I read something really good today over on BrainPickings, something I aim to explain to most of my clients, but also something that defines my personal networks:
“We reflexively blame on the Internet our corrosive compulsion for doing at the cost of being, forgetting that every technology is a symptom and not, or at least not at first, a cause of our desires and pathologies. Our intentions are the basic infrastructure of our lives, out of which all of our inventions and actions arise. Any real relief from our self-inflicted maladies, therefore, must come not from combatting the symptoms but from inquiring into and rewiring the causes that have tilted the human spirit toward those pathologies”
More often than not my clients ask me to support them with “Internet addiction”, “Fortnight obsession” or other digital wellbeing concerns. Most of which in the end can be narrowed down to behaviours connected to our basic human needs – the need to avoid feeling lonely, the need to have fun, the need to spend quality time together or simply rest after a long day of stressful work. Some of those statements are overused and should not be taken, nor mentioned lightly. I think they should really be explored in more details with our actual context in mind. So today I would like to start by having a look at the three most common things I hear from my clients and friends. Here we go!
- Internet addiction or in other words obsessive, automatic, prolonged time online can often be used lightly. Everyone seems to have it nowadays, but what does it really mean? It is generally a very overused term but in some cases can stand for an actual problem. Spending a disproportionate time online is often a combined result of our inner need for genuine human connection and life in the world which is increasingly lonely. So it’s worth asking yourself some honest questions: why am I doing this? what is missing? what do I gain from going online? and finally: does it actually help? do I feel better? If you feel that going online does bother you it is really worth exploring the real, deep reasons for your concerns. Does it affect your health, work and relationships? It’s really worth exploring all those questions and if in doubt, having a chat with your GP. The Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) was now added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) (the bible of official mental health conditions) but with a clear note that it is still not fully confirmed – a lot of research is needed to fully confirm it as a condition. I would recommend this article which explains how it is measured and diagnosed at the moment, but also what challenges lie ahead of us in pinning down the exact impact of the Internet of our mental health. Example: a single, middle-aged, financially independent and fairly fulfilled woman asked me once for a tip on not checking her emails on her mobile first thing in the morning. When we explored her morning routine in more detail something very sad became apparent (she said it but I had to reflect it back at her, she was not even aware of stating her own truth): she was lonely and hated the feeling of waking up in bed alone. In the end, she decided to get a dog to keep her company and tackle her sense of loneliness and stopped checking her phone in the morning.
- Fortnight/Minecraft/(any other game)+ obsession is the first thing I hear from many parents or partners of regular gamers, but what does it really mean? Google defines obsession as “an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind.” but let’s just very quickly look at its synonyms: “fixation, ruling/consuming passion, passion, mania, idée fixe, compulsion, preoccupation, enthusiasm, infatuation, addiction,..” As you can see some of those words are indeed negative, but what would happen if we were to replace the word with some positives? What if our child has a “Minecraft passion”? What if our partner has a “preoccupation with playing Call of Duty”? Does this term also describe their actual feelings and state of mind? In some cases, gamers might and will overuse their time online and that habit might and will affect their health, real-life performance and quality of their relationships. But in other cases, in most cases, really, their gaming habits will be a result of something fairly easy to explain: the need to connect with peers (since we cannot really hang out in the street anymore and the youth clubs are shutting down); the need to rest after long day of work/school – simply a quick way to relax or maybe simply wanting to have some fun? Is that really so bad? I would like to add something to this mix: each situation is unique but our personal feelings about other people’s gaming habits might reflect our own issues or needs to. So I would recommend asking ourselves some questions too: am I missing this person? do I want to spend more quality time with them? do I want to join in and feel excluded? do I judge them without having a chat about it? and finally: if we did not have games in our lives, what would be our alternatives? It’s also worth noting that Internet Gaming Disorder is defined in DSM-V but it is also mentioned “that gaming must cause “significant impairment or distress” in several aspects of a person’s life.” You can check the proposed symptoms of the actual disorder but it is still an area that requires a lot of research. Gaming disorder has been also listed last autumn by WHO so you can find more information about it here. It’s worth having a chat with your GP if you are concerned. Example: I worked with a dad who initially was so worried about his son’s “Minecraft obsession” that he decided to ban him from the game for the entire summer holidays. Needless to say, this particular idea backfired. The boy was struggling with fitting in any way and was left with even more reasons to be bullied and misbehave. We have worked with both dad and his son on creative ways of using the game to build, invent and present ideas. During that process, dad learned how the game works and how it can be used for fun, for creative ideas but also for studies (of maths, science or even hand-writing). At the end of our work both dad and son shared the same laptop and both came up with new ideas for creative use of Minecraft. Both found a way to talk to each other and collaborate – within and outside of the game.
