As if the pandemic’s Omicron wave was not enough, Cebu was struck with the strongest typhoon in 30 years. Right after the typhoon last December 16, 2021, the whole city was in devastation and “apocalyptic” was the word that was often used to described the situation. The first few days I was forced into this state of “survival” that made no room for other emotions. The drive to just survive made sure our household and our staff in our office had resources to survive the coming weeks. This was not the first time such a devastating typhoon hit Metro Cebu. Typhoon Ruping wreaked havoc 31 years ago and back then there were lesser electric lines and much simpler water lines. Typhoon Odette left hundreds of thousands of households affected. There was no mobile signal in our home in the mountains. You could only get online and with very slow data, when you are in the city proper.
But I am not going to write the details of the typhoon’s devastation now. What I would like to write about is what happened in the four weeks of very limited electricity at home (we only used the generator for 2 hours a day).
First Week of Survival
The first week, I was sleeping only a few hours at night and woke up very early because I can only go online with data at around 3-5am in the morning when mobile data seemed to work well. My parents decided to stay at the hotel in the city where they had WiFi, electricity, and access to running water. I had to stay home and manage the household. With this responsibility given to me my motivation and routine began to form.
Normally, obtaining resources like fuel for the generator, food and drinking water for our consumption would have been simple. But in a devastated city, limited resources, challenging communications, and growing queues for essential goods really tested my ability to overcome difficulties. Like I said, surviving was the prime mover for my daily routine. Then as the week stretched to two weeks, I noticed a change in my overall wellness and activities.
Prior to the typhoon I was going through this whole state of decline. I lost my purpose and drive or one could say, I got tired of living. A few weeks of this new routine I began to sleep well, eat better, and even feel better. What changed?
Discomfort Brings Out Opportunity
PT Barnum once said: “Comfort is the enemy of progress!” Our lack of electricity was inconvenient but opportune. It opened a door for a routine change in my life.
The house had limited time for when the generator was turned on so I had to schedule my activities accordingly. Doing laundry, cooking, cleaning up, and other household chores were given specific time slots to match the generator schedule. Because I still needed to go down to the city for work and mobile data, I needed to coordinate with my sister for her schedule as well. Car fuel was another rationed resource because gas station lines were impossibly long and we were running out of fuel while uncertain of how fast the city will recover.
While in the city, I stuck to doing only work stuff online and limited only an hour to read, watch or play online games. When I got back home I cooked dinner, did my evening meditation, and with all the lights out, I slept.
If there is one thing I missed about the lack of electricity in our subdivision was that this sense of peace in the area. No light pollution, no noise. Just the moon light shining down. My eyes adjusted so well to this natural darkness that I could somehow see the surroundings and hear small sounds from faraway. When I went to bed, I no longer struggled with going to sleep. I slept early and woke up early.
Dopamine Detox and The Social Media Fasting
Even when the electricity came back a little over thirty days after the typhoon, I still maintained my good habits and I still felt motivated. It became clearer to me that what was slowly destroying me was my over-consumption of Social Media.
There are several videos in YouTube that will tell you about Dopamine Detox. Among the things they talk about is how Social Media is designed to trigger a dopamine secretion so that this happy hormone will get you feeling good every time you scroll through a feed. That was what I was experiencing when I was actively watching Tiktok Videos, scrolling through Facebook, or even just skimming around online news sites. Being in a forced offline lifestyle, I got that dopamine detox and I was able to do more things in life than just swallow social media content every hour.
When you do the dopamine detox you will be delightfully surprised just how much time you have in your hands. You might even find yourself rediscovering old hobbies or past passions.
Yesterday our internet at home was back online. Just an hour into it I found myself conveniently going through my phone and running through these social media apps. Even with my awareness of how this was bad for me, I found myself holding on to my phone a lot. That was why I decided to write this. Not just so I can tell people about my realization but also to write a written reminder to myself how I had it good when I cut off from Social Media more.
Cold Turkey Helped Me but Redirection Also Helped
Fasting from social media was not a choice I made. It was the circumstance. I had no internet at home and I only had limited time to access the internet when I was in the city. Because of this, I got more disconnected from the online world but more connected to my life at the present moment.
When you live in a life where you seem trapped or going in circles, it is easy to seek comfort and short bursts of pleasure in social media. That is why it is a problem millions of people experience everyday. Though I had the opportunity to go cold turkey, I believe what also helped was redirecting my need for social media into other things such as reading and writing. Several successful people will tell you the impact of reading in their lives and I can go on and on about all these big names telling you to read, but really, reading changes you: reading books to be specific.
Books VS Short form Social Media
There is no specific topic of category that I will insist that you read on provided that the books you read are well-written and stimulates thinking. You can read non-fiction or fiction and they will both have a certain impact on your mind that leads to progression in creativity and thought. One could argue that you are reading in social media platforms but the problem is that social media is designed for that dopamine fix and less for thinking. A lot of the writing are hurriedly done and emotion-based rather than carefully curated or created information for the reader. Social media allows for instant publication. Books require time, effort, and verification before they are even published.
Social Media Is Not All Bad
All I have written is not to suggest completely cutting off from Social Media. If we take away the aspect of over-consumption, then we can see the good that it can bring. YouTube is a vast library of teaching material. Because I had limited time to access the internet, I narrowed down on topics I wanted to watch and downloaded them for offline viewing. My YouTube use became more objective-focused. This was different from my usual YouTube consumption where I let the suggested video feed dictate what I should watch, often triggered by the right kind of thumbnail or title. Tiktok is entertaining and can even spark creative inspiration. However, like the TV it is easy to get sucked into the unending flow of entertainment. Now, I still watch Tiktok videos but I only do so for a few minutes, hoping to see something new or inspiring. Facebook was the most difficult one to cut down on. I know I like to read updates on people I care about but I was also consuming a lot of negative things. So same with Tiktok, I limited my time going through the timelines and I have also learned to unfollow people and pages that were not healthy for my mind.
To bring out the best in social media, the user must have awareness and control. Social media addiction is real. You do not need to fight it on your own. You might need help to deal with it.
Though I would not wish the suffering from the typhoon on anyone, I am grateful for the change it has brought upon me. You do not need to wait for a typhoon to shake up your life so that you will be coerced into change. Maybe you can ask help from people who have experienced great difficulty. I find that people who have lived easy lives do not have much to contribute in terms of growth and success.
If you feel like you are down and hopeless, remember the words of Avatar Aang: “When we reach our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.”