"I feel like I'm going crazy"
Tonya Barksdale's son Joshua was born prematurely and released from the hospital under the condition that Barksdale keep him at home for two months without any visitors. Since her husband works long hours, Barksdale was alone most of the day. "When my husband got home from work, I was clingy and dying for someone to talk to.
I started to feel like a crazy person. I was becoming depressed without any interaction," she says. Desperate, she went online and found the community she needed. "I'd talk to people in chat rooms for hours." But not about babies or parenting. "I needed to feel like a normal person who could have normal conversations that weren't about breastfeeding or how many ounces my son gained." Soon, she was spending as many as eight hours online every day.
"In addiction treatment, we talk about the fact that there's a void," says Moore. "Whatever that void may be -- whether it's emotional, spiritual, physical -- typically, we're trying to fill it." For many new moms, she says, that void is the isolation -- both the tangible isolation of being home alone with a demanding newborn and the mental isolation of diving into uncharted waters -- they often experience during the transition to parenthood.
"Being a mom of young children can be very solitary," agrees Jay Parker, cofounder of Internet/Computer Addiction Services in Redmond, Washington. So it's easy for them to turn online, he explains, to find other parents and create a world there where they are not alone. Once that world is created, it becomes an escape that moms may turn to whenever they're stressed, lonely, bored, or sad. In addiction, they become dependent on that escape.
"I called it my 'avoidance cycle,'" says Jessica Rigby (her name has been changed), a pregnant mother of three from Idaho who used to write four blogs. "Whenever I felt overwhelmed, I would escape into mindless web surfing. I'd find myself circling through the comments section on my blogs to my photos on Flickr to see if anyone had commented on them, and then over to Twitter to see if anyone was chatting with me there. I'd waste hours just waiting for someone to respond to something I'd said or posted." Because she'd skip errands and allow her kids to make a mess of the house, she says, her stress only amplified, and she'd dive into the avoidance cycle all over again.
And even now that Barksdale's son is a healthy 5 months and allowed to socialize, she still finds it hard to resist the Net. "Today, I had to unplug my computer so I wouldn't go online," she says. "I probably spend the same amount of time online as I did when it was all I could do."