I Spend Too Much Time Online

The time I spend online increased significantly starting with the pandemic. Internet addiction, and more specifically social media addiction, is very common in today’s world. Hundreds of millions of people are addicted to the internet (https://www.businessinsider.com/420-million-people-are-addicted-to-the-internet-study-2014-12), and is similar to other more traditionally-known-about addictions (https://healthcare-digital.com/technology-and-ai/internet-addiction-same-drink-or-drug-dependency). Here are some side effects I’ve experienced from being online too much.

I’m angrier/more anxious. It’s easy to get swept away learning about everything terrible going on in the world and constantly exposing yourself to it. It’s one thing to stay up on the news and be aware of what’s going on around you. It’s another to never give yourself a break from the constant news cycle.

I have a much shorter attention span. With so much available at my fingertips, I have a much harder time watching an entire movie or video until the end. It has also affected my ability to calm down enough to read for enjoyment — something I’ve loved doing ever since I learned how to read, in kindergarten. Offline activities simply aren’t as stimulating. Web site algorithms set you up to become addicted to the drama you read about and watch, keeping you hooked 24/7.

My days feel way shorter. Wasting so much time online, your day gets away from you more easily. You realize you’ve hardly gotten anything productive accomplished by the time you turn off the light to go to sleep.

I’m more tired. Lying around makes me more tired than if I were active during the day. And science backs this up. I wake up tired, stay tired all day, and go to bed tired. I put off chores and avoid going outside. I almost never feel refreshed.

Even though I’m constantly tired, I experience insomnia. My increased internet usage coincided with bad insomnia. There have been nights I haven’t gone to sleep at all. Taking sleeping meds, which can have bad side effects themselves, often do not help, or I find myself waking up in the middle of the night wide awake.

I live in the past/future instead of the present. The nostalgia I find via the internet makes me grieve for the past. Negative, scary news makes me fear the future. None of it is good for my mental health.

I notice that often I excuse my internet use by saying it’s educational — I’m watching a documentary or researching a topic I didn’t know about before. But really, that’s just an excuse. I know I’d be better off just not being online in the first place and spending my time on moe meaningful pursuits. In reality, it serves as a distraction from all my problems. And that’s why I abuse it.

I am considering doing one of those 30-day cleanses where you abstain from the internet for anything not work or school related or otherwise necessary. Maybe I’d make an exception for a movie or documentary, as long as I watch it ’til the end. One thing is for sure — I’d have a lot of extra time to fill and get a lot of reading done.

I Did Something I’ve Never Done Before

Recently I did something brand-new (for me, anyway). Was it sky diving? Swimming with sharks? Parasailing? Nope. Something much more mundane and less dramatic, yet no less thrilling.

I got rid of too-small clothes.

There have been many times in my life I have held onto clothing for “when I get smaller.” I hold on to this clothing intentionally, thinking they will motivate me to live healthier and lose weight.

However, as much as that line of thinking might seem logical, that’s not the way it ever works for me. Instead of acting as inspiration for good, the too-small clothes keep me dwelling on the past and the future, not the present. I think about when last they fit me, I dream about the things I will do and accomplish when I lose the weight and can wear them again. Far from keeping me accountable in the present, they provide a way for me to escape from my current circumstances and not make necessary changes. In fact, there is research showing people often feel just as good imagining positive change as they do after they have actually made the changes for themselves. While this might provide a temporary nice feeling and positive mood, it can seriously sabotage your goals.

The more I looked at those clothes hanging there, the more they seemed to be mocking me. The more my depression, anxiety, and self-loathing grew. Bagging them to be given away, I noticed I didn’t even like a lot of those clothes anymore. My style had shifted over the years without my realizing it. I looked at what resulted from certain spontaneous clothing purchases and simply shook my head. My style is much more classic and minimalistic now.

I know that I am not alone and that many people (especially women) hold on to clothes the way I did, dreaming of “some day.” But I would challenge them to let go and experience how freeing it is. I now live in reality, fully accepting and acknowledgng my body as it currently is, even while committing to make changes going forward.

