It’s been over a year since I’ve written anything here. Or anywhere. And it isn’t even that I haven’t wanted to: there have actually been a lot of times I really wanted – needed – to sit down and write through something… but I don’t.
I’ve wanted to share photographs, to feel motivated to take them, and to talk through how it feels to lose passion for something you deeply love in the face of depression.
I’ve wanted to talk about trying medication again, and what an incalculable disaster that was and how it reminded me of why I can’t go down that path as much as I may want to.
I’ve wanted to talk about how it feels to watch my eldest grow up, and out, and how this year she missed her birthday with us for the very first time because she’s staying with extended family. For a week. In another city. Having never spent more than a single night away from home before. I want to talk about how I have laid in bed at night and cried because of how much I miss her, and how deeply worried I am that she will be excluded, or made to feel different, and worry that I can’t be there to help her through.
I’ve wanted to talk about the incredible frustration and joy that is raising Zephyra; by far my most challenging and spirited child, and how incredible and ridiculous she is on a daily basis.
I wanted to talk about how last year Serendipity got pregnant and had kittens in the most hilariously stupid way, and my kids (and husband) got to experience baby animals for the first time and it was actually really lovely in spite of the embarrassment of it happening at all.
I’ve wanted to talk about self-image, and how much I am struggling with my own after gaining almost 50lbs since menopause began. I feel like I’m drowning in my own body and I’ve forgotten how to swim; and I can understand how small my struggle is by comparison to women who exist overweight and underweight in a world that chews them up and spits them out, but it remains the truth. Sometimes your personal struggles can’t be negated by the knowledge of what’s worse.
I’ve wanted to share the hilarious stories, quotes and -isms from my kids that I try to write down somewhere whenever they happen so I don’t forget them forever. Every time I tell one to my mom and she says, “Oh, I hope you’re writing these down!” I feel a sting realizing again, that I’m no longer doing so anywhere permanent.
And I don’t know if I can again, because the truth is, on top of any other lack of motivation… I don’t feel safe doing it anymore. I don’t feel happy doing it anymore. And I am exhausted – absolutely exhausted – by the constant rumble of threats, harassment and bullying that follows me anywhere I dare to go as a woman with a complex past without a hundred, thousand disclaimers.
Writing, blogging and the community of people I’ve met through it have been an incredible, amazing resource since I first began in 1999. I’ve learned so many new things, made lasting friendships with many different people, felt supported and loved in times of great need, and I would be lying if I said it hadn’t deeply changed my life. There has been times I think it may have even saved it; when I was alone, in the dark, and I seriously considered writing my goodbyes there were many people who reached out to say they were in the same place and could hold my hand. In turn, I received many letters over the years thanking me for things I’d written during the very difficult times that had helped them feel less alone, and gave them hope to make it through. I kept them when I could, because it helped me remember how important it was to keep talking even when it’s hard.
I never started doing this for any particular reason. I didn’t even really journal before then, though my father did and always talked about how therapeutic and important it was. I’m not a particularly social person; I’m terribly awkward, shy, neurotic and I lack a brain/mouth filter and the social graces to know when I’m over-sharing. Most of my life it’s been easiest for me to just stay quietly in the back. I could never in a million years stand up and give a presentation to a crowd, but I can look down at my lap and mumble out something very intimately personal so long as I don’t have to look into the eyes of more than one or two people during it. And for someone with a lot to talk about, online journaling was the perfect medium for me. I could get it all out, talk openly and honestly with no social expectations, and then walk away when it was over. It’s selfish and vain, but so is any form of journaling really. With the online version, you have the added perk of finding others like you and forming a bond in your mutual pseudo-anonymity.
I found “Open Diary” through bored.com, and a friend’s recommendation of it – I can’t remember which came first. The first things I wrote about were my feelings of intense grief and sadness over a recent miscarriage, my desire for motherhood, and struggle through an incredibly difficult, uphill battle with mental illness. From there I gradually spread to Livejournal, where I could participate in communities and find more like-minded individuals and interesting ideas and discussions. Eventually, not very long ago, I gave in and just gave my blog it’s own domain not only so I’d have a permanent archive but also because I was watching the internet on a whole gradually grow apart from community journaling sites.
