Guys, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been struggling as a blogger. I’ve been erratic in my responses to comments–hyper sensitive and strange. Very defensive. I’ve also felt afraid to post. I avoid coming here. It fills me with anxiety. I feel fear posting even the most innocuous of posts.
I realized yesterday what is actually going on, like a photograph coming into sharp focus.
Trauma is an interesting thing. Our bodies and minds respond very purposefully to it. Even when we don’t want them to, sometimes our bodies and minds try to protect us from things that it finds dangerous. They want to protect us from things that have caused pain, or things that we feel threaten us in some way. Our bodies and minds are miraculous that way.
I absolutely, 100% love this blog. I have loved it from the day of its inception–back in 2010 when it was about me coming to grips with my Inattentive ADHD–but I didn’t truly fall in love with it until about ten months in when, on a whim, I decided to start writing humor posts.
A whole world opened up to me then. It was magical. I could let my internal voice shine through. I felt like I was sharing a huge, hilarious joke with the world, and that we were all laughing together like good friends.
My blog started getting dangerous for me when it exploded all over the entire Internet and people started coming here and saying truly caustic things about me and my family. Viral posts are often an accident, and they have a very traumatic feel to them–one day your life is one way, and the next, everything is different and the Whole World is watching you. It’s freaking scary.
At that point, I wrote a quick, panicked email to one of my blogging heroes, Jenny Lawson, asking her if I should do anything but “enjoy the ride.” She is very, very popular, and I didn’t expect to get a reply back, but–being the awesome person she is–she did respond with a short, helpful email (warning: she swears):
Take a deep breath and enjoy the ride. Also, know that with viral comes
mean comments so be prepared for assholes and either delete them or don’t
let them get to you. You deserve all the success that comes to you. 🙂
I tried to take her advice, and I got better and better at this–deleting or not letting it get to me–over time. It’s very difficult, actually, especially when the majority of your serious writing has to do with the absolute most sacred, personal, vulnerable parts of your entire soul. To have people take a figurative dump on your figurative heart is pretty awful. To know how to manage it all is pretty awful. To have people you respect and admire attack you for things you write is pretty awful–much more awful than the random people who, in my imagination, relish in the ability to anonymously cut and claw and hurt and then go on with their day as if nothing has happened.
But you get better at it. You deal. You put up comment moderation. You get used to deleting a-hole comments. You view your blog as your private home, and you decide who you will let air their dirty laundry and who you won’t. You cut your teeth, and then it becomes second nature. You start to feel like things are okay. That things are safe, even though rude people still come out of the woodwork. You can brush them off. Water off a duck’s back. There are so many more people out there who support you and love you. You start to feel like this vulnerability–this type of constant openness–might be okay after all.
And then someone gets on your blog’s Facebook page and actually threatens your family.
Suddenly all the trauma you have felt up to this point is compounded brutally, and you want to call the whole thing off.
It was right around Thanksgiving. The first message this guy sent me was on my personal Facebook page. Between counseling sessions, my phone showed his message saying, among other things, that he hated me and he hoped everything I loved would turn to ash. I felt flushed with rage that he would make such a comment on my personal Facebook page. When I had the chance, I got on, took a deep breath, and got in touch with my empathy. I would not return fire with fire. I dug deep, said I was sorry for whatever had happened to him that made him hurt–because it is usually a hurt person who does the hurting, usually the bullied that become the bullies–and asked him to not message me again.
His next message said horrible things about my wife and children. I blocked him.
Then he went to my blog’s Facebook page where I am not able to block him. He continued messaging me. I continued responding with kindness, hoping I could get him to stop by becoming more human to him. I realize now this was probably a mistake, but I wanted it to end, and the times I tried not responding, he escalated. I felt powerless.
Then it got really bad.
I work with trauma victims every day. Trauma is a strange beast. It evokes shame and it makes us act in ways we normally wouldn’t. Because the trauma of the experience I am talking about has affected my ability to write here in my own space, I have decided to process what happened here on the blog with all of you to see if it makes me feel safer. You see, I don’t like feeling scared of this place. I love this blog, and the community that has built around me here. I love you all. I want to get better and feel safe here again. This post is my effort to start that process.
