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January 19, 2015
Cookies and Pi
Solace Doesn't Come From the Internet
by Sydney Bone

Tools that do their jobs well.

My husband loves chicken wings. There is a country music trivia contest every week on a local radio station. The prize is a gift card to Buffalo Wild Wings. Jarret has their number on speed dial.

He’s a casual country music fan, so he knows the answers to some of the questions, but googles the rest while the phone is ringing. He has yet to be the tenth caller, but knows that, thanks to the internet, when he gets on the show, he’ll know the answers.

It is strange to sit down and think about all the ways in which the internet has permeated and altered our lives. We joke about geezers who tell their grandchildren about when they walked to school through the snow, uphill both ways. In 50 years, I’ll tell horror stories about print encyclopedias and landlines. Or maybe this.

We’ve grown to trust the internet for maps and country music trivia and connecting with old friends. Somewhere along the line, some of us began to expect it to comfort us as well.

My last year at Utah State University, I was balancing senior-level engineering classes, six to ten hours a week on my senior design project, a part time job as an undergraduate researcher, a new baby, a calling as a Primary teacher, and my husband’s equally full schedule. On top of that, I was coping with the overwhelming range of emotions that plagues new mothers.

There were brief moments of intense joy and profound realizations as I watched my daughter grow. And there was the overwhelming feeling of self-doubt. As is the case with many women, my body didn’t cope well with all the hormonal changes it experienced after pregnancy. This caused what is medically known as postpartum depression.

To me, it meant that my self-doubt turned into self-loathing, that it took me hours to fall asleep at night, and it was difficult for me to get excited about anything. At the same time, the smallest incident would bring me to tears or make me angry. I felt isolated, even though I had a great support network.

Often, to escape my stress, I would check out. I read articles, surfed Facebook or played games online. Sometimes they were uplifting, but usually they just served to distract me. It got to the point that I had to watch a show or listen to the radio while I did housework because I wasn’t comfortable alone with my thoughts.

And often they were dark thoughts. It felt good to escape them for a few hours instead feeding them and letting them grow. Except once the distraction was gone, the dark thoughts came creeping back. There were a thousand things I should have done differently.

I should have sought professional help. I went to one doctor’s appointment. She accurately diagnosed postpartum depression and gave me a prescription for it. I took the prescription for a little while but didn’t do much else. I was so scared to admit there was something wrong with me that I didn’t face my problem, let alone work with a medical professional to get it under control.

That was only part of the problem, though.

We compare mental illness to physical illness when encouraging people to get help. We say that no one would tell a diabetic not to manage the problem with appropriate medication. But treatment for diabetes requires lifestyle changes as well. All the insulin in the world won’t save you if you’re eating cake and ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.

The same goes for depression. For many people, medication alone can only go so far. Distractions are a temporary fix — like pressing the snooze button on our problems. But this comes at a cost. For me, the depression was like there was a little voice in my head constantly bringing up my mistakes and shortcomings. If I spent the day being productive, I had an easy rebuttal for my own self-loathing.

On the other hand, I frequently spent hours figuratively plugging my ears. Eventually, I had to stop the distractions and get on with what was left of my day. Trying to shut up the negativity then was like facing an enemy tank without ammunition.

I’m not blaming the internet for my problems. It is a tool. Nothing more. Nothing less. Like any tool, it does some jobs very well. And other tools outperform it in other tasks.

Sebastian Barry wrote, “There is such solace in the mere sight of water. It clothes us delicately in its blowing salt and scent, gossamer items that medicate the poor soul.” Helen Keller said, “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.”

I haven’t found any inspirational quotes praising the internet. It cannot soothe the soul. It simply is not the right tool for the job.

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