The Internet Commenters in My Head

Confession time: I’m addicted to internet comments. They’re probably my worst, most destructive vice. No, really. I have a problem — I absolutely MUST know what anonymous people on the internet think. I will often gloss over huge portions of articles I’m genuinely interested in just to see how the commenters reacted. My problem runs so deep that, if I’m reading an article on my phone and can’t get the comments to load from my mobile browser, I will email the link to myself so that I can read the comments on my laptop later on. Yeah, it’s pretty bad.

Why the obsession with what random people online think? There are too many reasons to list, but the ones I’m most able to articulate are: 1), I’m a glutton for other peoples’ ignorance and stupidity, 2), sometimes commenters genuinely bring perspective or further depth to an article or concept that I’ve never thought of, 3), the lawyer in me simply MUST know what the other side(s) are saying so I can stay in front of their arguments in the inevitability that I end up in a real life debate on the topic, 4), because clearly I hate myself and don’t value my own time. Ha!

I try to keep in mind the fact that the people who consistently comment on internet media are not representative of the entire population — the vast majority of folks are like, “meh, this is not important enough for me to get involved,” while internet commenters are like:

For me, it's more like, "I can't. This is important. Someone is wrong on the internet and I have to watch someone else destroy them in the comments section!"

For me, it’s more like, “I can’t. This is important. Someone is wrong on the internet and I have to watch someone else destroy them in the comments section!”

According to my brother, most anons who angrily comment on the internet are either teenagers in their rooms with nothing better to do, or worse, adults with nothing better to do.

But still, their words seep into me and I find myself fearful of them. They color both my perceptions of myself and the thoughts I share when I write. Ultimately, I fear both rejection and harassment and as silly as it sounds, one of my worst nightmares is hundreds of anonymous people telling me how horrible, stupid, fat and unworthy I am.

By constantly reading what they write, it’s almost as though I am trying to arm myself against them — trying to stay one step ahead of them, so I can ward them off preemptively. So that nobody will ever say something terrible or hurtful to me anonymously again. Because that’s how THAT works.

I’m no stranger to internet harassment. When I was a Freshman in high school, somebody made a screen name on AIM called “ChelcIsFat” and proceeded to send me bullying messages day after day:

“How much do you weigh? 38729202339392728292 lbs?!”

I blocked them, and they came back around time and time again under different burner screen names — over and over, until I had nothing left but tears and the burning question:

“Why me? Am I really so horrible?”

I had my faults, for sure. I was a hanger on and a bit annoying, but I didn’t deserve cruelty. I didn’t deserve harassment. And I found all of those negative internet experiences to be extremely alienating and scarring. They still profoundly affect me and the way I interact with others.

Sadly, cruelty and harassment are just par for the course when you’re a woman on the internet — or anyone on the internet, really (though, let’s be honest, women are particularly targeted).

Here’s the thing — as much as I try to compartmentalize all of those anons, and tell myself to brush them off, I’ve noticed lately that they’ve taken on a life of their own in my mind.

They’re perpetuating my self-doubt: “I shouldn’t publish that — nobody cares about what I think about racism. I’m no authority!”

They’re lurking beneath my words, urging me to be more diplomatic when I’m really, really not: “Maybe I should tone down that argument… I don’t want to anger anybody or have them criticize me.”

They’re keeping me from fulfilling my potential and being true to myself: “I shouldn’t post too much in my blog, or promote myself too enthusiastically or people will get annoyed,” or “I can’t post two essays in a row about my grief or I’ll drive people away. What if people think that’s all I am?!”

They’re holding me back from fully pursuing writing: to this day, I won’t publish my work anywhere that has anonymous commenting systems, for fear of backlash or harassment.

I’m ashamed to admit that I police myself based on the words of anonymous people who are, for all intents and purposes, extremists. But I also don’t know how to get them out of my head or get past my paralyzing fear of being bullied again.

I’m sensitive, and I don’t want to (slash honestly couldn’t) change that.

So what do I do? Do I keep quiet and let them win, or do I put on a brave face and keep writing? Is it worth it to get hit in order to be authentic? Am I seriously this pathetic and cowardly, when there are people like Malala Yousafzai in this world (who, if you’ll remember, was a CHILD when she risked her life to write about being under Taliban occupation, and despite being shot in the head for that conviction, she is STILL putting herself on the line to advocate for girls’ education)?!

These are the questions I grapple with constantly. And of course, the internet commenters in my head have plenty of opinions in regards to the answers.

But today, I’m going to very maturely give them a big ol’ double middle finger and say, LA LA LA, I’M NOT LISTENING.

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Leaning In… To The Suck

I’m going through a rough patch and it sucks. There, I said it. My life isn’t rainbows and sunshine. Not today, anyway. Right now, I’m not seeing the bright side, and frankly, I haven’t for weeks.

Last month, I hurt my knee under rather mysterious circumstances. “Mysterious,” meaning I have no memory of the injury, and my doctor is not quite sure what is wrong with me. My MRI didn’t reveal much, and the level of swelling I’m experiencing is a bit unusual. Like most of my injuries, this one’s a stumper. So, for the past several weeks, I’ve been in and out of appointments, imaging facilities and physical therapy, all while my condition worsens, rather than getting better. My movement is greatly restricted, and I’ve been advised against doing any of my activities. This is all coming on the tail end of a recovery from another very painful, chronic injury in my foot. The current tally for the past two years: I’ve been injured or otherwise incapacitated 19 months out of last 24. Needless to say, I’m beyond frustrated.

