The only time I’m not looking at a screen is when I’m biking or sleeping. I don’t do either of these things nearly enough. My screen addiction has been going my entire life, but over the past month or so it’s felt even more insurmountable. These days I am all the way down the rabbit hole before I even know I’ve fallen. I leave my phone in the other room so I won’t be tempted to stare at it. Then I get a text. Then I go to the other room to check the text. Then it is 30 minutes later, and I have been scrolling Instagram Reels the entire time and I do not remember making the decision to do it. It is like the most advanced and inescapable form of ADHD I’ve ever experienced.
To be fair when I was a child in the 80’s I also had this problem. But it wasn’t with screens. I would be in my bedroom with the intention of completing a simple task like putting on my shoes, or getting my sweater, and the next thing I knew there would be yelling from downstairs, an adult angrily asking me what’s taking so long. I’d look down and notice three action figures in my hand, a matchbox car, a Michael Jackson cassette. I’d be laying on the scratchy carpet. I’d have one sock on and no memory of how I got here. Just feelings of tremendous shame and confusion. A feeling that there was something fundamentally wrong with me. Like my brain has a hole in the bottom of it and things can just fall through, a feeling that people are angry with me about that. A feeling that I am broken and not whole.
I often feel that I am dying or killing someone by being the way that I am. I know that isn’t true. I don’t know that isn’t true. I feel that it is. I am ashamed of my self, not for any particular reason but just because I am. I exist. And doing so means that something in me tells me that my way of existing is incorrect. I am trying not to be incorrect. I am forever trying.
The obsessive thing about TikToks and Instagram Reels is that they are about people, not celebrities, not scripted stories, but people who may be like you or me. People who are trying. People in messy rooms, people in headscarfs making videos from their bedrooms, people in the cars waiting in line for fast food. People with ashy skin or zits. That is where it begins.