I’ve been working on self-care based around the idea of making fewer decisions or making better-quality decisions or setting boundaries to avoid the conundrum of having to make decisions because I really have a hard time making decisions. First up, I tackle my overly intense relationship with my phone.
At the beginning of this year I was asked, in a somewhat serious situation, if I had any addictions, to which I answered (in all seriousness): “my phone.” “Fortunately,” I went on, “it died the other day and I don’t have my charger, so I’ve been forced to keep my New Year’s resolution of not checking it first thing in the morning on the very day I’d decided I wasn’t going to check it first thing in the morning anymore.” “And?,” the other person asked. “And,” I said.
This resolution coincided with the one where we cut out Boone’s morning telly watching. I was really dreading that one but we had to do something. The telly watching, which had seemed so convenient, was turning into a problem and a very inconvenient one at that, one where Boone kicks and screams and launches into a never ending chorus of I DON’T WANNA.
My phone, on the other hand, wasn’t a problem. I was just reading. Sure, Joseph would complain about it every once in a while and I knew that time tended to disappear because of it but that was about it. I guffawed at all those posts on social media about “unplugging” because was the irony not lost on anyone in the whole wide Internet that people were using social media to talk about unplugging from it while I was there reading it all and very much plugged into it? Also, since I was just reading, I didn’t see how it was so different from reading, say, a book, and no one has ever said reading a book was bad, have they? At the same time, those tips to not check your phone first thing or to avoid social media until lunchtime sounded like good, even innocuous, ideas, somewhere in the vein of good-for-you notions like drinking eight glasses of water a day or getting eight hours of sleep a night. In other words, totally doable. Besides, my phone checking wasn’t really a problem so it wasn’t going to be difficult to give it up, was it?
So no phone/no telly day rolled around—a Monday, no less. Boone complained a little but then went about eating his cereal peaceably enough. I found that I still wanted to read something so I took down a Joan Didion essay I’d printed out ages ago and read it and enjoyed it and wanted to live in it, in all its New York-ness and its words like “rancidity.” Isn’t this quiet, I said, isn’t this peaceful?
That was Monday, which was before Wednesday happened. It all started with me wanting to go to the toilet by myself (I know, I’m so unreasonable) and devolved into very high-pitched requests from Boone to MAKE THE RAISINS BE CRANBERRIES! MAKE IT STOP RAINING!! MAKE IT BE CHRISTMAS AGAIN!!! My head started pounding and I wanted to do nothing more than turn the telly on, switch Boone off, reach for my phone and scroll through images of other people’s (better) lives.
I completely understand what it’s like to fall in love with your phone.
That was the first thought I had after watching Her last year. My phone and Scarlett Johansson may not have much in common and I definitely can’t have simulated sex with it but it is an escape, a tuning out, my primary numbing activity.
It started when Boone was a baby, when I got my first smartphone. I had already really been into the Internet but now I had it in my hands and could get into it even more. It didn’t take long for the habit to form, what with all the sitting down, breastfeeding. The pretty pictures, the blogs, the endless stream of it all made everything so much more bearable.
I honed the checking-my-phone habit over the next couple of years. When Boone was two, that first smartphone died and I nearly cried. The guy in the phone shop referred to it as “old,” which offended me. It’s only as old as Boone, I wanted to say. He opened it up and in a very straightforward, non-judgemental tone of voice said that there was some “liquid” inside it. This liquid was some brown matter of an unspeakably disgusting nature. I was ashamed. How could I have been so careless with my love? I bought a replacement and it’s the crappest thing I’ve ever owned. I tell it to die, you piece of shit, die, but it refuses, of course, because it’s that crap. However, its inherent crapness is not enough to stop me from checking it very, very frequently.
On that Wednesday, the one where Boone wanted me to make it be Christmas again, I stuck it out. It was tough but we got through it intact, more or less. I’m fairly sure that it was harder for me to not check my phone than it was for Boone, who’s three and not great with the old emotion regulation, not to watch telly. The realisation of this gave me pause for thought.
I ask Joseph what it’s like for him when I check my phone. He says it’s like I’ve invited a whole party of other people into the room.
