The Me, Without: A Year Exploring Habit, Healing, and Happiness

The Me, Without: A Year Exploring Habit, Healing, and Happiness

by Jacqueline Raposo

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486826882
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 01/16/2019
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 209,586
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Jacqueline Raposo is an expert interviewer. Her over 400 stories cross article, essay, and podcast production featuring humans in the fields of food, lifestyle, entrepreneurship, tech, art, medicine, and more. Regular publications include Food & Wine, Saveur, Cosmopolitan, Bust, Extra Crispy, Plate, and Tasting Table. She studies “why and how we love in all forms” as the producer and co-host of Love Bites Radio, and connects chronic illness/disability advocates with protest events as the co-founder of #MarchingWithMe. You can find her at www.jacquelineraposo.com.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

CHALLENGE

NO SOCIAL MEDIA

UNPLUGGED

June 20, I go on to Love Bites Radio and blame the Internet.

"I'm sick of it!" I rebel-yell at my cohost and best man-bud, Ben, live on the air. I blame social media and dating apps, specifically, shaming the addictive technology I decide must be the reason why I can't see through the fog. I have no idea where I'm going with this yet. But I can't tolerate the status quo any longer. And so I make a brash and definitive declaration:

Tomorrow, I will quit online social stuff for a biblical forty days.

"I'm like a circa-twenty-first-century Jesus!" I cackle.

(I may have wine in hand.)

Ben calls bullshit.

He reminds our audience that I've similarly sworn off dating apps in the past, only to return twenty-four hours later. (Hey, a girl gets antsy.) And that I'm the one who forces him into many a selfie for the sake of promoting our "platform." But then he asks in kind sincerity, "What's really behind this?"

A neon On the Air glow grants time for nothing but a gut response.

"It's a bunch of little things," I admit, increasingly vulnerable and unsure. "It's feeling disconnected as a human being?"

Ben and I started Love Bites a year ago, hoping a weekly public check-in might keep us active on the often-cutthroat thirty-something dating scene. For our audience (and ourselves), we test dating algorithms and online apps, interview relationship success stories, and coach each other from first dinner date through final breakup conversation. But while my time commitment to finding a mate online has increased, so has my frustration in a lack of resulting offline romance; it's disheartening how much digital potential never materializes and time gets lost in the wayside. I tire of marketing both Love Bites and my writing career too; designing flat images for Instagram and interacting with "people" only in this two-dimensional sphere feels far less enjoyable than the actual work done with physically present humans.

I never expected my career to end up as mostly me and a machine, alone.

But I also have an illness I never expected to go chronic either.

Ben and I met in college, getting our fine arts degrees in theater. For much of my life, creative collaboration and conversation have been my passion, my purpose, and, later, my career. I first got diagnosed with Lyme disease when I was twelve, well over a year after illness and misdiagnosis began. Many who get Lyme — an infection of the Borrelia burgdorferi spirochete transferred through the bite of a tick — fully recover. Up to 40 percent of us have symptoms indefinitely. We don't know why. Nor do tests reliably prove if infections in late-diagnosed patients are fully eradicated. In college, test results came back positive again, and I muscled through classes and performances while receiving antibiotic injections and vitamin drips. I thought I was fully recovered, but in my late twenties the bottom dropped out again; I quit my theater and teaching jobs and recovered through nonantibiotic means. In my early thirties, my health started to slip once more. Today, my symptoms fall under the umbrellas of post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS), fibromyalgia, and myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME): specific patterns of nerve, muscle, and joint pain wrapped in overwhelming fatigue.

To thwart complete collapse, I stopped performing and embraced interview, exploring the minds of living humans for print and podcast with the same curiosity I embraced characters for the stage. From the calm of home, I voraciously read books and articles, watch TED Talks, and formulate interview questions, then use my limited energy in dialogue on the phone or in physical presence. This process helps me better understand our world and enjoy my place within it, despite physical limitation.

But in my single-and-sick isolation, I feel too many of my "relationships" now live in gadgets. And I've started to observe that access to instant digital stimulation drives more of us unnecessarily from real-life conversation and into our devices too. This disconnection has started to muddle how I feel about my place in the world — the joy I feel in the world itself.

"All this distraction is taking me away from being present," I tell Ben.

