College application season is here. Everything, everyone around me tickles away at my fragile self-esteem. It seems to me, at least, that I have been “letting myself and my future go” with the habits cemented by daily repetition into a fortress that shields against any external interference: friends setting off for International Olympiads, researching into meal plans of their ED candidate schools, sectioning their life into neat slices of study, exercise and relationships … They try to, if not already, have it “all together”. Every achievement of others stuff my hollow insides, suck moisture away using natron, and wrap my corpse tightly with linen before laying me down on my dorm bed for the rest of my life.
What happened? I was not like this at all a couple of months ago. I had a busy yet colourful life: friends, experimenting with relationships, science research, self-disciplined study for Singapore Biology Olympiad, dragging friends along for biodiversity watches, writing and performing an original poem, investing in a personal blog … So many firsts! Novelties tempted me, difficulties propelled me, and challenges fulfilled me. My heart would sink as I returned each time, more from full loads of learning experience and growth than empty hands. Of course, life was not all rainbows and butterflies: ants crawled in my stomach as I struggled to balance my personal relationships and research schedules, tears of anxiety ran down my face as I practiced my speech and QnA for A*STAR Talent Search 2019, my inner voice pounded on shut door as I rehearsed for the Chinese Slam Poetry performance … I faced fluctuations in my mood with disbelief and even hostility, texting my friend for advice if I should go see a counsellor, staring at my cell culture as the biosafety cabinet fan howled above my ears. Nonetheless, these moments were short-lived, and emotions signalled the reassuring fact that I am human, and truly alive. Fully aware of this, I treasured every up and down, internally and externally. Every time, my heart grew a little stronger, and bloomed into plum blossoms when I returned to the winter winds of home.
However, there was something looming. If my 19 years of life were a string ensemble piece, and all the real-life experiences played a harmonious symphony as violin, viola and cello, the virtual world tiptoed halfway across the harmony as a clumsy double-bass player, leaving ominous echoes of low frequency that dangle above my soul, screeching and growling like an impending monster for 4 years.
It seems silly to even bother sparing two hours to reflect about my Youtube and social media addiction, in a space where few but college admission officers might enter. But it felt only right to dedicate a post to my love-hate relationship with this naughty ghost, who from time to time possesses me for up to one third of my entire day.
Up to 8 hours, yes. There, I’ve said it. Don’t get me wrong, I do not just watch cat and slime videos for 8 hours a day; my phantom takes many forms, and majority of them, to my obstinate defence, disguise as the “guide and guardian” that impart me with “meaningful” knowledge. Stand-up comedies by Trevor Noah drizzle political and social issues in America and South Africa with vinegar and olive oil; “Unreported world” documentary series from UK TV channel 4 serves hearty portions of real-life situations of Indian police, underaged sex victims in Honduras (this even inspired one of my poems), and lethal pollution in Mongolian cities; “Yu-Ge Movies” dissects Oscar-winning and underrated movies in ten-minute dessert. I work hard at school, and stay away from distractions; the moment I stomp into my dorm, I jump on bed, draw the curtains, turn on 4G, and feast. Sounds like a reasonable double-faceted life, right?
The answer is no, a resounding NO. The cruelest thing is to place judgements on myself, and I am using the sharpest forceps and knife I can find to operate on myself. When the fine temporal balance is tipped, equilibrium topples, homeostasis destroyed, and mind buried. My indulgence ripped a substantial part of meaning away from these meaningful videos, as accumulating carbon dioxide obstructed knowledge intake and critical thinking. Dopamine spammed my basal ganglia with easy rewards and insatiable desire. I grew numb about blurring eyesight, bulging tummy and aching hips. My fingers clicked and dragged until my insides shriek with elation.
What comes after a few hours? High, duh. It feels as if my Wernicke’s and Broca’s area are a pair of black and white hole –when the former is inundated with speech comprehension, the latter bursts with speech production. I burst out with laughter in the shower, think out loud when I do the laundry, and flood anyone I see with overzealous compliments. I swing from introverted to extroverted; the only bridge between the two extremes is a loss of connection with the rest of the world. The mental complexity I built with blood, sweat and tears collapsed into a simple black-and-white perspective; I drowned in a muted hysteria.
I am writing this to help those of you who are also struggling with an addiction, be it drugs, extreme diets, physical or oral abuses, fandom, games, or your phone. We are all haunted by different phantoms, who manipulate the same reward system that helped humans survive and thrive through the hunter-gatherer age, but chips away at our evolved advantage in the modern age of over-indulgence (first-world problem or privilege?). Obsession is built deep into the wirings of our brain, but addiction (which might be a natural inclination of some) can be curbed. Pick your old passions back up, create new routines in your life, charge your phone in a separate room … Anything, as long as you try, as long as you do not surrender. Technology companies are taking action to redo their own wrong: track your phone usage and exercise (the optimal dose is two hours of light-to-moderate exercise per day as inherited from our hunter-gatherer ancestors, not 10,000 steps), use a Pomodoro clock, set a time limit on Youtube and Instagram, and stick to it. Trust me, it gets better. You will hear the beautiful bird calls, smell the fresh newly-cut grass, and feel the warmth in another’s arms, not because you are high, but because you are, once again, truly alive.
What made me fall? Lack of self-control, urge to escape reality, or reluctance to undergo emotional catharsis as one truly experience some of the videos as works of art? At this juncture, it does not seem to matter any more. One thing my addiction taught me is that I cannot live without passion, new challenges and excitements, even if they seem weird to others. Words pierced me like an “Avada Kedavra” spell cast by Voldemort on Harry (if I recall correctly, I used the exact simile in my last reflection). It detached my ego from my id, and empowered me to examine my past with rationality, objectivity and empathy. Lying in the embrace of my own religion and volition, I feel safe and sound, ready to write with love and joy again. All I need is to GET A LIFE lol.
Adios mis amigos ~