There is no escaping the internet in 2020, but what started out as a comfort soon became a compulsion. Having overcome online addiction before, I had to get it under control.
By Lucinda Herbert
It’s hard to imagine life without smartphones right now. The internet has made lockdown bearable for many of us and kept some semblance of normality through abnormal Covid-19 times. If there was ever a time to praise the gods of Silicon Valley, it is now. While I’ve Yoga’d With Jess on Youtube and am on first name terms with DPD Dave, the appeal of the internet goes beyond mere practicalities. In times of social isolation, that feeling of connectedness can be a huge comfort. I experienced this long before the word ‘bubbling’ was in my vernacular.
As a student, I missed out on the ‘uni-life’ experience. Having social anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder meant that even being around small groups of two or three people triggered severe panic attacks. When I discovered online forums and chatrooms, it filled a void. It enabled me to interact in a safe space. The computer became my therapy, alleviating some of the isolation and mental anguish I felt at the time.
Every night I escaped into the online world, idly chatting to folk I knew only by their nickname and avatar. Suddenly it’s 4 AM, and the cathartic glow of the computer illuminates me.
My condition improved, but I couldn’t shake my internet addiction. I felt uncomfortable away from home because I couldn’t get on Facebook. It just felt like a deep itch that I couldn’t scratch. I just wanted to escape the chaos of reality and retreat to online safety.
My dad passed away, and I realised that life is short. I reflected on missed opportunities and experiences. ‘What could I achieve if I wasn’t sat here staring at a screen? ‘ It prompted me to do the unthinkable.
I cancelled broadband.
I made a fresh start in a new town and focused on self-healing. I created healthy habits; going to bed early, rising early to work out, and having real conversations with real people. I practised mindfulness and meditation and busied myself with jobs around the home and garden. I became so much more productive. I was a real person living a real life.
Social isolation was a thing of my past…until lockdown. With no way to practise my social skills, I feared I would lose them. With social gatherings prohibited and coffee with friends now viewed as potentially life-threatening, I turned to social media. I found solace in scrolling social feeds. Seeing the lockdown-locks, the jigsaw-puzzlers, and the banana-bread fails made me realise that I wasn’t alone.
‘Be kind to yourself’ was the overarching message. ‘It’s okay if you’re on Facebook more. It’s good to stay connected’.
It was like a green light to succumb to my addiction. I felt the overwhelming pull to check notifications…and then just keep scrolling. But I wasn’t going to let it win. I told myself that social media is designed to be addictive. It taps into our desire to be liked, rewarding us with just enough dopamine to keep us hooked.
Everything I did online became another temptation. ‘Go on Amazon to buy dog food’…two hours later, I’ve amassed a full basket with six items of clothing, three unrelated books and a plant pot that Jeff Bezos reckons I ‘may also like’.
And then there was the great newspaper reshuffle of week number two when I suddenly questioned if my daily rag of choice was laced with the ‘Rona. I subscribed to an online newspaper in a moment of hysterical desperation…and then got distracted by pictures of dogs on Instagram.
What started as a means of comfort, lead to a state of mounting anxiety and a compulsive need to be near my device. The internet is vital in today’s world. We have the freedom to get outdoors and see friends right now, but in the event of a winter lockdown, many of us are sure to seek solace wherever we can. Self-awareness is key, and I am thankful that I have learnt from my past to keep my addiction under control.