Last Monday I awoke feeling exhausted. Despite grabbing a full night of sleep, I felt ready to bury myself under the pillow and shut off for another 8 hours. As I rode the bus, bleary eyed and struggling to stay awake, I scrolled through a Twitter stream of bad news and felt another wave of fatigue. I needed a break. With Retta’s mother coming to stay with us for 3 nights, I decided I was going to unplug for the visit. Instagram could stay, I concluded. I’m still a newbie to the platform and since it’s filled with smiling selfies and gorgeous scenery, I figured it wasn’t doing anything detrimental to my mental health. But Twitter? Twitter had to go. That was the eye of my stress tornado. It was time to unplug.
Virtually as soon as I had announced my mini-break, I found myself back on my phone, hovering my thumb over the little blue bird icon, a tap away from my feed. This wasn’t going to work unless I got a little proactive, I thought. I opened the app, dove right into the settings and deleted my account from the app. Afterwards I banished the app to the bottom of an abandoned folder out on the furthest edges of my phone. I hoped that the journey involved in traveling to the app and having to sign back in would encourage me to think twice. That evening I did something I’ve never done on purpose: I left my phone in another room. Laughably I realised that I actually felt bizarrely liberated to be away from my phone and the desire to check in. I should say, I adore my phone and always will, combined with the internet it’s a window into the world’s knowledge and a constant tether to my friends, how could I not love that? But being consciously without it, I realised how often I check it for no reason other than habit. There was no need to look at it, nothing to keep track of, nothing to check or look into, but I could feel the vague itching sensation to flip open the case and check the home screen anyway. More than anything I felt assured that it was a good idea to consciously step away.
I decided my phone had to come with me on Tuesday, but only because it was also my camera. We were heading to my favourite place, where I always excitedly take too many photos: the beach. The beach here is one reason I don’t want to move again anytime soon. I find the ocean infinitely relaxing, having a soft sandy beach so close by means I can’t resist visiting it often. If nothing else, it’s a tantalising excuse to get some exercise and fresh air. Although I adore the sea, I’ve never been someone who’s felt at ease with heights, so when it comes to piers I’ve had a complicated relationship with them. It’s like getting a beloved pastime but wrapping it in a thin layer of anxiety. As I walked along the 750ft long pier, and reminded myself not to look down through the boards, I realised I’d never actually walked all the way to the end. So I did, and then I simply relaxed. I stood at the end of the pier for a while, daydreaming and watching the waves. My previous nerves about being out and above the water (when I can barely swim) melted away. I thought about how stressed out I’ve been lately and how a lot of the pressure is self-inflicted. I’ve been judging myself a lot, pointlessly comparing myself to my own harsh expectation of where I think my career or skills should be by now. I realised how rare it was that I have moments like this, where I just stand and consciously do nothing. I spend so much of my time lately in a rush, trying to cram in writing practice, absorb new information, or grab what I consider an acceptable minimum of sleep. But why? Life isn’t a marathon. I keep telling myself being happy is all that matters, but I’m my own worst enemy on that quest, always sabotaging my efforts to relax by pushing myself to do more and more. It’s well beyond the point where I need to start actually practicing what I preach and start chasing happiness, not whatever new goal I’ve dreamed up for myself. Still mulling on that thought, I wandered around on the pier for a bit and thankfully lost myself in the moment. Forgetting my attempts to try and relax, I finally did.
The third day was much like the latter half of the second. I forgot altogether about my little Twitter banishment and instead just enjoyed being outside. It was nice.
It felt good to return to Twitter after the short break, to see the familiar faces on my screen. But I was well aware that I couldn’t fall back into the mindset that I’ve had for the last few months. Taking a mini-break made me realise how much of an unhealthy relationship I have with my phone, especially how bad Twitter can be for me. I’m certainly not one of those people who thinks that having a smartphone is some necessary evil or being without one somehow makes you morally superior. To be specific, it was the quantity of my phone use that stuck out at me. Without realising it, I’d settled into a constant need to sit by my notifications and engage with people at all hours, to always be contactable, always be visible. I felt a responsibility to be there at all hours. It’s terrible for my mental health. In the past I’ve jokingly referred to my Twitter feed as my garden. To visualise my Twitter use, it’s like I’m sat outside in my front garden, speaking with those who come by. Sometimes people rudely stomp in, but most of the time it’s like hosting a warm and welcoming garden party. The problem is I never let the party end. I sit in that garden wanting to entertain visitors at all hours, instead of just closing the gate and going to bed. I need to change how I view Twitter. I need to treat it as something I can drop in and out of. It’s not a 24/7 job that I’m obligated to monitor. I think ultimately that’s the root of my unhealthy relationship with Twitter, I feel that I have to be on hand for people who need help at all hours, and be ready to respond to comments or questions at all times, to not leave people hanging. But in reality, I’m allowed to leave and take time for myself. Going forward I’m going to be more strict. No Twitter before bed or first thing on a morning, and especially no checking in when I’m busy elsewhere. It’s okay to check in now and then, but I need to close that damn garden gate sometimes and spend some time alone.