I’m going to include the exchange that made me and Lolly feel traumatized. I do this to weaken the shame it makes me feel that I am a “victim” or that I was treated this way. I also do this because bullies need to be exposed before they will stop bullying, and we should never be afraid to shine a light on what people try to do behind closed doors (or in private inboxes) to hurt us.
Be warned though, it is vile and filled with horrible language. I wouldn’t blame you if you chose not to read it. This starts kind of in media res, when he began posting on my blog’s Facebook page. (I deleted the original messages he sent to my private one, but they were similar.)
After saying he hoped my wife would be gang raped, and that my children would be ripped away from me, this tiny message, which I saw in the middle of the night with my sweet wife sleeping by my side, filled me with fear. My mind flashed through recent days. Had I seen anything amiss? Was this person following me? Were my children at risk? I sat, stunned, picturing the horrible things a person so filled with hate could do to my children. How could I know what a person like this could do? Visions of car wrecks and kidnappings and brutality haunted me. I felt sick.
At first, I was paralyzed. I looked into what Facebook could to to protect me, but there was no real recourse. I tried to tell myself it was fine, and that I was overreacting. I wanted to tell Lolly what was going on, but I felt ashamed, and I still didn’t want her to know what he said about her. That was one of the things that felt the worst–knowing that if I told her what was happening, she would have to read those words which I knew would wound her.
When he left another message on my Facebook page a day or two later, something in me snapped. It was late at night again, and I got very angry. I wrote the following message:
The next day, I told Lolly what was happening. It was horrible. I showed her those cutting messages and watched her cry. I saw the terror in her face when she read the threatening message. It made the fear I had felt all the more real when she started asking the same questions: “does he know where we live” and “will he try to hurt our kids” and “will he try to hurt me?”And then, as we talked, the feeling shifted. We felt angry. We looked up a private investigator to track this person down, but that didn’t feel right yet. Instead we decided to call the police.
Soon we had a deputy in our living room, reading this exchange on our blog. He was appalled at what he read. He was also baffled–why did this person hate you so much, he asked? The officer took down all the information we could find there together looking at my laptop, and said he would do some research and keep us updated by email. He asked if we wanted him to pursue any action. We said no, for the time being. Later that day he emailed us with the information he found about this person. Unsurprisingly, the details he uncovered about his life portrayed a sad picture of loneliness and isolation. He said to email him if we ever needed his help in the future.
I am sharing with you all that has happened because I don’t want this event to have power over me anymore. I don’t want to be afraid. I’m not sure how, but somehow sharing feels liberating. It feels like I am taking control of this situation. I’m tired of feeling like a victim of my blog. I want to take it back as something I own and love, and not feel trapped and threatened by it. And even though telling you all what happened won’t prevent someone from doing something like this in the future, it gives me power to have exposed what did happen. It allows me to not feel shame. It allows others to rally around us. It allows me to use this place that has recently made me feel anxious and fearful instead to feel in control and solid and supported. Thank you to all of you who have been such a support to us over the last 18 months.
So, yes, if you’ve noticed that I’ve been weird for a little while, now you know what is going on. I’m sorry it took me this long to realize how much this, in combination with everything else, has affected me. I’m not expecting some radical change to take place in me, necessarily, having shared this post. I’d like that to be the case, but I know that that’s not usually how life works. However, I do know this: having typed this all out, I feel much better and much more empowered and much less anxious about posting on The Weed. I think this is a good step. I feel closer to making this space safe for me again. And that, deep down, is something I really, really want.
One final thought, if cyberbullying can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. It is a new, uncharted reality of our digital age. Our kids are ripe targets, and likely feel very alone if this kind of thing happens. We need to be on the lookout. Really anybody with any kind of online presence can be cyberbullied. If this happens to you or someone you know, I hope you find the courage to speak up and get help. Don’t let a perpetrator make you feel ashamed, isolated and fearful. Break the illusion of secrecy they try to foster. Tell someone what is happening. Document everything. Exposure and support is the only way out. Here is a helpful, bare-bones guide with information about cyberbullying.