Unplugging for peace of mind

The last 2 weeks of my life have been confusing and distressing. There is something happening in my family that has been making my heart break every time I think of it. Mike suggested a weekend away to take both our minds off the chaos that life sometimes brings. “How about we unplug?” he said, and I silently panicked inside.

I am attached to my phone. It’s not because I’m incredibly important (though, duh, I am) and make large decisions upon which others’ lives depend. It’s because I need distraction. I scroll and scroll, I catch all the Pokemon, and I scroll some more. It keeps my anxiety quiet. It’s hard to worry about your own story when you’re reading other people’s. When I feel a panic attack coming on, I reflexively pull out my phone to hold. I was skeptical about being able to follow through on the unplugging thing and worried about not being able to cloak myself in the blue light of my electric safety blanket.

We decided to go to Newport. It’s a quintessential New England spot, and one my New York transplant hadn’t experienced yet, despite being in Boston for a decade. I myself hadn’t been in years. We had the phones out for navigation of course, because it’s 2016, but when we got to the Cliff Walk we put them away (okay, I used mine as a camera – but no Internet).

The Cliff Walk takes about 2-3 hours, during which I would normally check Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram hundreds of times. But that day I focused on the here and now. I took in the views of the mansions, the shoreline, and crashing waves, and I breathed in sea air. I took pictures because the colors were amazing. Mike and I chatted, but we didn’t really even talk all that much. We were just there.

There were a few times when I got tired, achy, and out of breath. As my anxiety crept up, so did my desire to take out my phone and look at something, anything, to distract me. Instead, I forced myself to take deep breaths, and to stop and take breaks when I needed too. If I needed to stop going forward, we’d take a minute and climb down to the water, looking in the tide pools for little signs of sea life*.

*Though without touching. If Mike touches a crab, that’s it for him. Actually, I don’t really know how shellfish allergies work. But EpiPens are criminally expensive nowadays so we didn’t risk finding out.

And I did think about the things happening in my life that aren’t great. But I allowed myself to think about them instead of seeking to push them away. Then I moved on.

Putting my phone away for the day forced me to realize that I often shield myself from the world I inhabit. My love for the Netflix binge is real. Is there something online I can read, darker and more twisted than my own demons? Is someone saying something funny that can offer me a moment’s respite from the problems at hand? Sometimes these things are okay to do. Sometimes it’s okay to protect yourself. But maybe sometimes, I need to force myself to be present.

I felt good at the end of the weekend, in a way that I don’t usually experience. This week, as familial tensions have risen and I’ve found myself wondering who, and how, and why, and what will happen, I’ve pulled out my phone, scrolling for distraction. But now I realize it makes me tired and it doesn’t make my problems go away. I’m wasting so much energy running from things.

From now on, I’m going to unplug 1 day each week. I’m not going to trawl the Internet for stories. I’m not going to watch Netflix for hours. I’m going to commit to living in and being part of the world around me, and not the one reflected on a screen.


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