My Disenchantment with Technology

You can blame this blog post of Cal Newport.

After reading his book Deep Work [Amazon], I became interested in his ideas and ordered a hardcover copy of his newest book, Digital Minimalism [Amazon].  While not dismissing the benefits that technology has created in our lives, Newport goes on to examine the habits that have led to phone addiction.  I am guilty of such an addiction.  Over a year ago, with extremely important deadlines pressing in on me, I deleted the social media apps from my iPhone.  However, once those deadlines had passed, I added them back onto my phone and carried on scrolling for hours on end.  If I was bored, I found myself scrolling Facebook or Twitter mindlessly.

However, a few days ago, I deleted Facebook again from my phone.  I also limited the amount of time I could use the remaining social media apps to thirty minutes a day.  In these last few days, I have found myself calmer and more focuses.  I don’t check my phone nearly as often.  I don’t feel the desire to scroll while watching television.  I have been reading regularly again, despite thinking before that I didn’t have the time in my day.

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Newport’s Defintion of Digital Minimalism

I still have bad tech habits.  I watch too much YouTube daily.  I constantly check my calendar because I forget my schedule for the day.  But I am working on these habits as well.

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This brings me to another point that I’ve recently realized.  I usually jump when a new iPhone is released.  I always think the new product is an improvement on the older model I have in my possession.  But lately, I noticed that I didn’t get the new model when I came out.  I almost didn’t notice it and I couldn’t tell you the name of the newer version.  I own an iPhone 8 Plus, which has 256 GB of storage, more than enough for me.  The screen is fine, although I need to replace the chipped screen protector.  I think I had my current phone for almost two years, and I don’t plan on upgrading in the near future.  Honestly, I have no desire to do so.  I even recently looked at purchasing a Google phone, but it lacked the storage capacity I require.  The only reason I have stuck with Apple is because I became enamored with their products in college.  I am typing on a MacBook Pro, I own an iPad Pro, and an Apple Watch.  But as I come to rethink my relationship with technology and, frankly, its effects on my mental health, I have become more mindful of the devices around me.  I would like to phase out my Apple Watch, but I value its fitness features, although I’m beginning to weigh those against the constant nagging on my wrist.  The only reason I wouldn’t switch to a conventional watch is that I have to keep track of my steps and other data throughout the day.  Aspects I once found appealing—the notifications, the Siri voice feature, etc.—now annoy me.  I’d rather wait to look at my phone, in my own leisurely time.

Rethinking my use of technology has led me to understand that the constant bombardment of messages, notifications, and data has been causing me unneeded anxiety.  I already have generalized anxiety; I don’t need my devices added to it.  So if you message me, I may not respond quickly, a quality that used to frustrate me with other people.  I am taking a lesson from Newport’s book and being mindful of the tech around me.  I am even experimenting with analog habits like paper journaling.  Oh, what a brave new world.

Thinking about Meditation

For the past 177 days, I have been meditating daily.  I wanted a way to “switch off” before bed in order to fall asleep faster.  After a few false starts, I have kept the habit going for almost six months.  Before developing this habit, I had never really meditated.  While many starts with YouTube videos of guided meditation, I didn’t go that route because I was worried I’d get distracted by other, more exciting videos.  Instead, I downloaded an app called Headspace onto my iPhone (I believe there is a version for Android as well).  Many may find the act of meditation as too crunchy or hippie for their tastes, which I completely understand.  I did not look to mediation for a spiritual experience.  I merely wanted a way to quiet my brain before bedtime.  Headspace, for me, does a great job at handling both the long history of meditation, as well as the facts about what happens when a person meditates.  According to the Headspace website: “[W]e see meditation as both a practice rooted in ancient history and a topic of modern science.  This is why we are as equally committed to providing authentic expertise in meditation and also studying the science of meditation” (LINK HERE).Unknown

There are many benefits to meditation according to the research that has been done.  Some of these benefits include: reduced stress, better emotional health, enhanced self-awareness, and improved sleep, among many others (LINK HERE).  The Headspace website even includes peer-reviewed studies on the list of benefits (LINK HERE).  But, again, I am not pushing this on anyone.  I just found that it works for me.

In the past 177 days, I have meditated for a total of 24 hours over the course of 231 sessions.  I have integrated mediation into my nightly routine.  I turn on the app and select from one of its many courses.  I only do between 3-10 minutes per night, although I find myself more focused the longer the session.  Since I began this routine, I have found myself slipping easily off to sleep at night, instead of overthinking and tossing and turning before sleep happens.  It has made me feel more rested in the mornings and more aware throughout the day.  I’ve always been told I was a self-aware person, but this routine has helped me realize my own thoughts more.  I can usually catch myself when I’m too deep into my own head.  I highly recommend this app or any others out there.  I should also mention that the Headspace app isn’t free.  If that holds you back from trying it, please do look for other options.  Any mediation is better than none at all.

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1 https://www.headspace.com/science

2 https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/12-benefits-of-meditation#section8

3 https://www.headspace.com/science/meditation-benefits

 

What is Hypomania?

The image of the maniac is ingrained in our culture.  What is a common image of mania?  While I hate to perpetuate the stereotype, I even think of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, hacking through a door with an ax.