- The negative impact of screen time on our health is a myth and after 15 editions of Safer Internet Day, we are finally openly talking about it with a bit more grounded and academic context. My son is 13 and through his entire life, he was told by his teachers, health professionals and other adults that spending the time of screens has a detrimental effect on his health. Despite the fact that we did not even have good, extensive research into this topic (all but impact of TV screens, to be honest), we have been telling our children and ourselves that screens are simply bad. Here in the UK that exaggeration became officially demystified this January by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health: “The evidence base for a direct ‘toxic’ effect of screen time is contested, and the evidence of harm is often overstated. The majority of the literature that does exist looks only at television screen time.
Evidenceis weak for a threshold to guide children and parents to the appropriate level of screen time, and we are unable to recommend a cut-off for children’s screen time overall. Many of the apparent connections between screen time and adverse effects may be mediated by lost opportunities for positive activities (socialising, exercise, sleep) that are displaced by screen time.” We now need to admit that most of us were wrong: it is not the actual screen time that can be damaging, but lack of movement, sleep or human connection. If used wisely and negotiated with our children in the context of its value and benefits for the family, screen time can actually be educational, relaxing and bonding. There is also another danger in making this assumption: by focussing on the mere technology of screens we are moving away from discussing the reasons behind our activities, feelings evoked by specific online activities and their meaning to us individually and as a group. It is a huge simplification to look at our screen time – we really have to think about the why behind our time on screens. Example: I met a mum recently who was worried about the screentime of her son so she decided to introduce a “no screens in the bedroom before bedtime” rule. The rule was discussed together so that her son and all other members of the family could have their opinions expressed. It was agreed that like with all other house rules, everyone would follow it. This small, but collaborative change to their habits improved the quality of everyone’s sleep but also opened up a channel for discussion around other areas of technology used in the house. Let’s face it, screens are really not the next big thing;)
I hope this very short introduction to the core three questions I am working with nowadays will provide a bit of context to how complex the digital wellbeing of our lives can be. Please remember that the research in this area is still new, but already substantial. We now know that our digital activities are complex and there is not one size fits all solution. We need to explore our motivations, impact of our activities on our lives and keep having honest conversations to nurture our relationships: with each other and with ourselves as well.
(Please note: these are my experiences and my understanding of the above-mentioned topics, if you have other experiences, I would love to hear from you – please leave a comment!)
“Being alone never felt right. sometimes it felt good, but it never felt right.”
“I’m here. I love you. I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you.”
“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?”
I stopped blogging pretty much last September, but I have lost my voice a few years ago. I start to realise just now that my experience of severe social isolation during my years in Oxfordshire affected me really deeply. I start to feel my voice emerging again, but I am still a bit shy to fully put in words what happened to me back there and then. I can only hope to do it slowly, gradually, with a great deal of self-care. I know that life is a journey. I know that oftentimes it is hard to see the true meaning of our reality and so we have to give it some time. Today I can start to see the meaning in my experience of extreme loneliness, but for a long time I did not have the courage to look back at those days. Simply because there is a lot of negativity around my experiences. There are a lot of people who did nothing to help me and I will have to point some fingers.
Thanks to my new life in Bristol, a few good old friends, my family and a vast amount of new support networks I can now slowly come out of my quiet place and speak up. For the first time in my life, while living in Oxfordshire I have lost my voice. I have lost the image of myself. I have evaporated into the thin air.
