Month: March 2017

Living in the Age of Distractions

Living in the Age of Distractions

We live in a fascinating era. We’re in the age of intangibility, of information, of personal branding. We have apps for everything: finance, social media, productivity, meditation, and travel. We even have apps that are supposed to help us have fewer distractions from other apps.

The times they are a changin’.

Every generation has a big struggle. The great wars became the struggle of many generations all over the world: they toiled and scraped together what was left of a bombed out and hurting nation. Here in North America, us Generation X and Y people, we have no great war. Our great struggle is one taking place in our minds.

Technology is an amazing thing. We can do so much with so little now. A few decades ago, having a wireless phone was reserved for high powered businessmen on Wall St., or the CEOs of major companies. Now, I know 5 year old kids with their own cell phones or tablets. There are more connected devices on the planet than there are people to use them. The Internet is this colossal monument of information, digital interaction, advertisements, photos, and people’s lives, and it’s available to us 24/7. It’s becoming hard-wired into our collective psyche.

The scary part, is that we don’t really know what it’s doing to us yet.

My generation was the last to really remember what it was like to come of age without the Internet. I was 15 when my mom bought us our first computer, and we had dial-up Internet. Depending on how old you are reading this, you may or may not remember what that was like. For the uninitiated, dial up Internet took forever to connect, made horrible noises while it was doing so, and if your mom needed to use the phone it disconnected. Myself and each of my sisters were allowed 1 hour a day. The Internet was a lot smaller and a lot slower back then. Outside of my one hour online (which I mostly used to build and manage my first website and chat with my friends on MSN Messenger) I had to do… old fashioned teenage things, like brood in my thoughts, listen to music (from CDs), or write in my journals (with pens). I couldn’t even live stream it.

I watched the world change, the coming in of a new age. I got my first cell phone (they didn’t really have data yet when I got mine) at 18 and watched most of my friends do the same. Over the next decade, technology progressed and we’re more connected now than ever before. We’re bombarded with glowing screens and advertisements everywhere we look. We’re so distracted and busy with everything. If we don’t have an online presence, do we even exist? Everything is personal branding and Wi-Fi connections. Everyone has a hook or an edge. Your self worth is your follower count. The latest device is a status symbol: which phone better represents you as a person? We store our lives in clouds. Human interaction: everybody is awkward now. Everything moves fast; our minds move faster to keep up. Check your email. Check your notifications. Did you get enough likes to feel validated? Rinse and re-Tweet.


If we try to focus on everything, we won’t see anything.

This is the first time in history that the human mind has been this crowded. We’ve gotten so used to being “on” all the time, that we’ve forgotten how to turn it off. Breathing room. Quiet contemplation is interrupted by anxiety: isn’t there something more productive I could be doing? We’re constantly clinging to and grasping for what comes next. We forget about now. We forget about this moment, and enjoying it as a breathing human being.

It’s difficult to say what the future will look like or which dystopian novel will most closely resemble the lives of our grandchildren. All we can do now is be mindful about how we spend our time. Make an effort to take time away from all the screens in our lives. Appreciate them for what they do for us, but at the same time, make room for quiet contemplation. Meditate. Go for a hike in nature. Spend time with people just having a conversation without emojis. Now more than ever it’s important that we look after our mental health, and practice self love so we don’t fry our brains on information overload. I miss being able to walk down the street and smile at a stranger without them looking confused like maybe they know me from somewhere. They don’t. I was just trying to share a tiny moment of the human being in me recognizing the human being in them. I see you.

Breathing Easy – How I Quit Smoking and Never Looked Back

Breathing Easy – How I Quit Smoking and Never Looked Back

In the summer of 1999 I was a 14-year-old goth girl with baggy pants and a weird hairdo when I smoked my first cigarette. My friend Lisa and I would walk to the mall and bum cigarettes from smoking strangers in the food court. We’d collect a mishmash of different brand cigarettes and share them. Back then, I remember little tin ashtrays on every table.

