When Jai wakes up in the morning ready to be taken out of bed, the first thing Ash reaches for is his glasses. The first thing I reach for is my phone.
I wish I could say it’s because I have a bunch of important messages that I need to check from overnight. But it’s not.
The main reason I feel the need to instantly check my phone is for a resource/time management game and social media sites like Facebook or Reddit. I need to see what happened overnight, make necessary adjustments, comment, upvote, downvote, like, subscribe… I need to interact with the digital medium.
And then respond to any important messages.
None of what I am doing is so imperative that it must be the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning.
My name is Deborah and I am addicted to my phone.
I am not being flippant about this, I genuinely believe I have an addiction to my phone (and technology). This has been a long-standing addiction, something I’ve dealt with since before Jai was born. I believe my addiction got worse due to countless hours of breastfeeding when Jai was a newborn and never scaled back as he got older.
When you are stuck with a little one on your breast with nowhere to go, reading and interacting on your phone is the easiest and most entertaining means to pass the time.
Now that he is more aware of what is going on, I need to be mindful of my phone usage, particularly around him.
I have this overwhelming fear he’s going to get the message that he’s less important than my phone. With my current phone/technology usage – it’s unavoidable.
This post isn’t about shaming parents who use technology, it’s about my problematic usage of technology and an attempt to have a healthier relationship with it. This post isn’t about passing judgment on others’ technology usage, but an examination of my own.
The Ugly Side of Convenience
Ever since I was a kid, I loved technology.
I got a Sega Game Gear for Christmas one year and played that constantly. Sega Genesis for another Christmas and I played that constantly. TV – loved to watch it. Computers and games? Yes, please. Don’t get me started on the magical world that opened up once we got dial-up. My parents set limits to my usage, but I lived for the moments I could plop in front of a screen and interact with it.
As phones grew smarter and smarter, I would upgrade my data plans so I could have greater internet access and ability to text people. Once plans became unlimited (or concerns about overage a thing of the past), I upgraded to a smartphone.
And that’s when it all went downhill for me. I now had 24/7 access to the internet, games, social media, and various other tools at my fingertips. The convenience was overwhelming and I allowed myself to be sucked in by it.
Having a small computer at my fingertips helps with my MS. Because I struggle with memory fog and memory loss, I have a tool that can manage my MS so it doesn’t hinder me as much as it might have in the past.
The concern is that I don’t use this tool appropriately. It should be there to jog my memory, take notes, keep appointments, etc. But when I also use it as a form of escapism, that’s when I run into several problems.
Is it an Addiction?
Content Warning: I will be discussing my personal struggles with depression and self-harm in this section. If this might cause you distress, please skip ahead to my next section.
If you or someone you know struggles with addiction, please check out this resource hotline. If you or someone you know struggles with depression or self-harm, please check out Crisis Text Line and Suicide Prevention Lifeline.You are not alone.
Like with a food addiction or some other self-destructive behavior that hinges on necessity, being addicted to my phone is a very hard pattern to adjust. Yes, I could live without my phone, I know plenty of people who do, but when you work in an industry that requires being keyed into technology almost 24/7, it’s very hard to adjust in a healthy manner.
I have to find a balance between reducing my dependence and embracing technology to run my blog. That would require figuring out why my depression manifests itself in this form of escapism.
The argument can be made that my “phone addiction” isn’t an addiction to the object itself, but the behaviors it reinforces. For me, it reinforces an escapist and therefore depressed behavior. I have struggled with depression and self-harm since I was a teenager and I turned to technology as a means to escape my depression.
Spending hours crafting the perfect town or restaurant appeals to me when I cannot find control in my own life. This isn’t about my MS and how out-of-control the disease can make me feel, but about life in general. I’ve always dealt with my need for control prior to my diagnosis by playing games that are dependent on total control by the user.
Think Minecraft or for the older crowd, Simcity.
It became so problematic that I would rather spend hours working on a house or a town that I can control and let everything in the real world slide. I procrastinate on chores, action lists, and other important day-to-day tasks in favor of spending a few more minutes in my digital world.
