That Time I Died Online

More and more I find that the lines between the real world and the online world are becoming blurred or nonexistent. Now I don’t mean I’m beginning to see the world as streams of falling lines of code, like in the movie The Matrix, but my perspective on what is real news or fake news, cool or not cool, and what I should value in my own self is now inextricably shaped by what I experience through the internet. It’s no secret, everyone knows that the web has changed the world and everything we do in it. The meaningful question and the one harder to answer, however, is do you know if the internet has changed you, as a person, for better or worse, and could you live without it?

Earlier this year I was told by my doctor that he had found two small nodules on my thyroid gland following an ultrasound test.

“So what’s a nodule?” I asked, “is it a tumor . . . is it cancerous?”

“Well,” my doctor explained, “it’s a growth, we’re not sure what it is, but it’s most likely a benign growth, which is technically a tumor, but we like to use the term nodule because it sounds less threatening.”

That did not sound less threatening.

“Anyway, it’s too small to do a biopsy on, so let’s have you back here in six months for another ultrasound to see how it progresses. Really, it’s no reason to be worried.”

I was worried.

And like any good Millennial, seconds after leaving the doctor’s office I Googled every single web article, blog, and YouTube video on thyroid nodules I could find. I was rewarded with an overwhelming feeling of ambivalence. The internet provided me with both reassurance that I would survive to a ripe old age, but also cautioned me that I could require surgery to have my thyroid removed. Worst case scenario, I might lose my lower jaw bone to surgery, similar to what happened to the late Roger Ebert (famous film critic). Or perhaps nothing would come of it at all.

I’d like to tell you that I spent that six month waiting period constructively. That I used that time for personal growth, to utilize some of my yoga training to focus on the good things in my life and to find a silver lining to my situation. However, the truth is, I spent most of that time being slowly torn apart from the inside by anxiety and indecision.

It was definitely a dark period of my life. A time that I questioned everything of value in my life. I wanted an answer now. I couldn’t wait six hours, and certainly not six months to know my fate. I thought constantly about notions of quitting my job, selling my home and all my possessions to travel the world while I was still healthy enough to do so. I was on the internet every waking hour. I was looking for the answer, that one article or social media posting that would convince me everything was going to be alright. But I never found it. And that worrisome doubt always remained in the pit of my stomach, from the moment I woke in the morning to the moment I fell asleep at night.

Then the day of the ultrasound test came and I finally made a “good” decision. (I put “good” in quotation marks here because I made a decision and then didn’t find out it was good until after the fact.)

I decided to detach myself completely from the digital world. All sources, meaning no phone calls, no email, no text messages, no internet, no TV, just me and the people I work and live with. I decided I needed to release myself, at least for a little while, from the deluge of information outside of my control and just live my life in the moment. Having no phone also meant I wouldn’t be receiving any calls from my doctor to answer that burning question . . . would I be alright? I realized I actually had the power to choose when I would receive this information, whether good or bad, and I wanted to be in good place mentally and fully prepared before that happened.

I let my friends and family know in advance I was going off the grid for a while, just in case they thought I might have died.

But actually, I really did die, in a way. My whole life online went on ice and I was no longer aware of anything other than my daily face-to-face interactions.

I was really surprised at how my perspective on the world changed when the online me passed away and the offline me starting having the time of my life! I realized how dependent I had become on instant information, instant results, and instant gratification. All of my values and social norms began to change as well. I was no longer preoccupied with maintaining what I thought should be an idealized and successful version of myself through the lens of social media. And most importantly, I was no longer comparing my real life to the online lives of others. There was no more pressure to want a life with more travel, more friends, more likes or more views to my postings. There was just me and my life as I saw it with my own two eyes.

And most importantly there was no more yearning for the answer to that burning question in the pit of my stomach . . . would I be alright? The answer wasn’t on the internet. It wasn’t even a question. It was a decision I had to make on my own. And I decided, yes I will be alright.

P.S. I eventually resurrected my online life, as you can probably tell – since you are likely reading this via the internet, but I’ve come to a new appreciation of the digital world and how it influences the human experience.

P.S.S. I also eventually got in touch with my doctor, the results from the follow-up ultrasound were good ☺

In 2015, Adrian Brett founded Yoga 505, a free outdoors yoga group to provide yoga to anyone and anywhere. Today, he still has a day job, but spends most of my spare time (and a fair amount of work time) doing as much yoga as possible.