I do not know if anyone else can relate to that feeling of being a complete ghost but if you do, I salute you! It is a very tricky burden to carry because it is actually light and very difficult to define. But I will go back to those days and attempt to explain my experiences simply because social isolation becomes a problem of our generation. We are losing ourselves and forget the true meaning and value of our lives in the world that tries to convince us otherwise: that we are meaningless and never quite good enough. We are distracted blaming technology for the sins of our bad leaders and lazy networks. When in reality we are all in this life together, going through a lot of similar pains and challenges.
This year I lost both of my parents but I have also lost a sense of innocence that I aim to find again. I became an orphan in so many ways! I am ready to share it though. Thanks to my hard work and determination, support of the carefully chosen people, I am in a good place. This gives me hope for a better tomorrow. I cannot do it without the act and courage of looking back and exploring my dark times. A
ftera few years of living in a cold, alienating and adverse to change I feel like I was sucked into a black hole and disappeared in a different dimension. Now, upon my return, I am wondering: what has changed in me? What have I learned? How can I share those learnings to warn others? I know my experienced bothers me and I know I am not the only one affected by social isolation. So I hope to explore it in more detail. I know I am not doing it all on my own.
It is our job is to speak up and resist the status quo – we live the times when we all finally have to take a stand. I am hopeful to find my true voice again!
This is the end of your life and I owe you this letter.
I want to tell you how much I love you and thank you for everything you have done for me.
Thank you for keeping me safe. Your life was a storm but somehow you have managed to keep me safe, steady and centred. All throughout the journey that we have shared. You shielded me from the thunders in our own house. You showed me the way out and never held me back.
Thank you for showing me what it means to love and to be loved. I mean the warm, kind and caring love. You showed me the active, deep connection few people appreciate. I grew up knowing a good relationship from a fake one.
Thank you for teaching me the basic life skills. Without your practical teachings I would not be able to live a full life today.
Thank you for teaching me the value of self-care in times when it was unacceptable and unthinkable.
Thank you for teaching me that the true legacy of a human is not the amount of houses they own, but the amount of trees they plant and people they nurture.
Thank you for showing me the value of learning and exploring, never standing still, always moving forward.
Thank you for teaching me the difference between a to-do list and getting things done
Thank you for teaching me that choices are not easy, but they can be informed.
Thank you for always leaning in, speaking up and looking after the people who came after you. I have no choice but to follow you the same way.
Thank you for teaching me to treat young people and adults with equal amount of respect and attention. For treating everyone as a human being – regardless of their gender, education, origin or age.
Thank you for showing me how to live life fully. You showed me how to relax, step back a little, slow down and simply take in the world around us. You showed me how to be happy.
Thank you for teaching me to look back only to steady myself. For reminding me to always look ahead of me, to focus on the future, on the life’s horizon. Thank you for showing me how to love the right here and right now this way.
Thank you for teaching me to surround myself with good people. We can only aim to remain faithful to our values, it’s a constant battle, but we are in it together. We are all going our best.
Thank you for showing me the power of our human vulnerability. It is only in our weaknesses that we can find the power to go on, not in strengths. I get it now and it makes everything easier, simpler.
Thank you for showing me how to protect myself. I know it also meant that you lost me. But I also know that it was you who showed me the value of knowing our own boundaries.
Thank you for being so very human with me. For teaching me to make mistakes and owning them. This one is hard, because it’s your mistakes that led to me loosing you way too early. Thank you for even trying to understand and respect my final choice on that.
Thank you for hopefulness, for the constant faith in life and in people. Kindness was your religion and so it remains mine too. You showed me the value of each small leap of that faith. It’s revolutionary.
Thank you for our shared, magical silences. You showed me the value of a grounded, rich stillness. You talked to me without words, yet showed me so much! You saw, heard and spoke
wisdomof our ancestors few people nowadays are even able to notice. You held the time and space for me, expecting me to do the same for my family.
Our time is difficult. The world is challenged like never before. We are all challenged daily. You have shown me the truth of our human condition in its entity: the perfect imperfection of our kind. With “
kind-ness” as its most imperative adjective. I am so grateful for that. We have shared a connection hard to explain. Even when separated by our choices, we lived in our own solitudes but in dignity. I have never ever lost the legacy you have given me. I carry it with me as a reminder of the best of people. And I promise to pass it on to others through my own silences, words and actions.