Even now, I am afraid that my interactions with Jai are severely hindered because I would rather focus on my phone. He is well-provided for, but in the moments he wants to play alone, I take advantage of it and play on my phone rather than make better use of my time.
There is something to be said about taking breaks, but I am not talking about a few minutes here and there, I am talking about every single free moment that Jai does not need me I am on my phone doing nothing important.
I’ve been working with a therapist to discover the deeper sources of my depression in the hopes of understanding how it manifests itself, but I’ve avoided dealing with my unhealthy dependence on technology until now.
My wellness month isn’t just about physical health or healthy eating: it’s also about emotional and mental health as well. I am finding my technology usage causing emotional distress and it’s important to make adjustments to it as a means to manage my overall health and MS.
I downloaded an app yesterday to track my phone usage. I was completely honest about it – I did not adjust my phone habits, particularly on the weekend. I ended up spending about 8 hours on my phone (I was awake for about 12) with 4 of them spent on a resource/time management game.
Sidenote: Ash likes to spend all day with Jai on the weekends since he works during the week. We switch roles on the weekends: I get the days “off” while Ash is the primary caretaker. If Jai needs me I make myself available to him.
As with any addiction or problematic dependency, I realized that my phone usage prevents me from doing other things. Looking at my statistics tells me that my phone is getting in between me and my goals because I know that yesterday wasn’t the exception, but the norm.
You know when you wake up for the day and say to yourself: I have this, this, and this to do today; yet when you sit down to do them you find that you have absolutely no motivation to do those things and instead sit around and do something else instead? And by doing that something else you find that you have absolutely no motivation to revisit that productivity list?
I have found that tends to be the case for me when I am on my phone too much.
I had plans to work on a bunch of blog-related work yesterday and attempt to get ahead on some housework. That did not happen, nor did I have the motivation to make that happen. It left me feeling frustrated with myself and deepened any feelings of depression I was having in the first place.
My phone usage taps into a dangerous cycle: I feel bad so I want to escape into my phone, but as I escape into my phone I feel bad about my lack of productivity and therefore I desire to escape even more. It spirals downwards until something shakes me out of it temporarily. Usually falling asleep.
But I am back at it again the very next morning with no attempt to change.
I have always been aware that there are issues with my phone usage and when I was planning this blog nine months ago I knew it was something I wanted to publicly address. It’s taken me this long to get around to dealing with it.
There are a lot of things I want to do for myself (and Jai) and right now my phone is getting in the way of that happening. I am not proposing getting away from my phone altogether, but I do need to reign in my usage to manage my time. With MS I have a limited number of “good” working hours in a day (which varies) and I am wasting too many of them on this inanimate object with no productive output.
I am going to take a slight break, as I do with a food reset, to see if I can readjust my usage in a more healthy and productive manner.
Taking a Break
Before taking a break I have set up several goals for myself: limit my idle phone usage and break the reflexive nature of reaching for my phone. When I am on my phone, I will make sure that my productive to idle usage ratio is 90/10 versus the previous 10/90.
Starting today and going until Friday, I am going to take a break from my phone and dial back my usage as a means to reset my dependency.
During this break, I am going to be mindful of my feelings every time I have a desire to reach for my phone and see if I can explore what comes from the desire to be on my phone and the response I have when I deny that desire.
What this break will entail (I will be using an app to help keep me accountable):
- Limit gameplay to 1 hour a day
- Limit personal social media to 30 minutes a day
- Limit checking my phone to 20 unlocks a day
- Conversations are fair game provided I am not spending more than 1 hour a day in text conversations (and therefore taking time away from Jai)
- Stop myself from reflexively checking my phone when I am bored
- Choosing something else to do when I need to multi-task: i.e. when Ash and I watch TV, I tend to be on my phone at the same time. I will crochet or do something more productive with my hands.
- If I do decide to spend time on my phone it is to be productive: checking other blog posts, commenting, updating blog information, etc.
I am going to report back on my findings this Friday to reflect on my feelings and how this week went. I am hoping it will begin the process of dialing back my phone usage and I will see an uptick in personal productivity.
Do you have a technology dependency? What drives you to use your tech in excess? How have you sought to curb and change that behavior? Write your stories below in the comments.
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