Trolling of any sort usually starts as soon as you get a little bit of popularity, though to me it seemed completely out of the blue. I wasn’t sure if I regretted writing so openly about depression, anxiety, disassociation, temporary or incorrect diagnoses, while also pining about wanting a stable and loving family – but a determined few felt it very important to remind me that I should. At one point, whole diaries were created solely for mocking me. I remember going to work, opening the page up during my lunch break, and crying at my desk. I could not understand where the animosity came from; I had no desire whatsoever to do that to another human being, and I fundamentally didn’t get it. I hadn’t yet come to understand how to write “for an audience” and how the little differences in context and disclaimer can make all the difference in how people view you.
For instance, if you use your journal “Too much” like a sounding board for your frustrations, people will begin assume you’re negative, depressive and overall a paranoid and perhaps even terribly judgmental person… even if that’s entirely untrue. Some people lack the ability to understand beyond what’s directly in front of them, and take the sliver of what they’re privy to with a heavy grain of salt. I’d like to think those people are few and far between, but the internet tends to disproportionately showcase the obnoxious minority.
Ironically, I ended up bonding with those first bullies, and they became good friends. Slowly their negative behavior toward me, and others, tapered off as they outgrew that part of their lives (also ironically: most of them were a fair bit older than me, some in their mid-30’s as I was in my early 20s). We found a common ground in a number of things… primarily feelings of loss, or longing. I put into words what they did not want to, I suppose. It was jarring, and upsetting to see someone unabashedly break social boundaries when they were struggling with the same.
That kind of weird concern trolling was no more than an occasional thing up until Jericho’s death, when my blog traffic skyrocketed and I realized for the first time that I had a real audience. Prior to that, I was under the impression I had maybe 100 or so semi-regular readers… tops. The day I wrote the first part of his birth story, left for a bit, and came back to open up my email to see hundreds of messages coming in I was simultaneously shocked and terrified. I remember checking my website stats – where I hosted my pictures, and checking my referral numbers for the first time – and realizing I was getting somewhere between 50 and 100k hits. Suddenly I felt like I was standing alone in an auditorium, naked and vulnerable after having been ripped apart by grief and loss, with all these people surrounding me, silent in anticipation, waiting for my performance.
That wasn’t the reality, of course. 99% joined me there to sympathize, offer an ear, a shoulder, a hug, and a shared experience. I kept writing, blindly, because I needed to. I was alone and terrified in a basement apartment in a shitty town with no friends and no outlet and barely surviving day to day. Writing was the only way I could get out of my head. And soon the audience didn’t feel so terrifying… because the comments, messages and letters were helping. The conversations I was having with other people who had experienced loss in all forms – regardless of what they were – was helping. Being able to sit and have deep, honest, raw conversations about how hopeless it felt to be drowning in your grief and know you aren’t alone down there in the dark. I heard from so many parents who lost children: at birth, during pregnancy, to cancer, to suicide, to accidents. I heard from people who lost their parents, siblings, friends, lovers, even their damn pets and I listened to all of them. Pain and loss isn’t a contest. While our experiences may be different, we were still able to find shoulders to lean on and ears to listen while we talked of our fears and struggles. I don’t want to say it was good – as if anything about grief can be positive – but it helped. A lot. It felt very intimate somehow, to cry with others in our little circle, even if we were still on the stage.
To their credit, the trolls backed off for a bit around this time, before doubling-down for the long haul. I picked up some stalkers during this time; a few of which were genuinely worrisome. I have contacted the police over credible threats to myself or my family. One person in particular has a long history of manic behavior that rapidly changes from blind adoration to white-hot rage fueled largely by hate groups spouting half-truths on sock-puppet accounts; spinning wild stories that are just believable enough to keep rolling, picking up some more dirt and conspiracy theories as they go. Pass enough of these around inside an echo-chamber of hatred, obsession and jealousy and you create a sense of self-righteous loathing that reaches a fever pitch where people begin to feel obligated to “take action”.
How dare this person get positive recognition for a good deed? Have friends who publicly celebrate them? Affiliate themselves with a charity, or cause? Speak about something they feel passionately about? Or even face a tragedy, or difficult time that has attracted sympathy from loved ones – or worse – the internet at large?
I’ve seen bloggers, almost exclusively female parenting bloggers, fall victim to this disturbing cycle by way of false police calls for “just in case” checks, bogus CPS reports that can rip families apart from the stress (ask someone who has undergone a false investigation how harmless it was), theft, doxing, stalking and ruthless attempts to get them fired from their jobs, estranged from their families, kicked out of charities or causes or non-profits they affiliate with. Google-bombing their name or handles so that all that shows up when searched is the made-up stories spun from half-truths and contextless quote-mining.
