Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Unplugging Experiment

So, it's been awhile. By which I mean several weeks. Sorry about that. I will say, though, that last week's hiatus was intentional. I took a family vacation to Cape Cod and made a decision to unplug as much as possible. All of my travel this year has had some business component to it and I wanted to spend time with the family without the constant urge to check my email and social media outlets every five minutes. If you don't know me well enough to know how difficult a challenge this was, let me give you a few examples - I've actually emailed from a game park in Botswana, posted on Facebook from the rainforest, and tweeted from Macchu Picchu. Plain and simple, I like to be connected and my job very often requires it - even at odd hours of the day and night, since my clients aren't always on the same time zone.

Before I go any further, let me clarify that by unplugging I mean that I brought my phones (yes, plural - business and personal), ipad and laptop but was attempting not to use them, at least for the purpose of work or "keeping up on everything" hourly.  I'll be the first to admit, I somewhat failed this experiment at the beginning of the trip. When my computer refused to connect to the house wifi even when everyone else's did, I felt a twinge of anxiety rise up (thank goodness for 3G ipad!). I definitely went through my email once a day just to clear out all of the junk - I hate coming back to 2000 emails, 3/4 of which mean nothing to me -  and I did answer a few quick emails for clients who are traveling soon, even if just to let them know that I would work on the items needed the following week. I know, this doesn't sound much like unplugging, but it's about as disconnected as I get. 

As the week went on, I got more used to my version of unplugging. It was nice to not have ten different types of stimuli coming at me at once, many of which revolve around work. I noticed that with less going on, my cyclothymia was quite at ease. I was able to relax, go with the flow and just enjoy. I didn't get anxious when plans changed. I spent at least an hour each day relaxing in a big easy chair with a book and didn't feel an ounce of guilt. Truly, it was marvelous. I allowed myself time to enjoy those around me, and time to connect with myself. 

My unplugging experiment taught me a few lessons. The most notable being that, as with most things, there's a happy medium. As I've mentioned in previous blog posts, I'm not good with gray areas. Part of this is a symptom of the cyclothymia, and part of this is just my personality. The ability to let my "out of office" notifications answer my calls and emails, while not forcing myself to unplug completely, struck a healthy balance for me. I learned that I honestly don't want to unplug completely - at least not for a week. I went on my ipad to get ideas for day excursions, and my phone gps helped to get us around on those day trips. I eased some anxiety about work that might have permeated throughout my trip by doing a quick email check to make sure there were no emergencies and handling one or two things that required a quick response, yet I didn't feel the need to answer every single email. It seems that at least in certain circumstances, I'm becoming capable of gray areas.

In striking this balance, I also came to understand the effect of the constant go-go-go on my condition. It seems obvious, but I guess I didn't see that the constant "needs" coming at me from all directions seem to aggravate my cycling. Looking at it now, that makes total sense. For someone whose brain reacts dramatically to changes, requires routine, and jumps around quite often, I have been making it tougher on myself than it already was by being continually "plugged in".

Since coming back, I've decided to try another experiment. I discovered an online timer that allows me to put in tasks and time goals for each task. There's something about being on a timer that forces me to focus only on that item at hand - don't want to waste part of the hour I've allotted for email by checking my Facebook! It seems to be streamlining my brain a bit. I'm allowing myself to focus on one thing at a time - save emergencies from clients - with the knowledge that it's only a finite amount of time, and I'll soon have time for other tasks. We'll see how it goes.

In the long run, I don't plan to unplug too much overall. It's part of my job, and quite frankly I enjoy being connected to people. But I'm hoping to control the stimuli more, and in turn, settle down my brain a bit - at least as much as it can be settled. I'll keep you posted. For now, my blogging time goal is coming to an end. Time to move on to the next task at hand! 

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