I start most of my mornings the same way I have for a good while now: vice-gripped by panicky waves of existential dread. Who needs an alarm when you can just baste in what feels like a full-blown personal crisis with no identifiable cause? (IMO anyone can trigger this experience simply by using the iPhone “Radar” alarm sound, which must have been invented specifically for inducing an aggressive amount of fight or flight upon awakening.)

I don’t know if this is a menopause thing or a midlife thing or a citizen of the world in 2023 thing but I tend to wake up very early with a hammering heartbeat and an overall sense of Forboding Doom. It’s rare that this feeling can actually be mapped back to anything in particular; like sometimes I might have an appointment or phone call to fret over but usually this is just free-association anxiety. Anxiety Open Mic night. What’s wrong? EVERYTHING!!

Sometimes I can unclench myself back to sleep or at least into a less-tooth-rattling state of semi-relaxation (thank you ASMR videos, which I have been piping into my head-holes for many years now), sometimes I’m driven right out of bed even though it’s, say, 5:30 AM.

Once the cortisol sends me lurching upright I get to confront my stiff, cranky body. I use a knee pillow in bed to keep my spine from crumbling out of alignment but my lower back still registers a LOT of complaints first thing. Same with my hamstrings, which are like Bazooka gum: as the day goes on things get easier/more malleable, but it’s damned hard going right out of the packaging.

At 5:30 AM my house is so quiet. It’s cool and dark outside and there’s no bustle to anything, it’s like a gently held breath. It would be the perfect time to be kind to my stressed-out, achy body with some easy stretches. Maybe some warm chamomile tea, some deep breathing, or even a 10-minute meditation to start the day with serenity and focus? Or how about just some peaceful time with a good book? Or just, like, a GLASS of WATER?

Here is what I do instead: stagger like the fucking Tin Man to my Keurig machine where I blast myself 10 ounces of low-quality BPA-laden caffeine (I then add my preferred amount of creamer, involving an upended Coffee-Mate which I pound like a Cherokee drum until there’s a Mt. Everest of dried corn syrup solids in my cup with splenda poured on top of that, because why have one bad habit when you can cluster several together into a die-early turducken of poor choices??), then I drag myself out to the couch where I jam my protesting self into a cross-legged seat (audio accompaniment: “Huuurrrnnggggh”) so I can more easily rest my phone in my lap and doom-scroll until the poop juice fully kicks in. The only thing that drives me out of my calcified criss-cross-applesauce-with-an-impending-knee-replacement position is full-on GI distress, which really adds a complex layer of weirdly boosted adrenaline to the whole shebang.

Anyway, I have no inspiring conclusion to this. I’m not writing from a place of, “And here’s the 10-step plan I rely on now, starting with guzzling warm lemon water first thing and then following with 55 grams of clean protein and a brisk walk to boost my circadian rhythms, I FEEL SO AMAZING!” There’s plenty of that on the Interwebs, how about this instead: “I know EXACTLY what I’m doing wrong, and I’m almost certainly going to do it all again tomorrow.”


It’s been a weird, unhappy couple of weeks. Stories that aren’t mine to tell happening to people around me, there was a terrible death and an accident resulting in surgery and a bunch of layoffs and outside of my own little life there is of course no end to the awfulness in the news, from our maddening clown-show U.S. politics to the no-words nightmare of the Israel-Hamas situation.

One thing I’ve noticed is that when I’m trudging my way through a hard time I tend to look at my phone a LOT more, which is the actual stupidest because there is a definite correlation between my screen time and my mental health. It’s like any other addiction: I engage with it for the dopamine hits and then I find myself doing it more and more until the empty act itself — picking up my phone, swiping, thousand-yard-staring — becomes the end game.

I feel about my phone like Homer (Simpson, not the greek poet): “To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems!” I mean it’s an uncomfortable animated TV show quote because there was a time in my life when I identified with that statement a little too much and now I can just swap in “iPhone” or “laptop” instead of booze and it’s still true.

Okay fine, my phone itself does not typically cause or solve real problems, unless it’s when I use the calculator function because tipping USED to be something I could do in my head because it was 15% and even a mouth-breathing mathlunk like me could go well, 10 percent is this much, and then half of THAT is… I’m just saying that it feels like it causes problems, like when I’ve caught myself doomscrolling for the eleventy-billionth time in the same 60-minute timespan.

Over and over I find that I’m reaching for my phone to distract myself from the not-so-great thoughts in my brain, only to find myself wallowing in more negativity and sorrow. Our human brains have not had nearly enough time to evolve to cope with an existence in which every horror and trauma across the globe is available at our fingertips, mixed haphazardly into a neverending digital feed that also includes the absurd/meaningful/funny/educational/delightful stuff we’re constantly looking for.

Well, this topic is nothing new. I’ve personally been struggling with my relationship with the online world for years. I greatly miss the Internet That Was, as opposed to the infinite Two Minutes Hate/Aggressive Mall Vendor/Intermittent Reinforcement PSYOPs it is now.

What it seems to be above all other things, despite or because of our tech overlords, is eternally lonely. You can look and look and look. You can heart and care-react and do the little sad face. You’ll see so very much, all day long. It feels like humanity, a lot of times, or like community. But it’s so, so, so fucking lonely.


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