On Facebook, the recent horrific Pulse Nightclub shooting has some people I love defending LBGTQ+ rights and other people I love defending gun rights. Debate over the upcoming elections has taken over Twitter, and both Clinton and Trump supporters attack seemingly without remorse. Some humans in my life call other humans words I can't stomach repeating. They curse feminism and scoff at the Black Lives Matter movement.

My brain can't make sense of such derision, such unbound hostility.

I draft missives in response. But then delete them.

That's a lie.

A few times, I've (egotistically) sent out (what I thought was) a smartly crafted set of words. I've expected that, upon reading, the recipient might reflect and come out a kinder, more compassionate person. Instead, they send back something biting and defensive. I'm flummoxed. Embarrassed. Ashamed. Others then chime in with jabs of their own, attacking or defending.

I look at my words again. I ponder them from the opposite perspective.

I consider them as mere symbols on a screen.

Now, I see condescension. Defiance.

I remember: the real and virtual worlds don't always align.

As we curate images and edit words, we craft elevated online versions of ourselves just a bit better than we are in three dimensions. As a result, a strong body of research concludes, those of us already feeling low self-esteem particularly reach out to act through these surrogate selves — our avatars, if you will — when needing an ego boost. But, unfortunately, these avatars are devoid of the social cues our brain needs that signal us to "put the brakes on hurting people," as psychologist David DeSteno puts it. I get Professor David on the phone because as researcher, author, and director of Northeastern University's Social Emotions Group, he specializes in maneuvering the emotions I want to better understand. "When you and I are talking face to face, if I'm saying things that are hurtful to you, I see that hurt in your nonverbal expression," he points out. "I can pick up a lot on how you're feeling just by looking at you and seeing your body's response. If I'm not a horrible person, this will tend to make me have some empathy and compassion. Online, you don't see any of that."

Fully fluffed, we're subconsciously primed to see others as less human.

We act more cruelly than we might when someone stands before us.

The same can be said with dating apps. Ben and I talk at length about this confounding Wild West of online etiquette. Just last week I got ghosted. Again. I'd started to feel the age-old heart-thump for a man who was handsome, seemingly intelligent, owned his own small creative business — the good things you learn online — as we moved flirty app correspondence to text, then planned to meet, and then ... nothing. A few days passed. I checked in with him. Once. Twice. Ghost.

The Internet giveth and the Internet taketh away.

Because the Internet isn't'th real.

It shouldn't hurt anymore. But it does.

"I feel helpless in not being able to have a real conversation," I stress to Ben on the show. I've found myself brooding over insults. I play out in my mind hypothetical conversations and relationships that never materialize because I don't talk to these people.

I Tweet and erase. I Instagram and erase.

I don't know who I am online anymore!

I'm exhausted from pretending that I do.

I need a break. Even a little one.

"What are you going to do when the impulse comes to check?" Ben asks.

"I have crazy discipline!" I challenge back. "I can do anything for forty days." To help me stay the course, I take all social media and dating apps off of my phone. I remove their pages from my browser history. I set up a social media management program that will let me post articles and updates without my seeing or interacting with feeds. I wonder what thoughts will fill my head when unplugged and alone. Will I read more books? Enjoy lazy walks? How much will I miss online dating? (Or do I hate dating?)

"Do you have any expectations?" Ben asks as we wrap the segment.

Not expectations, necessarily. But hope.

I can't wander in the fog anymore.

I need to find the path.

And so I have hope that disconnecting might connect me with it again.

Or at least show me what it is.

INEFFICIENT

June 21. Day One.

I open my eyes and immediately realize how much I need this.

This is how my morning usually begins:

Within five minutes of waking, the phone charging two feet from my head is in my hands. First, I open Twitter. Instantly, insecurity skulks: I'm not observationally funny like YA author Jen Doll. ("Memes are the new gluten.") I don't have an emotionally loyal audience like food writer Kat Kinsman or novelist Esmé Weijun Wang. My building jealousy for the spot-on online expression of such lady writers I adore tastes like a morning breath of rotting fish. But I keep scrolling self-flagellatingly until too much "nasty woman" stuff swarms my feed and I switch over to Instagram. But there I see that my pretty pictures haven't gotten as many [heart]s as everyone else's pretty pictures. All of a sudden it's like I'm back in high school where my clothes aren't right, and I'm uncomfortable in my skin, and everyone else has their powderpuff pink or NYC punk so on point because their [heart] count is rollin' in, and so I move over to Facebook, where actual friends from high school are deep in digital conversation, and I can't catch up, and now I really don't belong and oh my dog, it's now nine o'clock and where did forty-five minutes of my life go?!?!