“I feel like I can’t get through another day, I’m so depressed, I think I’ll just have some wine and sleep” becomes, “She threatened suicide and is an admitted, self-destructive alcoholic! Clearly her children are unsafe in her care!”.
“I think my coworker was flirting with me but I’m so not into that,” becomes, “She’s trying to get him fired through a false sexual harassment claim. She just wants money! Email a complaint to her boss” or, “She’s having an affair, here’s some ‘evidence’ in the form of a few positive remarks she made about his appearance or attitude over a year that, when put all together in a single paragraph, makes it sound like she’s obsessed”.
To deny it is to paradoxically admit it, to ignore it is to passively agree: there is no way out, and no way to protect yourself once the ball starts rolling. If you didn’t begin blogging under a pseudonym you can’t exactly stick your name back in the bottle, not that it really matters as people will take context clues from various posts or pictures to solve the exciting mystery of your anonymity. The people responsible for the harassment will speak as though they’re doing God’s work: they deserve it, they brought it on themselves, they shouldn’t have talked like that, think of their children, it’s clearly what they meant, an obvious lie we caught them in, and so on… but the truth is much more simple: “I’m having fun watching someone suffer, because I don’t like them”.
One of my favourite examples of this purposeful mis-representation is a silly story I once told about Zephyra seeing cat poop at the edge of our yard and assuming that we had to clean it up… not just in our yard, but all over the world. I had to explain to her that animals that live outside just… go. And that’s ok. I thought it was adorable and hilarious that the reality of bears shitting in the woods was mind-blowing for her. This was quickly twisted into some form of absolute proof of how filthy and neglectful my household is, because I leave animal feces everywhere and allow my children to “play in it”. The solid logic behind this came down to the fact that I had not added an appropriately clearly-worded disclaimer about how meticulously I then picked up and properly disposed of said cat poop, and anyone could easily infer this “real meaning” from how I’d written the story out. Naturally, no one in their right mind would actually make this assumption from reading that anecdote, but when you’re looking at someone through an incredibly intense sense of self-righteous hatred, these interpretations come naturally.
Soon, that version spreads further than the original because it’s more interesting and far juicier, and it becomes “well known” in the echo-chambers that this is how my children live: naked and covered in shit. Probably freezing cold and underfed, too, as it was March when the story was posted (I made that part up, but to be honest it’s probably in there somewhere).
If I discuss grief, sadness, or the death of my son virtually anywhere – and no matter how far removed from my online persona – I often find myself inexplicably followed by a “random user” who pops in to spin some wild tale of how I’m milking it, drawing it out, making it up, exaggerating or otherwise forbidden to discuss something that might evoke any sort of sympathetic feeling out of another person. “This user is a liar, don’t listen to them. It is known.” If enough people and their sock puppets repeat it, it must be true. In their eyes, sympathy or understanding would be unwarranted and undeserved regardless of how it came about, or if it came about at all.
Just yesterday I curiously read through a thread about suicide and saw someone talking about grief, and the feeling of change and coldness that comes over you permanently, and I replied to sympathize with that. In a response absolutely no one can possibly believe is ‘random’, someone and their freshly-made sock-puppet congratulated each other for “calling me out” on not having lost anyone to suicide and instead “deliberately misrepresenting” my loss for the massive amount of internet points and outpouring of sympathy I… did not actually get. When I countered that I just agreeing and expanding on that user’s explanation of how experiencing a deep loss changes your personality, and had not thought to specify the type of loss, the troll and their mirror accused it of being “bizarre and disturbing” to dare be there at all and “co-opt” the grief of another by agreeing with them. In this narrative, there is literally no other reason to interact with someone on the subject of loss, other than to dance around for attention. That lines up with the ‘straw man Babs’, so anything I say after the accusation has been lobbed will be used as evidence to prove this story, including nothing at all.