Using a Waterpik Changed My Life

I started using a Waterpik waterflosser a little over a year ago. I wanted to help ensure my gums were strong and not solely rely on flossing after going to the dentist and having a Waterpik recommended to me. For the past 12 years or so I have had some gum recession on my upper gums along each side (like where vampire fangs would be), presumably from brushing too hard. It was especially bad on the right side. It was ugly, the exposed root was yellow, it was sensitive, and food would get caught every time I ate. But I did not expect the Waterpik to fix that. To my shock, after 6-12 months of using it every day, I saw that my gum recession had all but disappeared. I wasn’t getting food stuck, and I wasn’t embarrassed of my appearance. Hardly any recession remained. Thought I’d write a post about it in case anyone wants to try this. I honestly had thought that at some point I’d have to pay for expensive skin grafting If I ever wanted to fix it. However, a $35 cordless Waterpik did the trick. Hope this helps someone!

Books I Read and Loved in 2021

Here are my favorite books I read in 2021, in no specific order. Please let me know if you’ve read any from my list and if you read any good books in 2021!

Fiction:

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Don’t Look For Me by Wendy Walker

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Nonfiction:

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

Humans by Brandon Stanton

Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy by Kevin Bales

Think Again by Adam Grant

Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing by Olga Mecking

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen

Laziness Does Not Exist by Devon Price

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport

Quick Anxiety-Reducing Tips

I struggle with anxiety and I have learned what helps me during these times. Although different coping techniques work for different people, I decided I would share mine with you in hopes they might help somebody.

Drink water — I feel more clear-headed, positive, and emotionally stable when I am hydrated. On the contrary, I feel foggy-headed and am more vulnerable to negative emotions when I am dehydrated.

Get outside — I feel calmer and uplifted when I spend some time outside, especially if the weather is nice.

Take a hot shower — For me, showers are like being back in the womb. They’re cocooning and allow me both to experience a level of sensory deprivation (everything going on outside the shower stall falls away), while also experiencing some positive and calming sensory input (the roar of the shower in my ears and the pounding water on my body).

Exercise — Moving my body is an almost immediate anxiety lifter. It feels good to be active, to strengthen my body, and to engage in this type of self-care.

Deep breathe — Anxiety leads to shallow breathing, which can lead to more anxiety in what becomes a vicious cycle. Simply concentrating on my breathing and taking deep breaths calms and centers me.

Repeat a mantra — I will sometimes self-soothe by repeating a mantra such as “Everything will be okay” or “It’s not that serious”. Sometimes vocally contradicting the anxiety results in it dissipating.

Start cleaning/straightening — A clean, uncluttered environment has always made me feel more in control of myself. On the contrary, a messy, chaotic environment contributes to my bouts of anxiety.

Think grateful thoughts — Considering what I’m grateful for always calms me and helps put my worries and concerns in context. The situation is almost never as dire as I make it out to be.

Talk to somebody — Being alone can aid the anxiety in continuing. Sometimes just talking with a friendly person can cause the cycle of negative thoughts and emotions to end.

What are some ways you successfully battle anxiety?

The Lost Art of Letter-Writing

Does anybody else long for the days when people wrote letters to each other? Before emails, instant messaging, and social media supplanted that long-standing activity? Before we were beguiled by the promises technology offers of ease, instant gratification, and lower cost? Before we let ourselves get too busy to appreciate the little things that are often actually the big things? And yes, I realize I am somewhat hypocritical, considering I am communicating this to you via the World Wide Web.

When I was a kid growing up in the late 80’s and 90’s, letter-writing had not yet become passé. Those were the days before everyone had cell phones or computers in their homes, before social media, before text messaging became popular, when people who owned a cell phone used it for one thing — phone calls. Back then, I got to experience the anticipation of waiting for a letter from my grandparents or friends who lived out of state and of waiting to hear back from them. I recently found out from my aunt that my grandparents had kept all of the letters I write them as a child. Now that they are both gone, I study those letters, remembering my childlike handwriting, my beginner’s cursive, my love of stickers, and the variety of stationery I used for those letters — stationery that said something about who I was as a person (the colors I chose, the one with the horse pattern, the one my mom had personalized with my name and gave me for Christmas).