What do you think of when you hear the word mania?  You may imagine a business person, working long hours and getting things done.  You may even discount the term mania because you think it is a harmless thing, like Sonic Mania or Mattress Mania, where some spokesperson in a commercial shouts “These low prices are crazy!”8E4463B6-F3FD-4B1C-916B-5C333B453D80.png

But that is not the normal or reality for most people struggling with mania.  How would I know?  I know because I have bipolar disorder and I often deal with something very similar to mania, which is hypomania.

What is Hypomania?

First, let’s look at a definition because I’m a good English scholar.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, mania is “one of the aspects of bipolar (manic-depressive) mood disorder, characterized particularly by euphoria, grandiose thought, rapid speech expressing loosely connected thoughts (flight of ideas), decreased need for sleep, increased physical activity, and sometimes delusions or hallucinations” (OED).

But I said hypomania, not mania.  So what does hypomania mean?

Hypomania is defined as “A minor form of mania, often part of the manic-depressive cycle, characterized by elation and a feeling of well-being together with quickness of thought” (OED).  But this definition, in my opinion, is underselling the condition.  As someone with bipolar disorder, I occasionally suffer from hypomania and it is far from simple.

The Reality

When I’m hypomanic, I can go with little or no sleep.  Despite this lack of sleep, I feel an extreme boost of energy, like lightning in my veins.  I speak quickly, think quickly, zip around the house like The Flash or Quicksilver.16377486875_bd27a6a6a2_o

I am invincible.  I can do no wrong.  Every idea is pure gold.  I need to buy that useless something when I don’t have much money in the bank.  My mood changes on a pin, from happy to angry to irritable.  I forget to eat.  I think up a thousand new projects that need to happen now.  Then I reach a tipping point.  I become highly aware that I’m out of control.  I’m dangerous to myself and those around me.  I need to stop.

But I can’t stop.  I can’t focus.  I can’t come down off this high.  My thoughts and actions become foreign to me, to the point of annoyance.  I can’t control myself.

Then the crash. My seemingly endless amount of energy falls to E. Unknown.jpeg

Now there is only regret and exhaustion.  Can I return this item on Amazon or in store?  Do I really want to start a podcast?  When was the last time I had a meal?  I did what?

Depression begins to creep in.  I go from Flash/Quicksilver to some slow turtle creature.  My life becomes boring and everything takes effort, like walking through Jello.

What Can Be Done? 

When I describe this process to people, they are usually stunned.  Then they all ask the same question: How do you recover?  Here, I’d like to break down my answer.

First, I have to acknowledge that yes, I am hypomanic.  I am experiencing something that may feel wonderful at the time but it will pass.

Second, I try to minimize the damage.  I avoid Amazon.com, which is my Kryptonite (apparently, I have superheroes on the brain today).  If I cannot avoid Amazon, I put all the things I want to buy in my Wishlist or my Cart, but I do not press “Buy.”  For food, I stock my fridge with easy-to-make items and snacks.  I schedule my day to include meals and I will sometimes set reminders telling me to eat.

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Third, I take advantage of it.  The ideas that come when I’m hypomanic can be great.  But I don’t pursue them all.  I write them down in a notebook or an app like Evernote.  I get everything out of my head when it hits.  Maybe one day, I’ll start that podcast, but not today.  Once the ideas are out, I don’t have to dwell on them.

Fourth, I try not to let it interrupt my schedule.  My hypomania is typically tied to my monthly cycle, so I know when it is coming.  I block off days that I know I will be hypomanic and do not try to be productive on those days.  If I have an appointment, I try to reschedule.  But some things can’t be avoided.  If I have classes or something that can’t be moved, I tell the person in advance that I’m feeling a little off today, just a heads up.  I don’t go into detail unless I have to; they don’t always need to know.

Last, I try to fight it.  I try to sit down and write or read with no distractions.  I use my energy to clean the house–might as well put it to good use. (PS- I generally hate cleaning, but when I’m hypomanic, it is a great outlet.)  I try to be calm and not give into the hyper energy that I feel coursing through my body.  This doesn’t always work, but I try, which I feel is more important.

Conclusion

While hypomania, or mania, is not a walk in the park, it is manageable.  The key to dealing with it is the same key to dealing with any aspect of mental health: self-awareness.  Look at the patterns in your life.  Notice things that seem to crop up.  Keep a journal or even a mood journal.  I use an app on my iPhone called iMoodJournal, which is also available on Google Play (link here).  I’ve been using this app for over a year and it is great for tracking moods and patterns.

Also, know that you are not alone.  There are many people who struggle with the same things.  Reach out.  Ask your friends and family for help.  Ask your doctor.  Look for communities online.  I am a member of a few groups on Facebook, including TWLOHA,  who remind me that my struggle is valid and I don’t have to be in it alone.

Note: If you want to reach out to me, you can reach me on Twitter @LeslieJClaussen or via my website, LeslieJClaussen.com.

Update (May 2019)

Hello all!

The plan from here on out is to write more.

In order to do this, I’m setting up a writing schedule to resurrect my writing habit.  I’m be blogging more, with more content in the next couple of months.  My plan is to focus first on simple essays and then move onto revisiting my MA thesis around July.  I’m publishing this update to hold myself accountable to the vast void of the internet.

Look out for more content and possibly some stories and pictures from my recent travels to Europe!