In another incident, I had a truly bizarre interaction in a Reddit thread about sex where I talked about fisting, and eventually found it rather funny how there’s more than one interpretation of “hand position” during the act and how crazy intense some people feel about whether or not there’s a “right” and “wrong” way. By the end, the same pack of stalker accounts who had followed me around the last few days with passive-aggressive comments had done their part to frame the conversation as me absolutely demanding that there was only one way to do it, one correct way, and everyone else was wrong and I’m judging them. Which, hilariously enough, was the exact opposite of what was happening (people telling me I was wrong, and there was only one correct way: not mine!). But the reality doesn’t matter, the story does. The idea, the hatred, the narrative that needs to exist to feed the echo chamber that I’m stupid, a liar, a needless trouble-maker, with strong (and always incorrect) opinions about virtually everyone. And this interpretation of the events will only add to the pile of evidence to splash about in. It doesn’t matter what I say, or do, or actually mean – what matters is whatever can be hand-picked out of it to feed the demons.
It would be easy enough to wave these off as unconnected, random events, but nothing like this ever happened until that particular user account was connected to my blog and online existence through context clues, which immediately prompted a passive-aggressive following of concern trolling. All of a sudden I became a controversial user with little more than conspiratorial and inflammatory things to say, after existing nearly a year in undisturbed and mundane anonymity, where I was often (and continue to be) one in dozens of people saying the exact same thing. I’d love to pretend it isn’t obvious where that’s coming from, and what’s really behind it, but when it suddenly begins happening on a weekly – sometimes daily – basis, followed by a slew of downvotes to everything I’ve said anywhere in the last 3 days, well… it stops being a coincidence. The first time it happened was prompted by a comment I’d made about how incredibly embarrassing I’ve found it to have difficulty reading books. This was obviously a lie, so said the troll, as I have a blog and have participated in online discussions. Because spending several days, or hours, writing entries is an absolutely identical experience and sitting down and reading through complex 500-page novels. Things like this can make you feel like you’re living in a tabloid magazine.
And you know, it’s tiring. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of sitting down at a public table to join a conversation and having a schizophrenic version of Statler and Waldorf come up behind me to scream over anything I say. I’m tired of not being able to relax and be myself without wondering how many disclaimers and specifications I forgot to add and where the hole is that someone will try to squeeze through to inject their brand of bullshit because I forgot to say something like “very” or “once”. I’m tired of saying, “A few months ago” and realizing it was actually a year back, and having someone triumphantly stomp about holding that up as the clear evidence of a web of lies. She can’t even remember her own stories, guys! We fucking did it! It gets old, it gets so ridiculous to continue to see and hear that after all this time, and it absolutely blows my mind that there are grown-ups – real, multiple, adults with real actual lives – sitting around meticulously combing through everything I’ve ever said or will say looking for some time I remembered more details later or mis-remembered something else or didn’t clarify something specifically enough over there.
The deliberate mis-representation/half-truth/echo chamber thing may seem harmless and obnoxious until you see how it grows and feeds on itself. How it transforms over the years, how it folds back over onto itself over and over until it’s created a foundation built of absolute bullshit that somehow stands tall enough to merit real world harassment and destruction of someone’s family. When you see how people have had CPS and police sent to their house immediately after a tragic accident because the echo chamber deemed it appropriate. To see people struggling with depression and venting on social media end up put in mental institutions against their will because some trolls thought it would be funny to punish someone for daring to discuss it openly. To have someone email you and tell you they know where your children go to school and how ok are you really with them walking home right now… because I personally don’t think that’s very responsible parenting, and it would be a shame if something had to happen to make you understand how to mother them correctly.
When Marika was living with us, and I was blogging about the terror and sadness of dealing with her severely and dangerously mentally ill mother, I was sent messages letting me know that because her Facebook was public and linked to mine… even though at no time did I allow my private account to be linked to my blog and very carefully filtered the worst and most specific details of our struggle out of public blog posts… that these stalkers had managed to pull enough context from her posts and friends list to find her mom’s name, occupation, and perhaps even location and there were murmurs about trying to contact her and rile her up. I was provided enough proof to know this was a credible threat, by more than one person. To literally put my sister – then under 18 and struggling terribly and in two separate therapy programs – in danger. In real, actual, literal danger. To fuck up her mental state, her life, her recovery and her careful balance of safety for god knows how long for literally no other reason than, “I don’t like that Babyslime chick and I’m totally sure she exaggerates”? That is more than upsetting, or gross, or hilarious and harmless trolling – that is outright terrifying. This is what it accomplishes, this is the last stop on this hate train running on half-truths, conspiracy, obsession and bullshit. Regardless of how it began, this is where it goes.
