About two weeks ago I decided I needed to take a break from my online activity. While it’s “my link to the outside world”, being online is also a major distraction and excuse for much of my procrastination. I allow other’s stories, concerns, and posts invade my private time. Worse, I let it creep into some of my mothering time.
My kids, who are home all day now on summer vacation, know I get easily sucked into message boards. They’ve started to take advantage of how quickly I get distracted as I click, click, click half a morning or afternoon away. When I noticed they were beginning to slip into their own avoidance habits, like playing Minecraft instead of keep up with summer reading, or turning on the TV to catch up on 1 or 2 (or 4!) cartoons, I knew I had to not just curb my distractions; I needed to make them go away completely. I was going to test myself for a spell and say no more. Internet, be gone! The day I decided to take a break from the World Wide Web wasn’t the day I temporarily shut it down though. I needed to get one last fix. I surfed and surfed until I felt like I’d clicked through enough articles. Then it was time to walk away. It’s funny that I felt like I had to gear up to go dark and that I gave myself permission to give up something no one is requiring of me. That shows you how addicted to social media I have become.
The first day of avoiding Facebook, some Yahoo boards and my daily go-to autism news sites was a challenge. What a terrible habit I have created to want to constantly check in somewhere! But, after a day or two of going internet-free, and after I’d used my normal computer time to clean out a desk that had become a neglected storage unit, I felt like I could push through this fast I was attempting. I got lots of stuff done. The kids started to be creative instead of sedentary. We scheduled play dates. We ventured out into the real world. As the week progressed, Ronan got to practice going out into our local community—a community I prefer to avoid, avoiding it because Ronan doesn’t always do well when we try to run errands. Plus, people in the real world and I don’t usually have too much in common, which is the biggest reasons I gravitate toward being on the internet—so I can connect with other like-minded moms and dads. But, out into town we went to see what the world had to offer.
As each day went by, I had a better chance to make a new routine for myself and my family. And why not? The kids were happier and our house was cleaner. We made time to have friends over for a long-overdue play date. We enjoyed time spent together. I found success in areas that I had made an effort to previously ignore. I was happy, and we were creating better order in a short amount of time. With my new-found desire to try to find other activities to keep us busy, we ventured into town one more time. After a trip to the library one afternoon, I had a handful of items I needed to get at the grocery store. Ronan has been resisting going into any store causing quite a scene well before the entrance. We’d oftentimes had to turn around and get back in the car with the promise to try again another day. I wondered if Ronan could make it through one more thing that afternoon before we headed home. I wouldn’t know unless he tried, so we pulled into a parking lot, piled out of the car and walked into the store. Ronan made it through the thirty-minute shopping trip! At Super Wal-Mart no less!
Stepping back into the real world was turning out to be a breeze. I had seriously curbed my computer time and even the desire to turn it on. But then, I meet some people who forced me back on the web. Three people I happened to run into while we were taking a break from my old habits. Three people who I’d probably never strike up a conversation with or be vocal about before Ronan’s vaccine injury. Three people who were looking to me for advice and asking for it before it got too late for their child. Those people and I had nothing in common and then, with our chance encounter, everything in common. Could I help them? What should I tell them? The panic in their requests and the instant anxiety that came over me while listening to their stories ended my internet fast. They needed direction. I could help. And quickly. I promised I would the minute I got back home. But only after I tended to my kids and their needs.
Back on the internet I went. With emails at the ready, I forwarded articles, links, studies. I copied pages from magazines and recommended books. I continued to share Ronan’s story in each communication. “We tried this (therapy, treatment, protocol) because of (this imbalance, that doctor’s reputation, his great need for intervention).” I offered names of providers we trusted. I looked up what they might want to know and what I felt they should know. I felt a rush as I got as much information gathered as I could. And then I crashed.
The thrill of the chase got my heart beating faster. It felt like I was hand delivering lifesaving information to these people. But the letdown I felt once everything was in their hands was tremendous. Once that information was in their hands, I knew it was entirely up to them to do something. I know what I would do once I had that knowledge shared with me. I’d do something proactive. But not everybody thinks or acts like I do. As quickly as I got the information to them, I would have to sit back and wait. I could prod, nudge and drop major hints and keep directing them to countless websites and other literature, but making these other people do something to help their child isn’t my responsibility. That thought reminded me of why I needed the break from being too absorbed online. I can only do so much for so many, and I shouldn’t sacrifice my family’s time to attempt that.
I had wanted to stay offline a little bit longer. I had wanted us to do more fun, summer stuff before I hopped back online. But, I broke a fast my family and I needed when I offered to get helpful info to those people. Not all was lost in doing that because three families were each given the potential to start their own healing journeys. My kids would be none the worse from my efforts. In fact, they were happy to have a chance to jump on the iPad and the xBox again while Mommy click, click, clicked one more afternoon away. I loaded them up with lots of information that could make or break their efforts. With every click I made, I prayed it was worthwhile. Time will tell as I wait in anticipation to find out what those parents each decided to do.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.