I don’t need to ask Boone what it’s like for him because he’s already shown me in various ways, the most memorable being the time he poured a cup of water over the gas fire. The fire wasn’t on at the time but the smell of gas seeped out from under our door, out into the hallway, and down the stairs of our apartment block. “I’ll just go through the emergency procedures with you,” are not words you want to hear of a Tuesday afternoon or any afternoon, for that matter.
“But I was just checking my phone,” I want to say.
And then I thought about what it’s like for me when I check my phone and find that I’ve never thought about it before. Then I get defensive and I feel bitter and deprived and accuse Joseph of wanting me to give my phone up for his own selfish reasons. Oh! Hi there some ugly and true signs of addiction.
In O magazine (aka the best magazine ever and also the least suited to my current socioeconomic status), I read that it’s a good idea to think about your bad habits in terms of what problems they are solving. I decide that the problem I was trying to solve was the morning, that is, the very morning-ness of morning. What had started as a comfort, a way to ease myself into the day, had really become the very opposite. As it turns out, avoiding discomfort leads to more discomfort and ultimately, chaos, as there’s nothing like the pain of not attending to your own needs.
The Internet is not the problem—the drug never is—in fact, I think the Internet is great, but it can wait. When I wake in the mornings now, I sit. Literally, I sit. I do nothing. I try to accept the fact that I’m having a hard time, that I’m dealing with a lot, that I’m tired, that I need some quiet. I rarely get quiet, of course, as I live with other people, one of whom wakes up in full conversation/messing mode, but I sit anyway. It’s really, really hard. Later, when I’m up, I sometimes sit with Boone, too, and he rocks his big bone-y bum on my lap and it’s hilarious.
As for my Internet curtailing, I’ve managed to curtail it a lot. The perfectionist in me wants to be able to say that I’ve quit everything, no problem whatsoever, that I’ve filled my life up with soul-satisfying things like yoga and meditation and calm pictures of nature, that mornings are serene. But that’s not how it goes. All the yoga in the world wouldn’t stop Boone from weeing on Joseph’s slippers, for instance, because and I quote, we never got him the brown furry boots (yes, those would be Uggs) he wanted. (Argh! Get us out of southside Dublin now!)
Not reaching for my phone automatically has been a difficult habit to undo but here are is what I’ve managed so far:
Facebook, I’ve finally quit you! But we’re still friends, sort of. I’ve been considering giving up Facebook for years but I always came up against the excuse that it’s so “handy” (the group emails, the links to useful information, all the baaaaaabies). I even thought that it would be mean of me not to be there, “keeping in touch” with people by liking their links and statuses. On top of that, there were the usual fears of FOMO and YOLO and the fact that I could be LMAO but honestly, I haven’t really enjoyed it since 2008. And there are other ways to keep in touch with people. I deleted the app off my phone a few weeks ago and haven’t missed it at all. Well, maybe just a tiny bit. (Can you send me pictures of your babies, please?) I’m still too chicken to break it off entirely, so I’ve told Facebook to email me if there’s anything important I’ve missed. Naturally, Facebook and I differ on what we consider “important” but it’s better than me checking it all the time.
I’ve also deleted Pinterest. Instead, I take pretty-picture breaks when I’m doing computer work. I may or may not be moving the distraction/procrastination around a bit but it’s a lot less convenient to check something on the computer than it is my phone. I consider it a win.
Instagram is still my favourite (because, Humans of New York), so I’m keeping that one. I try to only check it and my newly edited list of blogs during Boone telly time in the afternoon. We also have free-for-all Saturday mornings when all the electronic devices are on. It feels nice and indulgent, like a treat.
I slip up on these rules all the time. I get sneaky. But one of the other resolutions I made this year was to be a friend to me. A lot of the time, I’m left swinging on a perch with all of this. When you give up a habit, even if it’s bad for you, there’s a time when you miss it because all your usual ways of coping are gone and you have to develop new, better habits, which take time, or else you have to do the really hard thing, the only thing you can do, which is to sit. And so, I sit.
A few things that have helped:
Some mindful internet reading here
I borrowed the term numbing activity from Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly
An appropriate song for the morning