As a child, I collected stationery and stickers specifically to use for letter-writing. I enjoyed the intimate touch they gave the correspondence sent to those I loved, and I’m sure they enjoyed them, as well. I can’t imagine computer fonts and an LCD screen could compare, not to mention the smell of the ink and paper and the perfume I’d sometimes spray on it before sealing the envelope. Handwritten letters offer a heart-to-heart connection that has not been replicated by other written forms of communication, in my opinion. No matter the words used, an email simply cannot convey the kind of emotion that a letter stained with blood, sweat, or tears could.

Writing a letter took more time than an email or text message. Unlike more modern forms of written communication, you had to prepare to send a handwritten letter and wait to receive it. As the sender, you had to find paper and pencil, compose what you were going to say in your head before committing to the paper (no backspace or delete options), then find a stamp for the envelope before, finally, putting it in a mail box for delivery.

Receiving a handwritten letter seemed more special, considering the thought and effort that went into it and the time it took to arrive. Instead of skimming and deleting (or not reading at all) like we do now with emails and other modern forms of written communication, handwritten letters were cherished, read carefully and with a certain amount of respect for the sender. Letters were tangible proof that someone thought and cared about you enough to go to the trouble. Something you could keep and cherish in a more real way than an email saved in a computer folder or a text message on a cell phone.

Recently that same aunt sent me some handcrafted cards, blank on the inside, with a beautiful design on the front and my first initial on them. I love them and want to use them. I just wish I could think what to do with them. Maybe I should get a pen pal.

What I Miss About Growing Up a Religious Fundamentalist

Sometimes I find myself pining for the days when I was growing up in a family that belonged to an ultra-conservative religious sect. Yes, it was a very stifled existence. But when I’m feeling overwhelmed and stressed, I remember the simpler days of my childhood and adolescence.

There was always a sense of belonging. You went to school and church with those just like you (yes, we had our own schools). You shared certain customs. You knew where you fit. You didn’t have to try to make friends. They were built-in. You were joined by your beliefs, your values, and your separation from the world. It was you vs. everybody else, which only bonded you to each other. It felt comforting to have a tribe. True, the love was given conditionally, only if you “toed the line”, but it still felt protective.

There was always a sense that you were special. You and those who believed as you did were the only ones going to Heaven, the only ones who would find favor with God, the only ones who knew the Truth. The rest of humanity were on the wrong path and would burn in Hell for all eternity. Yes, of course you hoped they would join you on the “straight and narrow”, but you also pitied and judged them. The feelings of righteous superiority were a big boost to the ego. Perhaps you didn’t get to have as much fun as they did or live as complete lives, but you were destined for greatness in the next life and they were destined for damnation. You felt like you were in on a really good secret, which your best friend shared with only you.

You never had to question anything about what you believed or how you lived. In fact, you weren’t allowed to question it. Everything had already been answered for you. You had only to obey. This freed you from struggling with life’s big questions and the existential angst that accompanies them, from using critical thinking skills, from challenging yourself, from expanding your mind. This was even truer if you were female — you had your whole life already planned for you. Marriage, motherhood, taking care of your children, and obeying your husband while he worked outside the home to support it financially. You didn’t have to figure out your purpose or what you were meant to do for a living. Your choices were restricted to a few approved life paths. Although this sounds and definitely felt imprisoning, it ironically brought a certain freedom from much of the mental turmoil usually experienced by adolescents and young adults.

Did anybody else grow up similarly? Can you relate with any of these feelings?

Reading Short Stories: Pros and Cons

It seems short stories are a polarizing genre of literature. Readers and writers typically have strong opinions about them. I’ve read a lot of short stories in my day and, after considering the topic, I have come up with what I think are some of their pros and cons.

One pro is the fact you can finish them quickly, often in one session. Some people don’t have the time to follow a novel. Perhaps they’re very busy and don’t want to become emotionally wrapped-up in a story’s characters over an extended period of time. Perhaps they don’t have the time to read regularly and don’t want to risk forgetting what has happened halfway through a novel.