That's every other morning, before this One.

Today, I rise from bed.

I walk Mitra.

I make coffee.

I sit at my desk. I read through press releases announcing menu changes and restaurant openings. I answer invitations, yes and no. I research, write, and send interview questions.

Click, write, archive, delete.

I read my New York Times Daily Briefing. Trump faces "the worst financial gap in presidential history," with Clinton's campaign banking thirty-two times his. Florida police defend their delayed actions at the Pulse shooting. The Senate voted down four measures that would curb future gun sales. The trial of Caesar R. Goodson Jr. — the police officer charged in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, the twenty-five-year-old Baltimore man who died of severe spinal injury after being beaten by cops, cuffed, and tossed in the back of a police van — is wrapping up. The Senate is blocking President Obama's nomination of Merrick B. Garland to the Supreme Court. I stare at the screen, alone but for my dog and coffee. Shit is tense. It feels like some vengeful Greek god hovers, snarling, with weapons ready. But we can't identify exactly where or on whom its wrath will fall.

I need a social media brain break.

I can't take one.

Ouch.

I dive into more research. Not being able to look on social feeds when prepping interview questions makes this stupid cleanse professionally inconvenient. I read a fabulous essay and want to snoop out the writer: What does she vent on Twitter? What hue is her Instagram palate? I wanna look! Instead, I schedule a share of her story on Love Bites' Twitter feed. (I'm glad I anticipated this. Sharing stories matters.)

By two thirty, I've gotten so much done and my in-box is clear!

This never happens but — dammit — I can't tweet the victory!

Only sixish hours in, triumph mixes with unease.

I catch myself reaching for the phone every single time. I rise from my desk. I don't know what to do with myself while the microwave warms my tea. Or when my ancient laptop slowly loads a browser page. Or while I pee.

Am I addicted — like, physically hooked — to social media?

Having been born in the summer of 1981, I fall into a gap between generations X and Y (millennials). We indefinables grew up playing first-generation Nintendo and Oregon Trail. We took classes to learn how to type. In high school, dial-up begrudgingly connected us to sketchy AOL chat rooms. In resistance to the staying power of the Internet, my college classmates and I got a professor's plan to have us turn in assignments via e-mail successfully overturned!

Fast forward: I've downloaded and forgotten about too many dating and social network apps to ever want to tally. I navigate basic HTML, own eight URLs, and can edit and upload video, photography, and audio to various platforms (#Freelancer). I've lost count of how much storage I have in the so-not-stable cloud. My college friends plan reunions via Facebook.

How did I get from protest to feeling like I've chopped off a limb?

Have I failed in my use of technology?

Or has the tech presumably designed to make life easier failed me?

"It failed because it got too big," says Amber Case. I reach out to Amber because her expertise touches both technical and personal: as a user experience tech designer, cofounder and former CEO of the software company Geoloqui, and author of the manual Calm Technology: Principles and Patterns for Non-Intrusive Design, Designer-Amber knows how gadgets get made. As a cyborg anthropologist — one who studies the interaction between humans and technology — Anthropologist-Amber questions if they add value to our lives. (Amber prefers cyborg over avatar.)

I ask Amber why it's so hard to moderate use of online media. If I can't stop myself from endless Twitter scrolling or if pop-up videos pull my attention away from the one article I came on a site to read, who is more at fault? Do I blame it or me?

She says we have to first look at such technology as we would any other tool. "Initially, tools empowered us," she explains. "You are shaped by your tools, and you shape your tools." A carpenter, for example, knows the purpose of a hammer. The details of how to use the hammer do not distract from the wood in front of us or the walls we're building. "You're using it to get your job done, and you have your life's work with it," Designer-Amber says. But social media apps are often overcomplicated tools that distract us from our purpose and limit creativity. Our fill-in-the-blank profiles never look that much different than the next person's. We may think we shape our communities as we use them, but we don't. Instead, designers apply algorithms to prioritize what we see. Ideally, social networks and media companies would be useful tools that connect us in conversation. But Anthropologist-Amber points out these companies are for-profit and publicly traded; we pay them through "a period of time on the web," she explains. They only grow if they attract more of our time. And so they work to keep us clicking.