I’ve gone through every possible stage of injury emotion:

Monday: “MY LIFE IS OVER.”

Tuesday: “I will not be defeated. I’m going to beat this thing. Bring. It. ON!”

Wednesday: “Still, you stupid knee? STILL?! You’re still hurting? You’re just going to be the worst forever, aren’t you?”

Thursday: “Not being able to move is ok, I guess. Less time for biking, hiking, running, cycling, swimming and playing sports means more time for writing and banjo… RIGHT?! I’ll just focus on those things. Yay, enlightenment!”

Friday: “OMG now my foot is hurting again too?! Fuck this, I give up! It’s too hard. No matter what I do to prevent it, I always end up injured. Everything is horrible.”

Saturday: “NO. I will not stop working towards my goals. I will not let this deter me, dammit!”

Sunday: “Wow, I feel pretty good today. Maybe I’ll beat this thing after all.”

Rinse. Repeat.

The motivation and inspiration I’ve been feeling so strongly lately have dwindled and I’m tired of playing by all the rules.

I know my knee injury is not the end of the world. Sure, injuries suck, and they happen to the best of us. I’m privy to the fact that it could be much worse and that self-pity is not a super attractive trait. I’ve maybe indulged in it a bit too much since my mother died. But I’ve also put an immense amount of pressure on myself to avoid letting the sadness take me into its tide. I WANT to push through and to stop being so… sad.

But, if I’m being honest, lately I’ve been feeling more emotionally rundown than normal. And to combine that with being essentially couch-ridden and in physical pain nearly 24/7, well, it’s really testing me. Plus, since losing Nance, every little or big thing that goes wrong seems to carry more weight. Or, rather, I’m less able to weather it. I’m drained. I feel like I’m constantly pushing back, trying to remain optimistic, willing the tide to turn; screaming at the top of my lungs to be heard, but only releasing breathy rasps.

Fighting.

The trajectory of my life sometimes feels like one giant fight just to be okay — to heal from one blow only to be hit by the next. All the while, I must constantly police myself; force myself not to go to close to the edge.

The energy it takes to stay in “the good place” is truly exhausting. I was reminded of this by a passage in Cade Leebron’s insanely amazing, well-written and moving essay about rape, Fuck Us Harder (seriously, please go read it).

“I want to ask them to come lie on the floor with me, to feel really low with me, to understand that because of the actions of one boy four years ago I still sometimes stay up until five in the morning doing absolutely nothing other than lying in bed hating myself. I want them to know that he didn’t go to therapy, I did. He didn’t think about dropping out, I did. He didn’t drink himself to sleep for months, I did. Even now I am constantly monitoring myself, interrogating myself, trying to make sure that I don’t fall into those bad habits again, I’m still reminding myself to practice whatever self-care I can manage.” (Bold added for emphasis.)

These crushing, beautiful words brought me right back to feeling like the depressed and frustrated college girl I once was — isolated, enduring the trauma of a rape and an emotionally abusive relationship alone; languishing in a messy, dark room where I never drew the blinds or made the bed, or studied, or cared much about anything but trying to make it through. In those days, I constantly coached myself, worrying if I didn’t stay on top of myself, I might give up or die of pure emotional exhaustion.

While feeling so much empathy for the girl I used to be, I realized that the pressure I am putting on myself now to do all the right things — to will the pain away — is really not much different than the way I constantly berated myself back then.

Today (really, every day for the past 11 years), I am constantly propelling myself to do everything in my power possible to not fall apart. To be strong. To fight for my health. To be the inspiration everybody wants me to be. To stop feeling bad for myself. To make Nance proud. To be more like those annoyingly incredible people who overcome truly astronomical difficulties and end up giving TED Talks about how obstacles are life’s way of seeing what we’ve got to give… or whatever.

But I can’t do it right now. I’m emotionally exhausted and I can’t put that immense strain on myself. I’ve got to slow down and take a minute; a breather. I’ve got to give in to the tide a little bit.

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Photo Credit: James Stencilowsky

So what am I going to do? I’m going to lean in to the suck. I’m going to be kind to myself. I’m going to forgive myself if I don’t make my bed, or get out of it until 10, or even if I spend a day binge watching feel-good comedies when I really, really need to be doing other things. You know what else I’m going to do? I’m going to give a mental middle finger to the next well-meaning person who gives me unwanted advice on how to fix myself, rather than beating myself up and feeling the need to explain where I’m coming from.

Call it self-care. Call it being a sad sack. Call it whatever you want. I’m doing it. It’s what I need right now, and I’m embracing it. I’m not making any apologies. This is where I’m at. Sometimes, things just suck. This roadblock just looks like a damn roadblock to me, not an opportunity. Sorry, positivity-pushers. The motivational speaker inside me is on vacation.

I’m sure I’ll be feeling more optimistic again soon. There’s only so long I can be down, really. I always tire of feeling bad for myself… eventually. And if my past is any indicator, I’ll be picking myself up and putting my head back on in no time.

But not today. Today sucks.