold Turkey: 3 Weeks

Today is 3 weeks since I decided to do a week of Facebook cold turkey. When I started I really didn’t expect to be where I am with it now. This morning and last Sunday I allowed myself an hour to do maintenance on my groups (after 2 weeks the were a lot of join requests) but apart from that I’ve not been on Facebook or Twitter at all for 3 weeks.

I have spent quite a lot of time online the last 3 weeks, especially in the first week, but reading news stories and random Wikipedia entries, and repeatedly checking stats for my business’ website is far less addictive than Facebook. It’s emphasised what I guess I already knew, that Facebook isn’t my entire problem, because I’ve still been using the Internet as a means of distracting myself feeling the way it feels to have depression/anxiety. However taking away the very addictive element makes it far easier to control how much time I spend online, and I feel like I’m gradually reducing it and spending more time meditating and thinking about what I actually want to do with my time.

I did it! Cold Turkey: Day 7 (Sat)

At 8pm today it was 7 days since I decided to do a week of Facebook cold turkey. I really wasn’t sure if I could do it but I did. It’s been difficult at times but I think it’s gradually got a bit easier over the week. It feels like a bit of an anticlimax, I guess partly because I don’t really know what to do now. When I started I thought it was going to be a case of having a good break then going back to using it on Monday for my business stuff etc, just with a bit more focus and control and see how I got on. However after a week off it, I feel like I don’t want to go on it, not even because I’m weighing up the negatives, just feeling like I don’t want to, and am actually trying to think of a good reason to. Someone did ring me about some work today saying they had seen the business on one of the groups I run, so that did make me think about that side of it a bit more, but I’m still not sure that outweighs the negatives. So in summary I think if I did decide to go back on it, at this point that would feel like a big decision.

Four days before I decided to go cold turkey I suffered the worst withdrawal I’ve had so far. I was sitting on our doorstep (just because it was sunny and we don’t have any outside space) and as well as a really unpleasant feeling in my brain which I’ve become familiar with I realised I was actually physically twitching. I remember thinking “shit this is really not good”. I definitely don’t want to feel like that again, or the way I’ve felt any of the many other times I’ve suffered withdrawal. It’s really hard to push through.

A few days before that I was having a nap and I realised I was dreaming about scrolling facebook. Also not a good sign.

I think I’ll give it another week.

Cold Turkey: Day 4 (Wed)

On Monday night I slept through the night, so that felt good after two nights of struggling to sleep due to my brain being full of thoughts and ideas. I had counselling on Tue morning, and when I sat down and she asked me how I was I realised I was feeling happy and had a bit of a smile on my face, neither of which I’m used to so that’s been something to adjust to. Last night I slept quite badly because I went into a bit of an Internet wormhole, but it was looking into something that could benefit my business so it was worthwhile, I just got a bit carried away and was doing it up until what would have been a sensible time to go to bed, but of course I couldn’t sleep. Instead I ended up standing out in the street watching a lightning storm with my housemate at about 1am. It was quite an epic lightning storm but amazingly we escaped the rain which, which I was actually a bit disappointed about. I do like a bit of biblical rain.

I realised yesterday that I’ve been talking to myself a lot more since I started my cold turkey. That’s not necessarily an issue, apart from possibly when I do it as I’m walking down the street! So I need to keep an eye on that. It makes me think of Marcus from Nick Hornby’s About A Boy who was prone to “singing without realising”. I guess it’s just because I need an outlet for my thoughts, and their usual outlet isn’t available so they are just kind of spilling out of my mouth. I think that will probably settle down the same way my sleep has as my brain gets used to the change.

This morning someone messaged me saying he’d been waiting for approval to join one of my Facebook groups and could I approve them please. I thought seriously for a bit about temporarily removing the block on my computer so I could do that and any other maintenance that needed doing on my groups, but I’ve decided that I said I would do a week so I’m going to stick to it. Although this request did make the pull of it feel much stronger than it has done the last day or so, so it felt hard to decide to stick to it.

PS The eagle eyed of you reading this (is anyone reading this?) will have noticed that there is no “Cold Turkey: Day 3” post. That’s because I didn’t write one.

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.

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.

Internet addiction: admitting you’ve got a problem

This was written as a draft in May 2017.

It’s with a vague sense of irony that I find myself writing about this online. Spoiler: This is probably going to make for uncomfortable reading for most of you.  I recently finally admitted to myself that I’m addicted to the Internet. When I really think about it, it’s probably been true since I was about 15 (I’m 35 now). The realisation really struck me when I was watching a brilliant talk by Simon Sinek called Why Leaders Eat Last. Incidentally I highly recommend watching this as several ideas in it have had a positive impact on my life. Anyway, in the video he talks about smart phone addiction, and although I don’t have a smart phone the principle is the same and it really resonated with me:

“We’re told that if you wake up in the morning and you crave a drink, you might be an alcoholic. If you wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is check your phone before you even get out of bed, you might be an addict. If you walk from room to room in your own apartment holding your phone, you might be an addict. If you’re driving in your car and you get a text, and your phone goes beep (we hate email, but we love the beep, the buzz, the ding) You’ll be there in 10 minutes, and yet you have to look at it right now, you might be an addict. If you read it and it says ‘are you free for dinner next Thursday’ and you have to reply immediately, you can’t wait 10 minutes, you might be an addict”.

I’d encourage anyone reading this to think about how close the description above is to their own behaviour and consider whether you may have a problem. I’d guess that the vast majority of people have some level of addiction to their phone, whether they are prepared to admit it or not. I made a conscious decision several years ago not to get a smart phone, because although I hadn’t admitted my addiction I knew that I spent more hours on the Internet at home than I’d like to count and decided that having the Internet in my pocket as well wouldn’t be good for me.

As with any addiction, admitting you’ve got a problem is the first step. Admitting it to myself was a start, but saying it out loud to someone else was what made it feel real, and felt quite liberating. Being aware of it makes it possible to manage it and try to limit my time online, and I find myself much more likely to have a moment of saying to myself “what am I doing?” when I’m just killing time in the Facebook rabbit hole. Some days I do better than others, but I’m making progress.

For about 10 years now, I’ve found it really helpful to spend about 15 minutes at the start of the day just sitting quietly and letting my mind wander. It helps me remember things I need to do, people I’ve not spoken to for a while and generally gives me a lot more clarity and helps me have a better life. Despite how often I imagine that I do this, in reality I’ve mostly only done it every few weeks, but since I admitted my problem I’ve been doing it much more often as I make a conscious effort to do it rather than reaching for my laptop as soon as I’ve had my breakfast.

The other realisation I’ve had is that an Internet or phone addiction is actually an addiction to dopamine (always looking for the next hit, the next email, the next comment or like) and that the other thing you can get dopamine from is crossing things off a to-do list. Given how much spending time online has stopped me getting stuff done over the years, that feels kind of poetic. As someone who runs their own business this has been a really powerful realisation, because starting the day by checking my Facebook can easily be the start of getting nothing useful done all day.

Thinking back I do feel a bit sad for how much of my life I’ve wasted faffing about online. As someone who’s always struggled with social interaction it’s a safe and familiar environment where nothing is risked. Over the years it’s increasingly become my default when I have nothing specific to do, or often even when I do have something to do or somewhere I could be. With Facebook specifically I feel like it’s a big red herring, as it makes you feel like you are in touch with people but in reality you are mostly not having any kind of meaningful connection or interaction with people, and in my case it’s sucked up so much of my time that it’s actually made me a lot less likely to get out and see people in person and have those real life conversations and meaningful connections. So much for a “social network”!