Another pro is that new story lines and new characters keep things fresh. Instead of reading about the same plot and the same characters for the amount of time it takes to read a novel, you get more diversity reading a series of short stories.

Another pro is that reading short fiction by a new author introduces you to their style and tone. This allows you to figure out whether you’d be interested in reading something longer by them.

The last pro I came up with is that short stories often give surprise endings. And sometimes that’s exactly what I’m in the mood for — a thrill, not a long drawn-out character study.

One con, especially if you’re reading a collection of short stories by different authors, is that it’s often a crap shoot. Some you’ll love, others you’ll dislike.

Another con is there’s really not time to build the kind of suspense you’d see in a novel. Some aren’t fleshed out well and deal with topics and situations better suited to a novel.

What do you think about short stories? Do you enjoy them? Did I do a good job outlining the pros and cons, or do you have something to add?

I’m Holding Back in My Writing

Recently I’ve realized how stunted my writing is. I’m constantly holding back. Writing, for me, has always been an essential outlet for releasing my emotions and getting thoughts out of my head and sorted into some kind of more tangible, manageable form. And yet, even privately, I’m unable to keep from censoring myself when putting my thoughts and emotions down on paper. It’s like I’m scared that by committing them to paper, all of my fears, bad memories, and wildest assumptions will take on a whole new, scarier reality. That by putting them to paper, they’ll become more powerful, more actual, more determinative. No more trapped inside my mind to be conjured up and played with or dismissed at will — now unleashed, a separate entity with a will all their own.

Yet what if I’m wrong? What if the opposite is actually true and, after writing down my thoughts and emotions, they seem a lot sillier and more insignificant to me? That’s in some ways more terrifying. I might realize my positions aren’t the most reasonable. I might realize I need to take some kind of action or change my perspective — that scares and unbalances me, makes me feel as though my legs have been swept out from under me. And worst of all, I might realize I have been living a mere existence, based on self-delusion, instead of the full life I could have been living. Is it possible I have created a meaningless existence for myself? Is my life made up of small things? Am I unfit for more important concerns and undertakings? The possibility I’ve been wasting my life on pettiness is crushing to consider.

Lastly, there are things I don’t want to admit about myself that I’m hardly able to think about, let alone put down on paper. Past actions, loathsome character traits I see in myself, reprehensible thoughts. Things that are already so painful to humor for even the brief moments they flit through my mind that I can’t imagine inscribing them and experiencing them via other senses, as well. The feeling of the pen in my hand as I write them. Looking at them on the page. Even smelling the paper and ink. The words, stark and accusing: “See, we are real. All your worst fears, most jaded perspectives, embarrassing memories, and horrifying suspicions about how others view you, they’re all true. We weren’t just ethereal synapses firing at random, easily rationalized away. We represent reality, and you’re going to have to confront us in a meaningful way sooner or later or your life will only ever be pain and sadness.”

Depression and anxiety have both affected my writing negatively. In turns, I feel each emotion. Depression numbs me to the point of no feelings, paralyzing my writing. Inversely, anxiety causes so many feelings to arise I become overcome with emotions and can’t think to write. Can any of you relate?

Books I Read and Loved in 2020

I did a lot of reading in 2020. Here are my favorite books, in no specific order.

Fiction:

The Institute by Stephen King

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Night Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates

No Exit by Taylor Adams

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Secrets and Other Stories of Suspense by Carolyn Hart

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie

Shots Fired: Stories from Joe Pickett Country by C.J. Box

Nonfiction:

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron

The INFJ Writer: Cracking the Creative Genius of the World’s Rarest Type by Lauren Sapala

Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a Person by Hugh Prather

Talking to the Dead: Religion, Music, and Lived Memory Among Gullah/Geechee Women by LeRhonda S. Manigault-Bryant

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion By Jia Tolentino

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean

The Art & Craft of the Short Story by Rick DeMarinis

Please let me know if you’ve read any amazing books this past year, including any on this list. I’m excited about the ones still to come! Happy New Year’s, Everyone, and Happy New Year of Reading! 😀