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That time I accidentally rewired my brain...

Posted 10-16-2017 at 10:31 PM by Ludlum'sDaughter14
It's been a week and a day since I passed my kidney stone. My body is returning to normal, although there are still some differences I don't fully understand the cause of, and I don't know how long they might last. Not all bad ones either. But physical symptoms aside, during my time of incapacitation, I dug myself further into a psychological hole which I've just realized the need to work my way back out of.

On Thursday night, I found myself staring at the material for a five-minute section of a presentation. The assignment was easy, something I'd done and surpassed countless times over the past few years as a Communication major. Friday, I would present one particular topic found in the textbook for five minutes, after my first partner did an introduction and an opening topic, and before my second partner covered a third topic and gave a conclusion. I had the easy part of the speech. All I had to do was figure out what I was saying and send Partner 2 the information for 1 to 3 PowerPoint slides for my section. This, my friends, is what's known as an "easy A."

To state the obvious, the problem lay not in the difficulty of the assignment or the deficiency of my qualifications. As I stared at my notes, trying to picture how I would present this information to a classroom of my peers, and especially what my request for a PowerPoint slide, due within the next few hours, would consist of, I came to a disturbing realization. (And no, it had nothing to do with stacking sentences like Jenga blocks, although I'm smiling faintly at my light-lavender prose. Blame my sleepwalking state.)

Rewind. Play. Okay: As I stared at my notes, I realized I had no idea how I was going to present this information in class the next day. I couldn't even picture in my head what the process would look like. I had no idea what to put on my PowerPoint, much less my personal outline. I couldn't mentally beta-test the scenario. I was at a complete mental block with no good explanation why. And it freaked me out.

I tracked my dad to his usual spot on the corner of the white living room couch next to the end table. I slid onto the couch, got his attention, and told him what was going on. I also told him how I've been having trouble thinking clearly and losing thoughts two seconds after I have them. To make a more involved conversation short, he told me, "I think I know what's going on, and it's uncanny how what your describing sounds exactly like what happens from spending too much time on digital media." He's done a lot of reading on how social media and the Internet are actually rewiring our brains, and the majority of my generation are growing up without the ability to concentrate or think deeply (see this article I found a few days later: https://qz.com/1091883/technology-is...-in-your-life/). And he told me that in order to solve my difficulties, I needed to get my mind back, probably by going on an Internet fast.

I spent hours at a time on the Internet while I had my kidney stone. There were some days when the only thing I could pay attention to that would also distract me from the severe pain I was in was Netflix. I caught up on a lot of Star Trek:TNG, plus Facebook and other sites in between. However, far from being a pure anomaly, my coping behavior was simply the exacerbation of an Internet-dependence that had been growing gradually since I first got my first hand-me-down iPhone three and a half years ago (I know, I'm behind the curve. I can thank my parents for that).

Thursday night, I started my Internet diet. Not quite a fast, but an abstinence from all random browsing of social media in my free moments. The movies I've been a little less successful with curbing, but I think I need to start.

I've been thinking about why I started turning to the Internet for entertainment all the time. Why did I stop reading books on a regular basis? Why do boxes and drawers in my room remain unsorted, laundry unfolded in a basket, my textbooks scattered on the bed, as I pull out my phone or computer and scroll mindlessly through text and pictures and video clips? I'm even ashamed of myself, which doesn't happen as often as it should regarding personal indulgences.

The conclusion I have reached is that I am a lazy human being. Which I knew already. But I've been letting it take over. Throughout my life, my laziness has helped me excel at efficiency and problem-solving, or sometimes knowing when the problem is not worth solving. (There's a Bill Gates quote to that affect somewhere...) But it's also meant I shy away from doing things that are uncomfortable, and that I don't feel like doing. I learned to do some of them anyway because that's how you accomplish anything of value or anything enjoyable. But I still retain an inherent push against physical discomfort - lack of sleep, lack of food, and some kinds of pain are all prone to activate my inner screaming two-year-old.

These past couple years of school have been endurance training for me. I've had to test the boundaries of what physical conditions I can still function under. I've had to show up to class empty of energy and plumbing the depths of just-barely-stopped-crying. And now I've shown up seven-and-a-half out of ten class days with a kidney stone. On pain meds, granted, but still. My early fears of what might happen if I went to class after three hours of sleep, which I combated with the blunt motto, "Show up, throw up, and grow up," have become a distant memory. I've done what I never thought possible. I had supernatural help, but now I know what is possible.

