Pelle Skogsberg is a physical- and behavioural therapist specialized in internet addiction and behavioural psychology. He discovered the CZ-syndrome in 2016 and currently does consulting from Northern Norway.
Pelle Skogsbergs Story
From when I was born until I was 20 years old I lived through the most dramatic shift in human society. From a world without any of it, to a world where everyone is carrying it in their pocket. It is called the greatest invention in modern time. The internet.
I consider myself lucky enough to have experienced a childhood where minutes felt like hours and boredom where my constant companion. It makes you creative and resourceful. I remember I used to ride a bike around my suburban neighborhood, knocking on doors to my friends, trying to find someone willing to hang out.
In the beginning of the 21th century, I was introduced to the internet. After a while of hanging out on the earliest social media platforms I was introduced to torrent-downloading sites, and banners of naked women. My primal instincts suddenly screamed and made it impossible to resist clicking.
I didn’t know anything about sex until I was introduced to porn. I was twelve years old and I suspect I was late to the party already in those days.
At the same time, one of my friends, brought the first cellphone with a colour display to school. But after just a short while almost everybody had the same thing. I didn’t even own a cellphone. The one with the most ringtones became the coolest. Then music came. Sony Ericsson dominated with their Walkman. Nokia dominated with their smartphones. For a short while I was trying to keep up. But I realised that it was fruitless to try and stay on top.
In 2008, while many were buzzing about this new thing called an Iphone, I decided to get off the rat race and bought the most simple waterproof durable phone I could find before I went off to boarding school in the swedish outback. My phone could make phone calls and text. That was it. I was trying to escape the seemingly endless strive towards the next big thing among my peers.
But in boarding school it wasn’t any different from what I was trying to escape from. As a matter of fact it was even worse. The guys could spend all of their free time and even most classes in school, playing some absurd multiplayer online game. They constantly sat with an Iphone or their computer in front of them and blamed the teacher for not being able to teach them anything because school was so boring. As a result they couldn’t keep up, which made their focus during classes even worse.
I had a rule to never bring a computer to class, and never sat next to anyone with a computer. It made me unfocused and even worse, it damaged my connection to the teacher. A single flashing light in my visual field would take my attention from the class to whatever was flashing.
I spent my days studying and exercising – training for competitive triathlon. In the evenings I played the piano, the guitar and read books. Needless to say I didn’t have much of a social life. But I was happy. I jumped out of bed in the morning motivated to learn and felt that I was going places.
I was making myself ready to join military special forces. The only place I believed that my discipline and set of skills would be appreciated.
When I left school I had straight A’s. I was one of the youngest athletes in Sweden (the World) ever to have finished all four races of the Swedish Classic Circuit in under 24 hours as a 17 year old. 90 km of cross country skiing, 300 km of biking, 3 km of swimming and 30 km of running. I scored top of my class in my pluton and when I was supposed to get critical feedback from my classmates in the military I received nothing but credit.
I was going places. But then one night, I woke up cold sweating, still half asleep I found myself running towards the bathroom. I spent the rest of the night vomiting and the next two days in complete delirium, fading in and out of sleep, unable to communicate or do anything but survive the loss of bodily fluids. Then I handed in an application to quit.
I never quit a thing in my life. But now, I was a quitter.
After two weeks from when I left the military I had my first panic attack in a bungalow in Thailand. I couldn’t for the world figure out what was going on. One moment I was a straight A student able to do mentally and physically strenuous exercises all day every day without failing. Now I slept 12 hours per night with a constant pressure over my chest.
I decided to study physical therapy in the University of my hometown while I got my bearings. My friends and family told me that I should have some fun and enjoy myself for a while.
So when I came to the university I wanted to be included in the social life. It was supposed to be fun. I got my first smartphone. The woman who I bought the smartphone from looked at my previous phone and welcomed me into the 21th century. This was in the year 2013.
I got a facebook account and 3g internet connection so I could go on the internet whenever I wanted. During the first trimester I continued to perform top scores on every exam.
