If I can make just one person feel less alone, it’s worth it.
One night a few months ago, I absentmindedly logged on to Twitter as my alter ego, @AnotherAnnie, to scroll for a couple of minutes before cleaning up after dinner.
To my surprise, I had more than a hundred notifications waiting for me. I rarely have more than two or three (yeah, okay, I’m not a big deal on Twitter), so I was immediately curious. Was one of my tweets about to go viral? Did I have a bunch of new followers? Had someone said something nice about me?
I opened up my notifications and my mouth went dry. It was a barrage of acerbic tweets about an article I’d written on being a single parent in response to a guy with a large online following who’d posted this about me:
— Gavin McInnes (@Gavin_McInnes) March 10, 2016
One read, ‘Poor life decision does not = brave or proud, it = selfish and harmful. Have some respect for yourself.’
Another was much more brutal. ‘Single mothers usually have some personality disorder that means they don’t give a fuck.’
And then; ‘This lady is a despicable cunt.’
They went on and on like that. I could feel my heart pounding out of my chest.
But I remembered the first rule of getting trolled is never feed the trolls. So I didn’t. I blocked and ignored people until the notifications slowed to a trickle, then stopped. It was really only a few days, but during that time I went from feeling shaky and tearful, wondering if I was in actual physical danger, to laughing at the best mean tweets.
But then, a week later, my original troll was at it again, tweeting about an article I wrote about being raped; ‘Here’s that “single moms have it better” chick again. I think she’s a self-obsessed sociopath.’
And the notifications started up again, only this time they were meaner.
Someone found an article I wrote about my dad’s death, after a painful estrangement, and decided to post, ‘@AnotherAnnie so awful her own father couldn’t stand her.’
Again I ignored it until it died down. Then another week went by, and this time, the same troll who’d tweeted about me on both occasions dedicated an entire episode of his Internet show to me. Friends warned me not to watch it, so I didn’t, but more hateful tweets came my way. My block list got longer.
I know now I’m actually lucky to have gone so long without getting attacked online; other female writers who’ve dared to speak their mind online have copped much worse.
I’ve been writing about my personal life for a long time. All anyone has to do is google my name to find out plenty of juicy details about me. It could have been worse, really.
For a while after this happened, I thought about locking everything down to keep myself safe. Maybe I should make all my social media accounts private and quit writing personal essays. Was it worth exposing myself to this level of hate? Did I want to upset or embarrass my friends and family? Maybe I should write fiction instead.
Still, I kept writing. I didn’t know how to stop, and I had articles due.
One of them was a piece on how making my bed every morning helps me deal with my depression. I hesitated before sharing it on my Facebook page – I guess I was a little worn out from constantly exposing myself; I wondered if anyone really cared; maybe I was suffering from imposter syndrome – but I shared it anyway.
A few minutes later, a message popped up from a friend I haven’t seen in years, thanking me. She said she was struggling to work up the courage to get dressed and leave the house, but she felt good that at least she was on the sofa and not still hiding under the covers of her bed. She said reading my piece helped her feel less alone.
I was stunned. She’s one of those people I see on social media and feel completely inadequate in comparison; she looks like she has the perfect life. I told her that and we ended up having an illuminating conversation about appearance versus reality. She said she admired my willingness to put myself out there, because she found it hard to be honest with even the people close to her in real life. I told her I’d never have guessed, and thanked her for reaching out.
And that’s why I keep doing this. It’s not because I think I’m such a great writer, or because I think I have anything more important to say than anyone else. It’s just that, for whatever reason, I’m good at being vulnerable – it’s my thing. I like sharing private things with people, I think it helps us all be better connected with each other and live more authentically. I grew up with a lot of secret-keeping, a lot of fear, and a lot of shame. I just can’t do that stuff anymore.
Writing about myself isn’t always easy; an especially personal piece can put me in a funk for a few days. I don’t love getting attacked by trolls – I’m probably too thin-skinned to be a writer, really – but if spilling my guts on the internet helps someone feel less alone, it’s worth it to me.
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