I am a screen fiend.
From mindlessly scrolling through social media to devouring hours upon hours of movies and television, my free time is almost exclusively marked by the gentle flickering of blue light coming from my devices.
In middle school, I would devote six hours a day to watching anime. I had my schedule down to a science:
4:00am – wake up and watch anime for two hours before getting ready for school
4:30pm – get home from school, start anime again while working through homework
6:30pm - 8:00pm – eat dinner with family and get ready for bed
8:00pm – 10:00pm – finish homework and continue watching anime until promptly turning in at 10:00pm for a solid six hours of sleep so I can wake up refreshed and ready to watch more
In high school, I turned more to live-action TV and offbeat indie movies. I wasn’t logging the same hours as I was with anime, but I ate my way through a large chunk of media all the same. I can safely admit that I also became addicted to social media during this time, an addiction that has only grown since the onset of the pandemic (as I’m sure is true for many).
Before screens, I was an avid reader. I read the Harry Potter series seven times between the ages of 8 and 11, all while actively making my way through nearly every young adult fiction and fantasy novel in my family’s library. I read morning, noon, and night – even (especially) under my desk during class time. On the weekends, I’d often open my book as soon as I woke up and wouldn’t close it until it was time for dinner or bed, spending my days on the couch or the rocking chair. When the weather was nice, I’d even climb up to read in the backyard tree, pulling my books up using a basket I tied to a string specifically for that purpose.
For my entire life, I’ve surrounded myself with people, both real and fictional. When I’m not spending time with the actual people in my life, I immerse myself in the worlds of others, never taking a second to sit with myself.
An interesting habit for someone who lives alone.
A Stranger to Myself
In June of 2020, I broke up with my long-term boyfriend and was forced to confront the realization that I had no idea who I was outside of him. During our relationship, I hadn’t been doing much watching or reading, my entire time being filled with him – his life, his friends, his interests. Even though the movie screen no longer dominated my free time, I was still avoiding spending any time getting to know myself by directing all that excess energy into him.
When we broke up, I realized that not only had I neglected exploring new parts of myself, I had actually lost touch with a lot of my old self in order to better fit into his world. I had no idea what I liked or disliked. I didn’t know what I wanted for my future outside of what he had planned for us. I didn’t know how to want things for myself.
This has always been a bad habit of mine, devoting myself to someone in my life and avoiding all my own issues. Much like how I treated books and movies and TV as an escape, I treated people as an escape as well – he just happened to be a particularly extreme example of this. At this point, I was finally able to recognize this pattern I had subscribed to and was tired of finding anyone else to take care of but myself.
So, I decided to live alone.
In January of 2021, I finally secured a one-bedroom apartment for myself and my beloved cat. It seemed like a pretty good idea at first. This way, I would have no choice but to focus on myself and my needs without the distraction of someone else to take care of. In my own self-built paradise, I would finally discover who I was, what I liked, and what I wanted.
I didn’t account for how deeply ingrained this lifelong habit of self-avoidance could be.
The movies and television shows returned. I started spending a lot more time on social media to pass the time until I had to go to bed or work or school. It felt like I physically couldn’t spend time with myself without the distraction of a screen or device. I didn’t even want to cook because that would mean pulling myself away from my little escapes and spending time alone in the real world.
The fun times I had imagined of trying new hobbies and exploring new interests seemed like a faraway dream. My sewing machine lay neglected on the table. My piano sat in the corner, slowly collecting dust day by day. Every time I tried to engage with something that couldn’t talk and move and completely engage all my senses, I got restless. I couldn’t focus or stay interested for more than a few minutes at a time.
I wouldn’t leave to run errands for myself unless I was already on the way home from work. If I forgot something then, I would wait until the next time I worked to stop by the store and get it. Even if I was out of food for the day, I refused to go out alone and spend the time shopping for myself. My self-avoidance was deeper than I realized – what I thought was an inability to recognize desires was actually a complete and total neglect of my needs.
I had to relearn how to connect myself as a human. Or, more accurately, I am relearning how to connect to myself as a human.
It wasn’t very long ago that I finally felt like I could start taking the steps to recognize and fulfill my wants and needs. I started small on a day when I was really craving an iced coffee. Instead of just laying around on my phone thinking of how good an iced coffee would be, I forced myself up, grabbed my keys, and drove five minutes down the street to order myself a pumpkin cream cold brew through the Dunkin drive-thru.
From there, I started making myself run errands on my days off, making a list of three or four places to hit in one go so I wouldn’t have to worry about them for a while. It got easier the more I went out, to the point where I can now decide to make a run to PetSmart or Sally’s without too much dread. I still struggle to get myself to the grocery store, but lately, I have been cooking quick and easy meals for myself (sometimes I even enjoy it).
Today I spent ten minutes brushing up on my piano skills. I went to Joann to buy some fabric for a sewing project I want to try. I sat in my living room and blew bubbles for my kitten to chase. I didn’t get stuck for hours in a mindless Instagram scroll. These are all small things, but they’re things I wasn’t able to do just a few months ago.
Connecting with myself is hard. It isn’t something that comes naturally to me, and I prefer to ignore my wants and needs rather than face them. I can get through life fine; I can pass my classes and keep my apartment moderately clean and eat enough to get me through the day, but something feels missing. Fine isn’t fulfilled.
Going through the motions isn’t enough anymore. I want to enjoy myself. I want to explore my hobbies and learn to spend more time off-screen. I want to listen to my body and provide for it. I want to stop running away from myself and start learning more about the person writing this blog.
I’m not sure exactly who she is or where she’s going, but I can’t wait to find out.
About the Author
Currently a student at UNLV, Perri is pursuing her bachelor’s in English while working as a content writing intern for the Love Yourself Foundation. She spends most of her time writing, crocheting, sewing, and playing with her two cats. After graduation, Perri hopes to expand her freelancing business for writing and editing while she travels around the country.