Anyone else feeling really overwhelmed with everything that has happened in October? It’s like the bottom dropped out of something that had a very flimsy bottom to begin with, like we got the bottom of a paper bag wet and then decided to collect marbles in it. I have felt like I am all over the place between web-scrolling, figuring out how holidays are going to work this year with a blended family, and self care. I have no other way to phrase it: it’s been some tough shit lately.
Still, I don’t want to sink into doom and gloom even though that’s what October can be. In years past, I have used October to gleefully prepare for NaNoWriMo, and in truth, I am going to take the plunge and pants it this year. (For non-WriMos, that means I am going into November first without any plans; therefore, I will be flying by the seat of my pants.) Kudos to those of you who engaged with my Facebook and Twitter posts in addition to the polls I put up here. If you are browsing on mobile, the polls may not display; have a screencap or two.
What has really helped me keep my sanity in the months leading up to October has been implementing a weekly evening where my entire household disconnects from the digital world. If you are stranger to my life, I offer some background: I am married and my partner has a tween from a prior marriage, so we have two or three people under my room most of the time. As the weeks of quarantine stretch indefinitely into months, we are all having trouble shouldering our mental burdens and engaging in activities that don’t require Internet. So, back in spring or summer, I suggested we break our habit of staring at screens constantly during waking hours. The rules would be simple: from 6 PM until bedtime every Monday, we would not use electronic devices like smartphones, tablets, computers or TVs. While it would likely help our collective mental health to shut off the electronics more often, I recognize that we also need interaction from people who are not in the house for our sanity. Plus, with school and work relying heavily on remote access, it is not feasible to go offline too often. Even so, it would not be impossible to carve out a day to be disconnected. Thankfully, the other two agreed to sail this ship with me, and I have noticed it helps in a myriad of ways!
My favorite part of unplugging on Monday is the fact that we will actually talk to each other during dinner, and no one is competing with external media to be heard. In a time when a lot of us are struggling to socialize, this is a big deal. Even before the pandemic, I tried to be mindful of how often I was pulling out my phone to capture a memory or to distract myself while out in public. Being totally engaged was never something I excelled at, but I have definitely enjoyed myself more when I am fully present at a show, a festival or even at a friend’s house. As grateful as I am to have the world at my fingertips with a smartphone, I am old enough to remember when having a cell phone of any kind was a novelty and often had little capability outside of making voice calls. There is a wealth of evidence about how heavy usage of social media can spell disaster for mental health, and as a person who has openly struggled with depression and anxiety for the majority of my life, I have taken leaves of absence from my social profiles to get back to a good place. Even when I am doing well with my thoughts, I get frustrated when I am spending time with someone and they interrupt our conversation to do something on their phone. When the devices are put away, I feel more connected with the people in the room with me. I cannot stress the importance of how much that matters.
Staying off the distracting machines also means I can get back into the swing of things I love doing, especially reading and writing. While I do have an e-reader, I reach for my physical books on Mondays (and in general, to be honest). At the start of lockdown, I made a deal with myself that I would read the monstrous Dostoevsky tome The Brothers Karamazov. Although it took me months to get through it, I failed to make consistent progress until I dedicated Monday nights to curling up with my books. An added advantage is that I have read novels and memoirs that have been sitting on my shelf for an embarrassingly long period of time. As fellow book collectors know, purchasing books and actually reading them can be two separate hobbies. My goal is to merge them back into one. Plus, the more I read, the more I enjoy my own writing. The prose penned by others reminds me that my story is important, too. When I go through dry periods of very little reading, my inspiration for writing anything at all evaporates. I have a goal to reincorporate reading into my daily life, but for now, having my weekly standing date with a manuscript gives me a welcomed escape from everything else.
I admit that I have been lax in enforcing unplugged Mondays since October began. If I circle back to where I started with this post, maybe there is a connection between staying glued to the screens and feeling like I am spinning indefinitely in a chaotic void. I will use this as a loving reminder to myself tomorrow to be unavailable to the outside world for a night.
Next week will be my last post before NaNoWriMo begins on November 1. The countdown is on!