Therapy and medication were crucial to the improvement of my condition, but my own hard work, both mentally and physically, was nothing short of a herculean effort. So, I’m incredibly grateful for the life I have now. But, nowadays, sometimes I find myself so bogged down with social obligations that I just want to shut the whole world out. I look at my phone with loathing as I open my bleary eyes in the morning and I’ve already received ten e-mails requesting information and beckoning an immediate response. The first half of my day is usually spent answering these e-mails. Then I see that all my apps are lit up like a Christmas tree with little notification bobbles all over and the anxiety takes over. There are text messages which need to be answered, Snapchat alerts, Whatsapp alerts, Facebook Messenger notifications, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram notifications. Linkedin and Academia.edu notices occasionally, and…I’m sure I’m forgetting some others. And I'm not alone! "A study by Ipsos found that the average social network user spends 3.6 hours on social media every day," and, if we're awake 16 hours each day, that means nearly 25 percent of our waking time is spent on Facebook, Twitter, and the rest (Source) . Moreover, people under 35 spend an average of ~4.2 hours per day on social media! No wonder I find myself constantly distracted or running out of time.
Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, calls it “our steady state of distracted connectedness.” You may have seen her very accurate TED Talk called "Connected but Alone?". In it, she talks about how social media and technology have changed the way we live and communicate. This certainly applies to me. I started to notice that my cellphone was controlling my life when I started waking up at all hours of the night to check it.
There is also a gendered and cultural aspect to this need for people-pleasing (“isn’t there always” -says the anthropologist). Even now as I think about saying "no" to my friends or social obligations, I feel like I’m being selfish. As a woman, I’ve been socialized to put other people first, to care for and nurture others, and this is particularly prevalent in Indian culture. Indian women are supposed to be self-sacrificing, giving beings. They are supposed to attend to the other person’s needs, often at great expense to their self and their voice. I do this a lot. I willingly quash my reservations and my needs for others. I repress my inner voice and neglect my goals, especially if those goals induce fears or anxiety. This way I can rationalize that I’m “being there” for another person in need, so it’s not really procrastinating and I’m just being a good, unselfish person. On top of that, my ridiculously high standards for myself make me question if I am still a “good person” if I do say "no". So, when I finally do say "no" it is accompanied with unnecessary apologies and justifications. But, as the image above says: "no" is a complete sentence. It does not require justification or explanation.
But the ever-present spectre of social media haunts me some days. Sure, I could deactivate all the accounts, but I genuinely enjoy knowing how my family and friends are doing. And, I get a ton of great information, articles and news from Twitter – in fact, I consider it my favorite platform. Besides, being “offline” completely would only reinforce my bad habit of living in extremes. It’s the compulsive checking I want to avoid. I’ve realized that much of that stems from the same need to people-please, the fear of “not knowing”, and “missing out” to a lesser degree, coupled with boredom and procrastination.
To help with my problem of not being able to say “no” to friends, loved ones, and people in general, I’m going to prioritize the things I need to do for myself first (including self-care). I want the time I spend with my friends to be meaningful and valuable. It’ll be tough because I’ll be plagued with the idea of others feeling bad, but, as with my feelings of social anxiety all those years ago, much of that is an imaginary fear. The same irrational inner voice and chatter that filled my head then has been replaced with social insecurities, internet noise and chatter. I don't want that noise in my life; I’d rather my life be a song.