• Lijing Cobb

Mental detox

I’m sitting on my couch on a massager that’s kneading my back. The TV is on and my eyes are following the moving images on the screen. I have a drink in the cupholder to my right that I sip from time to time, and a bowl of potato chips in my lap that I pop in my mouth in between. My phone is going off periodically with text messages coming through about a car that I’m buying.

Talk about sensation overload. How many more stimulations could I subject myself to at the same time? And how did I end up here?

On Monday morning we came back from our vacation in Florida, and my kids all decided to stay with my husband to help him work. Home alone, I started cleaning and organizing my house while listening to a stand-up comedy show on my phone. I had all the time in the world to read, write, or paint my water color that I couldn't wait to get back to, but for some strange reason I didn’t seize the opportunity. I’m still unwinding from the trip, I told myself. For 4 hours I cleaned and laughed, and by the time I went to pick up my kids I was still listening to the show while driving. My kids were trying to talk to me, I shushed them. They begged me to stop and pay attention to them, I continued to ignore them. It really was pretty pathetic. Their voices were coming from another world. A world that I should have been in, but was far removed from.

After work on Tuesday, I continued to live in a haze for the afternoon. Aside from a trip to Wegman’s when the phone got a bit of a break, I used my phone extensively for texting and researching for new cars. I could sit and read: a voice in my head whispered. Instead I heard the phone beep and I reached for it. I could paint now: the voice sounded again at a quiet point. Instead I looked at the time and told myself it was too late and too much trouble. The day naturally ended up with us sitting on the couch in front of a movie, ironically about how the digital creations of real human beings starting to live a more authentic life than their creators.

My digital grind continued on Wednesday. I started writing a blog, dried up immediately, and was sucked into the dizzying whorls of my day with no hopes/will to return. Whenever the inner voice told me to do something I thought would be good for me to do, I found excuses to choose a damaging alternative instead. I relied on my learned patterns to carry me through the day without exerting myself mentally to make fresh decisions. For no reason at all I reached for my phone time and again to check something utterly insignificant. At times it’s as if my phone had grown to be the size of two of me and pinned me down with its mighty weight. I gasped, and succumbed.

Thursday, the day of the opening scene to this blog, saw the culmination of this long spell of digital binding. I finally finished researching for new cars and settled on my choices. The new prospects set my mind off in all tangents. My mind fired arrows that did not aim for the same target: they were scattered in all different directions. I tried to rein it in, and for an hour in the afternoon I succeeded by painting another watercolor. After that I walked without knowing what surface I was stepping on, looked without seeing what my eyes landed on. At no point did I do only one thing at a time. My mind was shattered. It was a good thing that I was alone for the majority of the afternoon and evening: no one would have found me any kind of nice to be around.

I feel like a rag being lowered into colored water. I’m soaking up the colors in the water. Not necessarily the colors I want for myself. The longer I stay in, the more likely I won’t be able to rid myself of the colors that are getting on me.

This morning I started my day off by practicing 90 minutes of yoga. Over lunch I read some. In the early afternoon I did another watercolor. And now I’m writing. I’m hitting all the points I thought would save me from this sink hole, but I still don't feel quite right.

On Wednesday I had scrawled down some ideas for my mental detox.

  1. Get outside without the phone.

  2. Get back in touch with words. Words are mighty.

  3. Talk, smile, be goofy, be funny.

  4. Do something different as often as I can, preferably every day.

I imagine that even if I did all of these, like I tried today, it’s going to take a while for me to feel that things are making sense again (even though I didn’t know when it stopped making sense), and I’m behaving the way I would like to. And maybe some days it is just not going to be quite how I like it. After dinner I left my phone in the house and went out for a walk on my driveway. I’m sure we’ve all experienced how, when we slow down and walk, things look so different and we notice a whole new world of details we would have skirted over if we stay in the car. For half an hour I let my eyes land on different parts of the scenery along the way. The fresh green of spring is buoyant for the spirit. There are purple, yellow, and white wild flowers along the sides of the path. The prickly bushes that we had cut down last year are again coming back to claim their territory. The soft white and infinite blue of the sky. The tall trees reaching up their long, graceful limbs effortlessly. Birds chirping, beeping, chucking. Dogs bark in the distant. The breeze gentle, cooling.

And my steps, one after the other, landing on the pavement. One by one they carry me forth. These steps remind me that when things all seem to be in a mumble jumble and it’s hard to understand what’s going on, it is good to slow things down and take a walk. The first step leads to the second, and then third, and fourth…the accumulation of these sequential steps form a path, and it leads somewhere.

My husband has been so busy these days that I imagine his days must feel like 100 frantic steps on top of 1000 hasty steps, with left foot tripping over the right all the time. If I proposed to him that he slow down and take a breath, I’m sure he would shrug me off, not with malice, but with a helplessness and desperation that claw sharply at his mental health. I wonder what’s it like to be him, or anyone who undoubtedly feels the need and urge to slow down but can’t. How do they cope? What’s the damage? Is it worth it?

I think in the end, this desire to get away from such an unfocused way of living, once acknowledged, could be the start of a better situation. Slow down. Look at things with focus for more than a few seconds. Eat to appreciate the food. Spend time with people to make happy memories.

One way to detox:

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