I spent a week off of instagram and was the most unplugged I’ve probably ever been, since maybe our honeymoon in 2015 when I was still using a non-wifi-enabled kindle and our resort was remote enough to have really bad wifi. 2015 was an eternity ago, in wifi-years.
This time, I spent purposeful time preparing myself to be phone / social media-free and I was gloriously successful and FREE FROM IT AND OF IT for 6 full days.
I logged out of a lot of accounts, turned off tons of notifications and even rearranged all the apps on my phone so I only saw the ones I planned to use like kindle, ones for music and audiobooks, camera, and meditation. I didn’t talk to hardly anyone “back home” all week long (except our kid nightly for bedtime bc we’re not complete monsters), and even left my phone in the room safe at least 50% of the time.
As I’m writing this, it’s feeling a bit smug and patronizing, like AHEM but can YOU put YOUR phone down for greater than 48 hours and not have a panic attack because I CAN *fluffs hair and lifts nose slightly higher so as to sniff in superiority*
But it DOES feel like doing this – unplugging so thoroughly and successfully (while maintaining enough contact to feel secure RE our child) (I keep disclaiming myself and I hate it but I also want to be extra clear about the level of disconnection) was a huge accomplishment which is like, exciting? Impressive perhaps. But is also a sad commentary on my / our phone usage and expectations of connectivity or entertainment.
I didn’t even let myself play games on my phone because I wanted to explore more of like what level of freedom can I feel if I’m not constantly unlocking my phone – for no reason – and going to a default entertainment thing, social media or otherwise.
I spoke recently with my therapist about what relaxes me, what do I do or can I do to chill out (specifically, to chill the fuck out), what’s a good activity or thing that occupies my mind, is interesting but doesn’t add to any of my stress, anxiety, or in general pile more soiled tiny (in this house, Mickey Mouse themed) underpants on the already-falling-over pile of bullshit?
She put this question to me and I kind of stared blankly for uncomfortable silent seconds. Like, um. I don’t actually know.
I used to like smutty romance novels – nothing says escapism like an angsty, probably wealthy-yet-damaged teenage boy with a certain kind of haircut and very specific vehicle that he didn’t pay for – but I’ve burned myself out on them, and now reading them just makes me overthink and/or feel badly about my own body / relationship / sex life / age insecurity / general other unhealthy comparisons so I stopped. [Is 34 the age at which broody 19 year olds with unfounded commitment issues and too much money are no longer attractive?]
I used to go swimming a lot but I haven’t been recently because I needed a wax, I just had my hair colored, or some other “it’s just not the right time” excuse.
I like to write, as a hobby, as a way of releasing stress and freeing my mind and fulfilling myself but every time I get out my computer (if I’m not alone, which, lol) my toddler is up in my grill like Luda in the club pressing buttons like MAMA WHAT YOU DOING CAN I HELP so that’s the opposite of a de-stressing situation right now.
Writing with a pen and paper frustrates me because I’m slow, my handwriting is bad and my impatience shows up too much in the form of misspelled or completely missing words, and I like to keep my writings all together in this digital journal so I can access it for the future, vague, Thing I have in mind that isn’t fleshed out yet.
I used to turn on USA or TNT and watch a solid Law & Order marathon or some other very reliable procedural drama with dark themes and moderately handsome, muscled, tousled, C-list TV actors and be pleasantly distracted by that.
But now with streaming channels it’s too many choices: which channel, which show, which episode, what level do I need to pay attention to this one, how dramatic is it, is it political in any way, is it too relevant to current shitty world happenings right now so as to add to my stress (hi, watching Handmaid’s Tale during Trump’s election and presidency was traumatizing), plus can’t forget about that toddler: he’s still here! And he wants to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Wizard of Oz but just that part with the Munchkins so he can sing about a wicked witch being dead and burying her with goblins and now I’m concerned that my 2.5 year old is going to traumatize his tiny impressionable preschool besties about premature and sudden death by houses falling from the sky and is that what the teacher is going to talk to us about at our preschool parent/teacher conference next week OH MY GOD HE’S GOING TO GET EXPELLED. FROM PRESCHOOL.
So yeah, TV is out.
I told my therapist how I was enjoying listening to certain fiction books via audio: a series about a lawyer who goes through various trials and tribulations but none of them very deep or serious. They aren’t winning any prizes and there aren’t deep themes or any intense character development that would make me examine the depths of my relationship with my inner child, FOR EXAMPLE.
But the one I was listening to at the time involved an Al-Qaeda plot, and when I dropped that as part of the book summary, she was like well maybe you need to find something lighter. Terrorism isn’t light and fluffy or feel good, we agreed. [Related: why are episodes of L&O: SVU so entrancing!? What is relaxing about watching a story about someone who is raped and/or murdered in a generally heinous manner?! Like WHY do we do this to ourselves?!?!?]
I pushed back on this though. Terrorism stories – certain fictionalized versions that don’t delve too deep, like the one I was reading, are easier for me to “relax” into (it needs to be acknowledged that this is part of my privilege! I’m far enough removed from *actual terrorism and danger* for some versions of this genre to not traumatize me immediately) – right now, in particular, than for example a story about a nurse in a labor and delivery unit who is transferred to a different patient because of racist parents, then later runs into a medical dilemma, after which a baby dies and she is charged with a crime.
This story seems: interesting, captivating, relevant, important, and is highly rated and recommended by various and numerous people and publications. It’s probably a really good read, and something I could and would learn from.