Lisa stopped smoking shortly after that. I didn’t. I remember waiting hours in the rain outside of convenience stores asking adult strangers to “pull a pack for me” until someone finally felt sorry enough for me to do it. I remember my mom telling me how disappointed she was in me between drags on her own cigarette. Smoking became part of my life; part of my identity. My uncle Bob paid me a pack of cigarettes and a beer when I was 15 in exchange for a portrait I drew for him. It was the first time I sold my art. My mom started giving me packs of cigarettes instead of my allowance every week.

Life as a smoker was stressful. In high school people either wanted part of your cigarette (“I call dibs!”) or their parents wouldn’t let them hang out with you. For antisocial me, smoking was a way to talk to people. I can’t count the number of times that sharing a cigarette with a boy I had a crush on made it into my diary. Life was lived through the clouds of smoke that followed me everywhere.

One of the first things I did on my 18th birthday was go buy my very own cigarettes. I worked at a call center at the time, and met many of the friends I still have today in the “smoker’s shack”. Adulthood introduced me to paying bills. Cigarettes were a normal part of my budget. When I moved into my own place with my smoker boyfriend, my addiction increased with the new found freedom of smoking indoors under my own rules

I wasn’t ashamed of my addiction. Like most smokers, I found every excuse in the book for why I didn’t want to quit smoking. I defended it. I told everyone it helped my stress levels. I told everyone I would never quit because I enjoyed it. I waxed poetic and romanticized my addiction. I was passionate about it.

For me, the decision to quit happened out of the blue and all at once. I had realized I wasn’t really in control of my addiction, or even of my own mind. I kept telling myself that I needed them to reduce stress, even though I knew deep down the stress came from the addiction and needing a cigarette.  I started to research cigarette addiction. I read books, and different methods for quitting. At this point, I recognized that I was at the mercy of the cigarette. I read Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking, and something clicked in my brain. I became smarter than my addiction was strong. Logically, it all made so much sense.

I set a date in the future. I thought my birthday would be a good date: I was going to give myself the gift of better health on that day. As the date approached, I found myself looking forward to it rather than dreading it. I was looking at my cigarettes in a new light. I realized all the excuses I was making for my habit were really the addiction trying to justify itself and not me, so I didn’t really feel like any part of me was going to be “lost” when I quit. I started to recognize the cycle of addiction, and as soon as I understood what was happening in my body, the rest seemed kind of easy.

I should note that there was a lot of prep work. I was determined to be successful. I broke up with the boyfriend I had at the time as he had no desire to quit and I knew that I’d fail if I stayed. I stopped hanging around with my smoker friends. I moved to another part of the city. I essentially transplanted myself so that the habitual part of my addiction wouldn’t be as strong.

The night before my birthday, at 11:55 PM, I had my last cigarette in a 7-eleven parking lot after 10 years as a smoker. Then, I crushed every last smoke that remained in my pack. In a lot of ways, that was the hardest part, having to overcome that mental hurdle and say “I’m officially done.”. But now would begin the physical withdrawal.

The next three days were tough, there’s really no getting around it. But because of the book, I felt like I knew what to expect, so nothing really came as a surprise. I was irritable, fidgety, and felt miserable. But I kept remembering that most nicotine is out of your system within 3 days, so I just kept thinking about the end of day 3 as being the finish line. It was hard as hell, but I got there. Then, I reminded myself that the first 2 weeks can determine the success of quitting. I shifted my view to the end of that two weeks being the finish line. I thought to myself, if you can make it two weeks, you can make it forever. At the end of the two weeks, I felt like I’d kicked it for good.

From that point forward, I kept remembering something that Allen stresses a lot in his book: “Never take another puff”. I repeated it like a mantra in my head every time I had a craving. Never take another puff, Wendy. Never take another puff. I convinced myself that if I took a single puff, I’d be hooked again and my efforts would have been for nothing. That probably wasn’t far from the truth.

To this day, I haven’t taken a single puff since that day in the 7-eleven parking lot. It’s been almost 7 years. When I think back to the person I was when I was addicted, it’s incredible how much has changed. I am more in control of my life now. I have better self esteem. I don’t have to run outside in the freezing cold Canadian winter or unsuccessfully shelter a lighter from the wind just to get that next fix. Nicotine no longer steals my money or controls my life. I am free.