They're succeeding. Sixty-eight percent of adults in the United States, spanning all generations, are on Facebook now — my poppa was passing my friends digital Jell-O shots before I even had a profile. Three-quarters of users check in daily, and 28 percent of Generation X report being online an average of seven hours a week — more than even millennials.

I sit back and roughly calculate: pre-cleanse me hits that seven-hour mean shortly after my morning coffee. Then there's the constant reaching for the phone every time I rise to walk or pee or because I can't finish a thought ...

Where did those hours go?

Anthropologist-Amber suggests a test to anyone who asks: "It's super awkward," she jokes. "Go on a news binge on the web. Spend half an hour. Then write down what you remember. Nobody remembers anything."

Day One, I regret so much time lost.

At night, I'm supposed to meet my Soccer-Smart Friend Timmy at a bar to watch Team USA play Argentina in the Copa Americana, but my pain levels are too high for me to venture from home. Instead, I nest in the couch, cranky: I can't hang with Timmy, and now I can't join other Tweeters commenting from isolated pockets either — there is something to be said for nerdy-specific online community. But then Timmy starts to text a play-by-play on par with the same expertise I enjoy when we're side-by-side cheering. USA loses 4–0. But I feel particularly thankful for a real friend who virtually sits with me to the last second.

Night One, I drift to sleep with no mindless scrolling to delay me.

I can almost feel my fingers again.

ALONELINESS

Sweat prickles at the base of my neck as I walk into the backyard of Roberta's Pizza. It's a sticky Brooklyn summer night; the kind that pushes indefinable black grime into the pores on your face and between the creases of your sandaled toes. But I'm not battling the heat. I've come to a party at Heritage Radio unnervingly alone, testing offline life. I see few other punctual guests and no close friends. I put down my bag and ...

What do I do now?

Seriously?

What does one do in such social situations?

I knew vulnerability would be a factor but — damn! — this will take effort.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Me Without"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Jacqueline Raposo.
Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

An Invitation, ix,
A Prologue, xi,
Chapter 1: No Social Media, 1,
Chapter 2: No Shopping, 33,
Chapter 3: No Sugar, 57,
Chapter 4: No Holiday Gifting, 85,
Chapter 5: No Negative Thought, 109,
Chapter 6: Multiple Challenge!, 135,
Chapter 7: No Waste, 139,
Chapter 8: No Hustle, 163,
Chapter 9: Multiple Challenge Two!, 187,
Chapter 10: No Habit, 191,
An Epilogue, 217,
Your Year, Without, 225,
Acknowledgments, 233,
Notes, 237,

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The Me, Without: A Year Exploring Habit, Healing, and Happiness 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous 30 days ago
Well written, easy read that is heart wrenching and light hearted at the same time as she takes us on her journey of doing without in the quest to better her health, her finances and her home here on earth. The experts she interviews and quotes are informative and thought provoking. A must read that makes you ask yourself What am I doing and what can I do?
Anonymous 27 days ago
A friend insisted I read this. It's an extraordinary memoir in the guise of a self-help book. Ms. Raposo uses a process of self-examination and documentation to understand the many degrees to which she is a victim of our consumerist society. By stripping these things out of her life one at a time she searches for a true self. By examining herself, she revealed a great deal (to me) about the confluence of a specific generation with gender, (dis)ability, class and other ways to slice the pie. The book suggests solutions that may or may not be helpful to specific readers, but tracking the journey is moving and exhilarating. Oh, and she's a clear, direct writer with a sense of humor.
Anonymous 27 days ago
I like that the author of this book is a regular person. Rather than preach about "bad habits," she tells stories about her own experiences and the goals she set for herself. Hearing about her struggles with Lyme disease was very eye-opening, and I really enjoyed the fun moments like the love letter to her right pinky finger, LOL. The No Hustle challenge scares the crap out of me, but I am gonna try it. :) Wish me luck.
Anonymous 29 days ago
This book gives a powerful perspective on making decisions to better your own life and find happiness. It's not one of those happiness books that makes you feel worse but rather a deep dive into the life of someone who decided to make some changes and to see how they affected her life. I had chills pretty much the whole time (and not only because we share the same last name). She made me giggle and tear up. Read. This. Book.