But if I’m trying to relax, destress, let go of heaviness from my quote-unquote REAL LIFE, which already involves: inequality, inequity (my role in each of these social issues, not necessarily my own struggle with them, to be clear), frustrations about motherhood, frustrations about my privilege and what to do with it or about it or sharing it, fury over name-literally-any-headline in the news right now, running a business while being a part-time caregiver to my kid, maintaining a halfway decent relationship with my husband as a partner, lover, friend, etc., fueling my body with more than just Lucky Charms and lattes, growing a baby (can’t forget: I’m still pregnant!), battling hormonal hurricanes, battling toddler tornadoes of various sizes and severity, reparenting myself during said tornadoes (whilst hormones rage!) (what’s it called when there are tornadoes during a hurricane? That’s the life of an irrational pregnant lady who lives irrationally while parenting irrational tiny humans) (drink every time you see the word irrational, because THE PREGNANT LADY CAN’T)……..
PS Global pandemic that is still not totally solved after close to 2 years!
so omg wth.
What are the GOOD inputs? What are the valuable and entertaining and insightful but not-too-insightful-so-as-to-trigger-hormonal-breakdowns inputs?
Like, I want to relax but I don’t want to have a deep therapy session via podcast episode while I’m floating in a luxury resort pool with other people. I want to think and be with myself but not analyze too deeply because that is hard. That’s what therapy is for, and YES I want to self-improve. I want my SELF to IMPROVE on all fronts.
But I think we all know: it’s hard work! It’s hard work to examine your native biases, and evaluate them and how they show up in your life. Reading How to Be an Antiracist is on my list to do pronto, but I’m not picking it up to decompress, right?! I want to listen to all of the episodes of We Can Do Hard Things podcast with Glennon Doyle because her work on herself inspires MY work on MYself. But I cried a lot while listening to her book Untamed. I am not always ready to DO this work, it’s not always the right TIME to do the work. Or even to listen to the prompts that will induce thinking about doing the work.
What to do then, when so much of the inputs are triggering and/or activating in some way?
I think THIS is one of the reasons we – I should probably not use we here, as I am truly speaking for just myself. So I’ll try again:
This is one of the reasons I scroll! Hashtag why do you scroll: I scroll to hide and avoid! I scroll to not let my brain get too busy, lest I send myself into an accidental and untimely existential crisis! I scroll to avoid digging too deeply into my anxiety when I don’t have time or space to fix, examine, resolve, discuss.
So what did I DO, then? WHAT THE HELL does this list of exclusionary topics and activities leave for one to use one’s mind on?!
I should also mention, I do not enjoy reality television of almost any genre. And I don’t know how to knit.
I did a lot of sitting with my own thoughts. Just sitting! Doing nothing! I had conversations with Man-Piece (!! having nothing to do with our kid, shocking but nice to know we still can). I practiced my Spanish speaking skills (or lack of) with people at the resort. Watched palm trees sway in the breeze. Had no agenda. Managed to Do Things without first taking a second to document my snarky commentary of the moment. I know this last one, at least, was missed by all.
I don’t think this kind of disconnection and “pure” relaxation is sustainable for me as a daily practice. I run a business, which takes place primarily online. I have to be connected to make money and keep clients happy. I enjoy engaging with friends and community on insta and elsewhere. I fancy a game of solitaire when I need something quick and mindless to distract or occupy my brain. I can’t function without my very detailed and exact calendar schedule and reminders, texting is how I stay close to basically 100% of my friends, and insta is an awesome way for me to see babies, engagements, breaking news, whatever. I’m not about to give it up. And I’m not suggesting anyone do this either.
But I’m glad I found out: I CAN be away from it, it doesn’t kill me to miss a week of news, blogger posts, baby pics, repeated solitaire wins, or viral tiktok laughs.
And now I have evidence of how good it was FOR me, I’m likely to try it again, more frequently maybe, and rely less heavily on it for …things I should be relying on other sources for. Like my therapist, or some analog hobby. Or. I dunno. Better to actually examine my thoughts than try to hide from them behind a tiny, bad-for-my-eyes-and-occasionally-mental-health piece of also-life-enhancing technology.
As we approach another disconnection time – Thanksgiving, family gatherings, sanctioned time off of work – it’s another time to think about HOW you relax. Being with family can be SO triggering on a number of levels. Plus Black Friday culture has us all glued to those marketing texts, email sales, and Amazon notifications to make sure we get the ABSOLUTE BEST DEAL on all the gifts that no one actually needs.
So I guess I’m just thinking back on what I learned from my insanely good vacation (sorry, rubbing it in a bit, eh?).
HOW I disconnect seems to be just as important as WHEN and WITH WHAT FREQUENCY I disconnect. Not all “chill” activities are created equal. Not all inputs are created equal or have equal chill factors. Terrorism isn’t the right type of drama for everyone to relax into. Reeducating oneself on implicit biases IS the right type of input that some people will want / need to relax into and learn from, when they want to unplug from other things. Sexy 18 year old fictional boyfriends really do it for some people. And other people are completely and irrationally enraged while watching anything to do with wealthy housewives or houses full of young, single, blonde clones named Amanda.
It’s part of learning about yourself, I guess? First, one must identify WHAT are the triggers, and then one must figure out how to: deal with them, avoid them, put up a boundary against them. Perhaps all three are needed in the sundry life situations in which we find ourselves.
Happy Thanksgiving, fam. I hope you do – and can do – the kind of relaxing that fills you up – with good stuff. Make it mean something. If you want! If you need! But also hi, if you DON’T need, then…just…chill, I guess.