It may seem odd or wrong for a blogger to tell you to go off social media for a week, but that’s what I’m going to do. Back when I had a desk job, things would occasionally get really glum. I would feel despondent, bored, irritable, and unfocused. When that happened, I sometimes turned to compulsively checking social media sites, mostly Twitter and Facebook, but also Reddit and a variety of blogs where I often found content that could drag me mentally if not physically away from my dreary days. The result was that I would accomplish strikingly little and become even more despondent. Depending on how self-aware I was feeling at the time or how long my to-do list had grown, I would eventually put myself on a social media fast.
It became a game to catch myself typing in the URL of some time-wasting web site and stop myself before another hour or two went down the drain. Suddenly, I would have a huge (although entirely predictable) increase in productivity. Less predictable was the fact that I simply felt better when I was ignoring Twitter. On thinking more about it, I realized the reason I start to feel so down when I’m compulsively checking things on the internet is that the checking isn’t just looking for something interesting to read. Rather, it’s usually checking for interaction from others, comments on something I’ve written, responses to my tweets, and “likes” on my status updates.
Every time you check and find nothing, it’s a bit of a downer, especially if you’re doing it to escape an already foul mood. Furthermore, so much of the internet is carefully curated. People post what they want you to see online, whether that’s their badass attitude, super sweet new shoes, or vacation photos from Hawaii. Even if they’re complaining about waking up at 4 a.m. to feed the baby, they’re probably not going to tell you if they fought with their spouse about it in the morning.
This week, do yourself a favor and sign off the social media sites for a while. If you don’t think you can stay off them completely, make yourself a rule that you will only check them before or after work. Exert some control over the technology in your life and reclaim your brain. You may notice a subtle difference in the quality of your thoughts when you free up those cycles that you would normally spend on hitting the refresh button. You may feel more focused, calmer, and even more creative. You may even feel less critical of yourself, and your productivity will definitely improve.
If your self control could use a boost, try these browser plugins to block time-wasting web sites:
StayFocused: I can vouch for this one in Chrome. It’s pretty easy to use and customizable. I like the Nuclear Option for getting a lot done at once: no Twitter for three hours!
LeechBlock: This one is for Firefox and is highly customizable.
WasteNoTime: Another highly customizable plugin, this one works for both Chrome and Safari.
At the end of the week, check in with your internet habits and see if you want to make this a permanent change. How can you make better use of your energy and attention online?
I never quite realize fall is coming until it’s too late.
The first depression of the season comes on subtly, and before I know what’s going on, I’m having panic attacks about what my husband’s ordering at the bar because obviously it’s a meaningful symbol of our relationship. I become sullen. I hate the way I look — everything from the shape of my nose, which I did not choose, to the color of my hair, which I chose and went to some trouble to create. I hate it all, and furthermore, I feel stupid. Because who the fuck has pink hair? What is this, some kind of anime? Am I 12? Who do I think I am, anyway? It doesn’t even look that good. Sure, it looks great on Gala Darling, but she’s skinny and lives in NYC, and even she dyed her hair black recently. I’m chunky and live in Annapolis. You know why I don’t have any friends in Annapolis? It’s because you don’t get invited on sailing trips and beach vacations when you have pink hair.
So that’s a fun mental cycle to be stuck on, eh?
And it’s not PMS, thank you very much. It’s motherfucking SAD, which is the dumbest named mental disorder ever. Take someone having a panic attack and tell them, “It’s OK honey, you just have SAD.” Yeah, okay. I has a sad and it’s making me want to quit the universe forever because I’m stupid, anal retentive, ugly, socially awkward and generally an unlikeable person. SAD is what they call it when a person who actually has chronic depression and anxiety issues has that under control all the rest of the year except for autumn. Because autumn is the fucking worst.
I’d like to state for the record that the rest of the year, I find myself at least marginally attractive, and I’m actually a sortof fun, nice, not-super-judgmental person to spend time with. I’m at my best in spring and summer, and even winter is okay. It’s just that autumn sucks the life out of me.
Before the trees even start to turn, I notice the afternoon light shifting. Five PM in mid-August looks like 8 PM in June. There goes my life. The days become not quite so unbearably hot. I don’t mind. At least it feels nicer for a minute, but suddenly everyone is drinking pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks and knockoff pumpkin lattes from every other coffee shop in town, and I start to think ungenerous thoughts about people who drink Dunkin Donuts coffee. At first, I think this is normal because their coffee really isn’t that good and the service is lousy, but I get a little carried away on my downward spiral, and then you make one snarky comment about how I’m a coffee snob (I am! I know!) and suddenly, We. Are. Not. Friends.
This is when I realize it’s autumn. the good news is I’ve discovered a simple regimen that helps me reel this in. It involves regular exercise, getting outside, taking vitamins, and cutting back on caffeine and alcohol. It should go without saying but didn’t until I saw a therapist last year that alcohol increases depression and caffeine plays into anxiety, so if you’re predisposed to both depression and anxiety, it’s wise to limit these substances.
I take lots of vitamin D. The gel caps if you’re wondering. Those little chalky tablets are awful, and I have actually choked on them and puked in the bathroom sink. Or if you take them on an empty stomach, you’ll be digesting them on your way to work and suddenly be filled with the urge to puke in your car. Not a good start to the day. Get the gel caps.
I don’t take antidepressants anymore because it turns out doctors and pharmaceutical companies don’t know for sure how depression works, and there’s a pretty high chance that the drug will actually push you further into mental instability. In my case, I felt more or less OK while on Wellbutrin, but about once a month I’d have a massive freakout during which I pictured myself not as just a socially awkward fruit loop but like that Actual Crazy Guy in Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Thinking you’re actually losing your mind and might spend the rest of your life drooling, comatose, and wearing a straight jacket is not a pleasant experience and does indeed lead to thoughts of suicide. The rest of the time, I didn’t feel great. I just felt like I was not on the verge of losing my shit – YAY! – so I eventually decided the drug wasn’t really helping, and I stopped taking it. I am not a doctor, and I do not advise anyone to simply stop taking a prescription with no forethought, and definitely not just because your prescription ran out and you don’t feel like refilling it. But I’m saying this decision turned out not so badly for me. Except for right now, because it’s autumn.
Doing my yoga teacher training changed things for me. You may be wondering how someone who curses as much as I do can be a yoga teacher. I don’t know, and if the good people at Yoga Alliance ever find my blog, I’m probably fucked.
I’d been practicing yoga since I was 16, and didn’t fully grasp that it had saved my life (not to be dramatic or anything) because 16 was a bad year, and it’s kindof miraculous that I got through it. I would’ve survived most likely but not without some serious scars if it hadn’t been for yoga. As an adult with a touch-and-go practice, I still had some wicked anxiety that was just barely kept in check by a therapist, a bottle of vitamin D, and a very tight schedule as a project manager. When I started the teacher training, my practice began to stabilize, and so did I.
I don’t want to go all mushy here because I’m trying to maintain a voice for aesthetic reasons and also to prove I am still the same crazy person I’ve always been. But I can tell you that after a certain number of Sun Salutations, you just don’t have the energy to hate yourself anymore. And when you’re in minute 10 of an 11-minute Kundalini kriya, and you’re learning to ride the breath, you discover you can actually breath through anything, that you can ride the wave of your own energy and become stronger when it passes. Panic attacks also become less frightening, and then less frequent. You learn to see them coming a mile away and wave and say, “Lets meditate together,” like some kind of goddamn hippy, and the panic attack rolls its eyes but does what you say anyway because it knows you won’t even acknowledge it till it sits the fuck down. And when you open your eyes again, more likely than not, you’re the only one sitting there.