Stress: When the Poison is the Addiction

A lot of my health problems are exacerbated by stress. For example, I’ve had chronic, recurring shingles for the past few years. It has gotten really bad lately — I’m probably one of those “rare” people with immune issues for whom the Covid vaccine triggered shingles. (I am still 100% glad I’m vaccinated, just for me it has been very inconvenient.)

Sugar also makes the shingles worse, and so for the last few months I have completely cut out chocolate, ice cream, and so on. But I have really struggled to cut out the other toxin, stress.

Part of it is, of course, the time we’re living in. I mean, my God. And a lot of things make it harder. Being in poor health means being stuck inside a lot. Being in poor health during a plague that’s also in the middle of wildfire season means 100% never leaving the house. It sucks. I get bored. I get lonely. I look at social media. Social media stresses me out. The stress makes me sicker.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

A couple weeks ago, I went on a social media / news / stressful stuff fast. If I did engage with the news, I did it only for a few minutes, and I tried to ask myself questions like,

  • Do I need to know this?
  • How will finding out more information change my behavior? My decisions? If it won’t affect my decisions, then why am I trying to get more information?

The fact of the matter is, my behavior was already set. I became fully vaccinated (plus 2 weeks) March 15th. But then I decided to remain in self-quarantine for 3-6 more months, until we had more concrete data about things. I had questions:

Can the vaccine prevent Long Covid? No, but it makes it less likely.

How well does the vaccine work against the Delta variant? It prevents symptomatic infection about 64% of the time, according to Israeli studies.

Does the vaccine keep you from catching Covid, or just from getting sick? You’re 1/3 as likely to catch it, and a lot less likely to be hospitalized if you do catch it.

If you are vaccinated with an asymptomatic case, can you still transmit to others? Yes, especially with the Delta variant.

For a while, when cases were low, there were possibilities of choices for me. But once we could see the hockey-stick charts of the Delta variant in the UK and India, I knew it was coming here, soon, very soon. And so I went back on lockdown, self-quarantine. Other people talked about how the pandemic was “over.” But it didn’t feel that way to me.

So about 10 days ago, I tried, as I say, to go on a “stressful media” fast. The first 2 days I felt very desperate to be back on Twitter. On about the 3rd day, I started to feel a shift — I felt more peaceful, and more present. I could think more clearly. I could start thinking about my own wants and plans and goals, rather than just be in a reactive state.

Day 4 was good. And then around Day 5, I started looking at the news “just a little.” And then by Day 6 or Day 7, I was 100% down the rabbit hole again. Like any addict, I can’t do this thing just a little bit. I need complete abstinence.

Always in the past, I’ve thought, “My isolation makes me crave connectivity, and so I take the poison of social media (emotional manipulation, empty non-relationships, distraction, stress) so I can get what I need (connection).

But this time, I started realizing that not only do I crave social media in spite of the stress it causes in me, but also because of it.

As a child, I was punished for not being anxious enough. If my mother was anxious about something, she would punish me for not mirroring her anxiety.

Thus the mere act of relaxing can be terrifying. It is a perfect crime against the psyche.

Be anxious, or else I’ll give you something to be anxious about.

I have slowly come to realize that, in the modern age, I am not only addicted to social media in spite of the constant drip of terror it creates, but also because of it. Just as people with food allergies often crave the food that makes them sick, I have a craving for stress.

My body has learned to run on the wrong kind of fuel. It runs on quick jolts of intermittent terror rather than….whatever it is other people feel. Trying to stop the infinite doomscroll means going through withdrawal, from a toxic cortisol fuel to a sense of dread to, finally, a sense that life is less “real” and more “boring” because I am not terrified all the time.

Trying to switch to another regular fuel source has been hard for me. I keep coming back for the terror that, quite frankly, I also hate. I keep coming back to the thing I despise. But I know how to run on that fuel. I don’t know how to run on normalcy and excruciating isolation and boredom.

But I’m trying to learn, I guess.

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