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When I started blogging in 2002 over on a little platform called LiveJournal I didn’t think much past the fact that, to me, it was an online journal. I had kept a written journal off and on since I was 15 years old and I saw an online version as a natural progression. (It was easy to use, I could access it anywhere and I type faster than I write.)
I quickly embraced the medium (I am known to ramble) and started to make a great little community of virtual friends. As I branched out and explored the other journals on there I found more and more reasons to love the internet.
One day I came across a journal that was running a writing competition. (Deep down I’ve also fancied myself to be a crap writer and so it appealed to the wanna-be in me.) I signed up and started to compete.
I loved it. Each week they set a topic and you had to write a post about it. People read the posts and voted. It was great. It challenged me in a way I really loved and it got me stretching my boundaries and I was meeting more really cool people.
However, I was also lucky enough to attract the attention of someone who was dealing with a mental illness. (Not something I was aware of at the time of engagement.) They made a comment on one of my posts and I responded.
Rather naively I assumed that this person was after an adult conversation about the topic at hand, and maybe they were it’s just our ideas about what constituted “adult” differed widely.
I didn’t know at the time but I was engaging with a troll. They were after a fight and I was the person dumb enough to engage with them. Over the course of a couple of weeks things rapidly escalated to the point where this person was internet stalking me just to make my life hell.
Every time I opened my inbox there were dozens of emails from them from all over the internet. Anywhere that I had an account they had found me and were leaving vicious, spiteful and bullying comments. It was horrible. Every time I went to open my inbox I had a horrible sinking feeling, sweaty palms and an anxiety attack.
It robbed something that I loved, enjoyed and cherished of it’s light. I withdrew.
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I made all of my accounts private where I could and removed the ones that I couldn’t. I changed my email accounts and tried to distance myself as much as possible. It didn’t seem to slow them down.
They had their supporters in this whole thing, just as I had my own. However, unlike my supporters theirs seemed to want to join in the bullying and harassment.
I had been bullied in High School and this just brought back all those memories, feelings on inadequacy, hurt, self loathing, anxiety and helplessness.
In the end I contacted a local law enforcement officer and filed a complaint of harassment. I also went on to the FBI website and filed a complaint of internet harassment. It seemed ridiculous that this one person that didn’t even live on the same continent as me had managed to be so destructive to my world. But there it was.
I stopped blogging and had minimal contact with people online. I let this bully take something that I loved and enjoyed from me.
A few months after it all seemed to quieten down I decided to venture back out there but this time I’d do it as a self hosted blogger. I figured I could have more control over who could interact with me on the site and no one would know me. So I started this little piece of paradise.
In all the years I’ve been writing on this blog I’ve had only a handful of negative experiences with people; and the majority of those actually came while I was writing on my pop culture blog. Each time I handled them a little differently; now I don’t engage I shut it down.
But each time it opens up those old wounds and pours a little more salt into them.
I love my blog. I love that I can come here and write about things that I find intersting, enjoyable and a little weird. I love that through the internet I’ve meet some wonderful people that make me want to be a better person. I love the generous nature of the people I interact with on the internet. I love hearing other people’s opinions and learning a different way of seeing the world. I simply love it.
But now as the blog is picking up a little more exposure and I’m moving towards using this space to generate an income so that I can stay at home and be a mother to my son I have a growing sense of unease and trepidation.
I’m plagued by what-ifs.
What if it happens again? What if by putting myself more out there, by taking the advertising opportunities and engaging in the wider social media I attract another troll? What if that troll isn’t on another continent but is here in the same city? What if they try to hurt my family? What if they take something that is precious from me and try to destroy it?
I’ll be completely honest; I’m afraid.
On Monday I wrote, what I consider, to be my first real opinion piece on this blog. I put it out there. Normally I just write about our lives and the things we do and I try to keep everything upbeat and positive, but on Monday I went outside my comfort zone and posted on a topic that was in the public forum.
Here’s a little known fact about me; I have nightmares. Regularly. They’re not really night terrors, but they’re enough to keep me awake for long periods of time and to impact on my emotional state for up to a couple days after the event. I have periods of recurring nightmares.