I miss you dearly, but I know I am doing my best to make you proud.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien
It’s been a very intense university term for me here in Bristol so I was really quiet on all my blogs. I am still here and I am learning so much about human nature. I am starting to put my new counselling skills into practice already. Supporting people with mental health issues and challenges is the most humbling work I have done so far. I feel really privileged to be in this place in my life together with all our friends, colleagues and family.
It’s been a strange, very intense and grounding year. Full of major gains and major losses. So I am spending this Christmas resting, meeting friends and re-evaluating my life. Our university homework is to write an autobiography in preparation for psychoanalysis studies in spring, which gave me an opportunity to start something I have been meaning to do for a long time: write up my life experiences in form of a private book.
It seems to be a Korsak family tradition to write and self-publish books for friends and family and so I am glad that I can continue it. It’s draining. It brings up a lot of forgotten, darker memories, but it’s also very healing. Sometimes it’s also fun – hugely thanks to the Internet browsing for long lost places, people, stories. Reflective writing and reminiscing are said to be good for us – I strongly recommend it.
I am using this time of the year for reflection. It’s quite astonishing how much my boys and I have achieved just in 12 months of living in Bristol – it’s quite overwhelming to look back at those months without getting dizzy. We are all really happy here, surrounded by people who actively react to the UK and world events with kindness and everyday validation of our humanity.
I hope your year was good and I hope the next one will be even better!
Happy Holidays from all of us!
“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”
Slow progress can be frustrating, but it’s better than no progress at all, especially when it comes to our balance between tech and other aspects of life. For me, the balance is measured in the screen time and allotment time. We have signed our allotment agreement in spring here in Bristol and did not do much on the plot due to a very hot weather. The soil was a way to dry to work with even just for clearing out the grass and weeds. It’s a miracle that we have managed to grow a few fruit and veg, and some flowers early in the year, because we really cannot enjoy the plot just yet. But since we came back from Moldova I feel really determined to clear out and prepare the soil for work on it. It’s really hard to work through such a large plot. A neighbour told me that he was offered our plot but did not want to take on too much. I think, however, that with a good, slow flow of steady work, we can conquer it.
I have been visiting the allotment for the last few weeks almost daily, every day doing a little bit of hard work. I loved it. I hated it. I enjoyed it. I dreaded it. But I continued, steadily. I posted on Instagram to document the progress for myself, but also quietly hoping that our followers there would cheer me up. And so they did, oftentimes! It really helps to be supported. But as I am approaching the second phase of my work: digging up the actual beds – I am also realising that work with soil is extremely monotonous and relaxing. It gives me a lot of time to think about my therapy, therapy studies, new job, old job, new plans for an even newer job (ie. new products in my own company). On many occasions I allow myself to rest from thinking too – I rest my thoughts on the petals of our flowers or birds flying above the plot. I simply allow my subconscious to do all the work instead.
I have a vision of the final result which really helps because with every swing of the shovel I am closer to that goal. The goal is mine, self-inflicted if you wish. In positive psychology, we learn that achieving self-prescribed goals make us happy. If someone else sets you a task and you are not empowered, nor engaged, the success rate is rather small. The feeling of accomplishment comes with choosing the level of your challenge and completing it. So I get a lot of that in the allotment nowadays and I will feel really happy when the project is complete and we can start planting fruit and veg. The slow and steady rhythm of work means that I can see some results of each chosen task – I do not have to push myself too hard – and I feel really accomplished every day.
There is also something comforting in the regularity of the work. It does feel like a workout even though I am there for one to two hours each day. That is really not a lot of physical work to fit people, but I am a geek so this is my maximum for now. I can feel my body is getting a bit more resilient and a little bit stronger so I am starting to consider winter jogging once the allotment is finalised. I feel that the regular walk to the allotment and my routine of setting things up, working, resting, working more, resting, picking up fruit, taking photos, chatting to neighbours, walking back home, sharing photos online…all of this is a nice little relaxing routine.
So this slow progress in the afternoon warm sun with people equally excited about re-connecting with nature really balances out all the time I spent online or in front of screens.
I would love to hear how others manage their balance between digital tech and other areas of life?