While toughing it out in some areas, I also had to learn to cut myself slack in others. But even that can lead to laziness. And when you are no longer wracked with anxiety or pain, you lose the excuse to stop working. We humans are made to work. We're made to thrive when we're being productive and languish when we're not. Post-industrial American culture has taken this quality to an extreme at the expense of what makes work meaningful, but the American dream also flings some of the wealthy and privileged in the exact opposite direction. Neither extreme is healthy, and neither is the way to a life well lived.

Self-discipline, I'll readily admit to anyone, is not my strongest characteristic. And while I shouldn't be ashamed of the ways I'm built differently than others, I should work against the character flaws that prevent me from fulfilling my purpose in life and becoming a more loving human being. I hate restrictions. I hate commitments. I hate limiting myself in any way. But when my effectiveness suffers, I need to make changes. I need discipline.

This is related to the struggle I've had with following a macrobiotic approach. To be absolutely, painfully honest, a lot of it comes down to my lack of self-discipline. And that I'm a wimp and get stressed out over little things. But now that I'm getting my energy and time back, I need to make definite steps towards bringing mind and body into optimal performance. Not as an end in itself, but so that I can live my life fully and in a way that benefits others. Finding wholesome daily replacements for mental and physical junk food seems like a good place to start.
Total Comments 1


  • Old Comment
    You're such a good writer.

    Listen, I want to write something profound in return but I've not the time, nor the skill, nor the mental capacity. But you need to cut yourself some slack. Everybody living in today's world (in first world countries, anyway) prioritizes their media time... and I mean EVERYBODY, even if all you've got is a public computer at a local library, or a TV at the corner bar. Media permeates our lives, for better or worse. You know, you can still read actual literature on your media devices, too. (Nerd. ) Haha...

    And we all have sat around mindlessly looking at Facebook when there are loads of other things we could be doing. I'm not saying we should let go of our obligations... hell, I've found and retained more obligations in my life than I ever expected to, and there are demands on my time every second of every day. There's never a moment that is "mine". But you really do have to take time out now and again to do something mindless and useless. Or take naps; whatever floats your boat. That's how we recharge. And if you don't do that - if you try and spend every waking moment doing something productive? You're not going to be at your best... you'll find you're just going through the motions, and you won't have the drive to do more than the bare minimum.

    Now, I agree it is mind-numbing to spend ALL your time online, or watching tv, or staring off into space - and it takes a while to recover from that state, just as it takes at least a day or two to get your bearings after you go on vacation, right? But most gainfully employed people (and full time students) don't do that very often, and I worry that if you're already feeling this way... that spending time online is somehow a disciplinary shortcoming or serious flaw which you must control... well, I worry that you'll start to feel that way about anything that really comforts you and makes you happy. I know too many people who've felt that way their whole lives, and have spent their whole lives working at something they don't even enjoy, just to maintain that "self discipline". I'd argue that you don't need to restrain yourself from something that doesn't hurt you.

    And is the internet really THAT meaningless?? I mean, it gives us a means of social interaction (of sorts), it gives us a world of news and information (if you have critical thinking skills and know what you're looking for, and where to find it), and yes, it gives us some brainless entertainment, too. But if those videos of cats hanging from window screens give us a moment of good cheer, they've done their job, right? And then of course there's keeping up with our favorite celebrities.

    My kids' school (like most schools today in the US) is so rigid in their teaching, they want them to study the exact points that will be in the test, and nothing more. My son likes to learn more online and I encourage that. So instead of learning two boring facts about each topic, he'll spend all afternoon on the internet, watching videos and reading interesting facts about a specific topic he likes. And maybe he won't ace the pointedly specific, multiple-choice exam, but he will have learned more than the other kids and he will have had a good time doing it, and will retain the information longer, because he's passionate about it! Where was I going with this?? Oh yeah, my brain is mush because I've been online all day. Lol

    My point is, yes, you had some trouble adjusting back to school after being out sick, and one should not spend all day staring at one's phone. (It's a good way to walk into walls.) But don't look at every activity that doesn't have an obvious purpose as a complete waste of time. There's a reason your brain wants to do that stupid thing right now. Sometimes you have to just go with it.

    ...Believe it or not, I just texted all this from my phone. My eyes are crossed. I think I'll go do something productive...
    Posted 10-18-2017 at 10:04 PM by Flygirl Flygirl is offline
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