I have found that over the years when a situation arises where I think I’ve hurt someone or done something to negatively impact on their lives (even if I only know them over the internet) I have nightmares. It’s my anxiety acting out in my sleep.
I was so nervous about making the post and possibly offending or hurting someone that I had HUBBY read over it before I posted it to make sure that it was adequately expressing my opinion and that it was a positive message I was putting out there. I knew that putting that post out there might result in another bout of nightmares (and it did).
I sat on that post all weekend thinking about it, trying to weigh up every possible response.
I didn’t want to engage with any trolls but I also felt really strongly about this culture that we’re developing where it’s suddenly hip to flame someone. Where people think that just because they’re behind a computer screen it’s ok to put the most hurtful and spiteful messages out there.
I follow a lot of celebrities on Twitter and Instagram and not a day goes by where I don’t cringe over some comment that someone has left on their feeds. It’s disgusting. It’s bullying, it’s harassment and it has to stop.
I understand that by putting their lives out there that they are encouraging comment on their lives. But surely they deserve the same respect that the rest of us like in our lives. When did we drop the constructive from criticism? When did it become ok not to attack the idea but the person?
I just don’t get it. I don’t get why people can’t just say nothing if they’ve got nothing nice to say. Why people feel the need to be downright venomous in their treatment of people over social media.
I just don’t get it.
What I do get though is fear. I am fearful of continuing to blog, tweet, instagram, facebook… I am fearful about what negativity and nastiness will I bring into my world and subsequently the world of my child.
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I want to get out there and engage. I want to be able to provide for my family. I don’t want to be huge or the next big thing – I just want to be able to pay the bills.
I want to continue to learn and grow and be inspired to live a better life. I value the people that are in our lives and I love that these people, who I think of (because I have to overcome my anxiety issues) as my hard fought for little gems, make me want to be a better person.
I don’t make friends easily; I’m an over-thinker of the worst kind. I fear offending someone, hurting someone or having my feelings hurt. I have massive anxiety attacks when it comes to new social situations and for some reason I can only ever call on the negative experiences, instead of the numerous positive ones, when I’m confronted with having to go into unknown public situations.
I recently had the great pleasure of meeting Shari (of Good Food Week). I met her through a Canberra Bloggers Collective event that Mikaela had convinced me to attend. (Again my anxiety of meeting new people was in full swing.) After the event, I came home and read a great post that Shari had written on Mummy Bloggers.
In the post she talks about the current trend for people to slam Mummy Bloggers. (Although it’s not limited to just Mummy Bloggers – seems everyone’s fair game!) I agreed with her 100% and I too share her concerns about putting myself out there.
I just don’t know what the answer is.
I’m torn between wanting to retreat and hide and hope that nothing nasty ever finds my little paradise and this…
Living a life that I believe is a good example to my son.
When I think about his life and the hopes I have for it one of the things I hope for is that he doesn’t let his fears stand in the way of him doing something he wants. I want him to be courageous and to stand up for what’s true (if I can channel my inner Bob Dylan). I don’t want him to be beaten down by those out there that take pleasure in tearing things apart.
I want him to live an uplifting life. I want him to see the positive and the possible. I want him to reveal in the things that bring him happiness. I want him to face his fears and power through them.
Then it dawns on me; why don’t I want these things for me?
How am I going to lead by example if I can’t do the things I wish for him to do. And this is where my pigheadedness (the same pigheadedness that resulted in our son) kicks in.
Maybe it’s time to take a stand. Maybe this is how a positive change movement begins. Maybe it’s time to stretch myself, give myself permission to fail and to push through my fears. Maybe all it takes is one person standing up and saying “I won’t let you win”.
So, right here, right now I’m going to make a commitment. I’m going to try and live an uplifting life and embrace my fears and go after the things that make me happy. (Watch out Jensen Ackles, I’m coming for you!) I’m going to give myself permission to make mistakes, to fall down, but I’m also going to make myself get back up.
I have the power to control how I react to things and I know that at times the criticism, the nasty comments, the judgement and ridicule might be hard to take but it would be harder to live wondering what might have been and to watch my child grow up afraid to embrace the world and all the good that is out there. I’m going to make my stand.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr
“We must act knowing that our work will be imperfect.” President Barack Obama