For a while I felt excited and I could feel the benefits from being able to access unlimited information and entertainment whenever I wanted. I went to parties, made sure I was up to date with what everyone else was doing on snapchat, facebook and instagram. People liked me and it felt good to be included for once. Then I started bringing a computer and an Ipad to lectures.
The simplicity of it was overwhelming. I had every slide the lecturer was going to talk about in my Ipad before the class even began. So soon I found myself watching youtube whenever the lecturer wasn’t saying anything interesting because I had already read through the slides and googled everything I didn’t fully understand. The lecturer became obsolete.
And then things got worse. I started moving back in the classroom. The girls sitting in the front row was keen to listen to and make notes on everything the lecturer said in their paper notebooks. I no longer belonged in the front row. I could just go through the slides at a later point when studying for the exam.
I had little to no direct interaction with the lecturer and could almost feel myself avoiding eye contact and constantly being drawn towards some notification on my computer rather than being present in the classroom.
My attention span went from previously being able to sit and study for hours non-stop, to a couple of seconds. My grades went down as a result. I started having trouble sleeping and felt tired all the time.
At a couple of times, sitting in the back of the classroom, I fell asleep and didn’t even care much. I felt an indifference which I had never felt before. I was feeling almost depressed. My memory was nothing like it once was and studying became difficult and a struggle.
During the last trimester I failed my first exam, had an intense argument with my teacher and started to worry over what was happening. Searching for answers I eventually turned to a psychologist only to be investigated for aspergers, ADHD and bipolar disease. I was living in a constant fog of tiredness and anxiety, and struggled with even the simplest tasks, but I refused to be victimized by accepting that my symptoms were a result from an inherent cognitive limitation.
I barely got through graduation. But the breaking point came after another 6 months.
During the last year I had gotten anonymous messages and phone calls. Someone was stalking me on facebook and Instagram, making death threats to me and half a dussin of my closest friends and loved ones. As soon as I shared something on social media I got a death threat saying they were going to blow me up or shoot me wherever I was. And I couldn’t figure out who would want to do something like that to me.
I was working as a gym manager when I couldn’t take it anymore. I broke up with my girlfriend and couldn’t think of anything else but how I was going to get through the day. It was in a very dark place.
I knew I had to change.
3 years of studying physical therapy and behavioural psychology had taught me one thing. Your environment determines your life. Change your environment – change your life.
I used to read books and sleep for 9 hours every night. I used to to play the piano, write, and go out in nature. Now I did nothing, except wasting time in a virtual world whenever I could, trying to escape the fact that my life was going to hell.
I used to be bored and patient, creative and resourceful – now I was constantly being fed with notifications, messages, snapchats, videos and images of everyone else’s life.
I used to be interested in having sex, now I could watch porn whenever I wanted.
I could run 10k in under 40 minutes and I could do 100 strict pushups non-stop. But I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning without feeling discontent.
The fact that I was being stalked on social media wasn’t the only reason to change. Something deep inside me told me that there was only one thing that had changed in my life over the years, which had caused my life to fall apart. I had seen a few studies of the negative effects from the internet and social media. But could it really be so?
Desperate for change I quit social media, cheap entertainment and porn. I started sleeping from when I was tired, until I naturally woke up. I got a sleddog and spent as much time in nature as I could.
I started writing and researchingabout what had happened to me. I found a body of research that was starting to suggest that from the time when internet was introduced to society, much had changed for the better, but mental illness, depression, anxiety, burnout and much more had skyrocketed. Somehow I had been affected by the greatest lifestyle disease and health threat of our time, and I had the education to connect the dots.
My stalker was finally arrested. I sold my city apartment for a profit, quit my job and moved to northern Norway above the Arctic Circle and then I started writing.
I had gone from a straight A student and elite performer, to barely able to get out of bed in the morning. All because of what the internet did to me.
Now I want to help those who are where I was.