Disconnect to Reconnect

I made a meme which I planned to share on my Facebook page. As I was uploading it, it occurred to me that some people might misconstrue the words.

Sometimes I do need to disconnect so that I can reconnect. This does is not because I disapprove of social media, or the way in which people use technology. I have shared my thoughts about tech shaming before, so I want to be clear. The thoughts that I’m going to share are about how I cope with information overload. They are not about how much time anyone spends using technology.

I cannot remain connected to people without taking a break. I need to disconnect in order to reconnect.

When I don’t do that, I become overwhelmed really easily. That takes a toll on pretty much every other area of my life. I can’t do the things that I can usually do, and start wandering through my days somewhat aimlessly. When that happens, I start feeling as though I’m sliding down to burn out again.

For some Autistic people, social media in general is simply too much. As Leia Solo explains in this post:

“My autistic brain reads EVERYTHING. Walking down the street, I read all the words in my peripheral vision and store them in my brain space. I read the copyright warnings on DVD’s in a panic to reach the end before they disappear. I read signs, t-shirt slogans, car number plates. I absorb it all and it stacks in layers of my mind and jumps out at me while I meditate, while I fall asleep, while I’m working. It’s all in there.”

I relate to that a lot because I also read everything. Hours after reading something, I find myself pondering the things that I have read. It may be a trivial bit of general knowledge (like the QE2 burns a gallon of diesel for every inch it travels), or it could be something more intense (like a friend’s personal situation). I read everything, and I think about it all without being able to stop the flow of information.

On Facebook, I unfollow most of the people on my friends list. I go through the list regularly and change who I follow and unfollow so that I do get the opportunity to connect with everyone on the list, but not all at the same time. I can follow around 10 people at a time – any more than that, and I start feeling overloaded.

Offline, it’s the same. I can keep in touch with a few friends at a time, and I can’t stay connected to everyone at the same time. It’s just too much.

For me, online and offline friendships are of equal importance and are equally rich. The connections can be equally deep. There is one difference for me: Online friendships are more sustainable because my need to take breaks and return is more accepted. Offline friends seem to have higher expectations regarding keeping in touch. The truth is that I simply cannot do that. I haven’t been able to find too many people offline who understand that my need to disconnect doesn’t mean that I don’t care about them. So, offline friendships slip away, while online friendships remain.

I do what I can to reduce the overload that I experience on social media, but I still need breaks. Disconnecting from it all for a while gives me the space to pursue my personal passions without distraction. I recharge, and then I can return and reconnect. During times like these, I still keep in touch with a few people, and I’m still available if people need me, but for the most part, I’m focusing on me.

I am fortunate to have people in my life who understand that I need to retreat into my blanket fort sometimes. I need to be in my own headspace for a bit. They don’t take it personally, and they don’t interpret my inability to maintain contact over a prolonged period of time as disinterest in our friendships.

It took me a long time to accept that my inability to do that is not a personal failing. It’s simply the way my brain is wired: Sometimes, I need to disconnect so that I can reconnect.