And that leaves me feeling more than just deeply disturbed, it leaves me feeling unsafe.
When I am left in a reality where I can’t meet a new person on the street, at a support group, or at the park without wondering if they know who I am and are going to use my naive need for companionship as an “in” to boil up some more juicy crap to feed the machine – I feel unsafe. And I wish more than anything else I could write that off as absolute narcissistic paranoia… if it hadn’t actually happened already. More. Than. Once. And because the people who do these kinds of things readily blame me and my audacity to have a blog that is so old now that I often forget shit I wrote about years ago and get details wrong when I do remember it, or over-share about sex and depression, or have a different interpretation of an event or idea than someone else, or have a passion another doesn’t share, an idea that someone thinks is stupid, or raise my children in a way another parent things is unreasonable… it is reason enough to put my family, and my children, in danger. Proudly.
And I am tired. I have lost my sense of joy and relief, and all I feel now when I open up a writing prompt… is fucking tired.
I’ve been asked over the years by these types how I could dare write about the things I do. Aren’t I afraid my children will see them one day? Or their classmates see it one day? How could I ever risk putting my child through the humiliation of knowing these things about their own mother? What if in 17 years when Tempest tries to land a job at a big company her boss Googles around and figures out her mom likes to be fucked in the ass on Tuesdays and says, “I’m sorry, you’re just not the type of person we’re looking for”?
But honestly, that has never once worried me. I don’t worry about Tempest finding my blog and reading about how much I love her father, or how much she frustrated me one day when she was four. I’m not worried that she’ll read about how I lost my virginity, or that I continue to have sexual fantasies into my 30’s. I’m not concerned she’ll learn that it was a huge struggle trying to get services and therapies for her when she was having a hard time, or how proud of her I am for how far she’s come and how amazing and incredible she is.
There is absolutely no part of me that honestly believes any classmate of any of my children ten years down the road is going to randomly (or purposefully) come across my blog, sift through 45’000 pages of shit about breastfeeding, disability and child-rearing and find one or two things worth taunting about and use it to ruin their lives. They are going to use the fodder that’s easy and in front of them, like red hair, freckles and an genetic lack of brain/mouth filter.
I’m not worried that she’ll find out I tried to kill myself and had stays in mental institutions. She already knows, and when I finished telling her about it she said to me, “I feel lucky to have a mother so strong that she survived all that”.
By this point most of my close (and some of my extended) family knows about and has read parts of my blog. They all know I spent time in a mental institution, tried to kill myself multiple times, suffered from depression, had a dramatic teenagehood, held opinions that changed and evolved over time, love sex, hate pain, whine and bitch, make dark jokes, had a falling out with my in-laws and sometimes really need to chill the fuck out. My family may look and function very different from your own, and I’m ok with the amount of sharing and openness we have.
I know that my mom giggled when she lost her virginity in a seedy motel room to the love of her life. And I know how she didn’t speak a word all day as she sat next to her brother, in a little pretty dress, after being violently sexually assaulted in a school bathroom.
I know how my dad was once invited to a strip club by friends and refused because he thought the subject matter of the performance was so disgusting. I know he has raised his hands in anger. I know he made borderline racist and transphobic jokes in the past, and has made huge effort to change the way he speaks and thinks about people.
I know my brother took magic mushrooms in a bar of chocolate and went sledding on the hill next to our house (but first he told our mom about it), and after that had no interest in psychedelics even though he had a great time. I know how he felt during his vasectomy recovery, and how terrified he is right now as he is about to undergo major abdominal surgery for diverticulitis.
I know how my cousin’s biological mother locked her in a closet and left her to cry for over a day, until my mother managed to come in and take her to safety. I know how upset she was when her father came to her wedding, and gave her away while high. I know that she’s wanted nothing more than a big, loving family; and she now has that.
I know these things because as a family we talk about them. We’re open, we’re honest, we share… perhaps too much by some standards, but by ours it’s just right. We’re comfortable knowing these things about each other, we’re comfortable discussing them openly to others who ask and wonder, and we’re comfortable having others know these things about us. So I’m not worried about Tempest, Xan and Zephyra reading my blog because chances are they’ll have already known 90% of what’s in here by the time they get old enough to want to surf the web for reading material.
What I am worried about is my kids stumbling into hundreds of pages of long, hateful, disgusting rants about what a horrible human being I am for something I never quite said, and things I didn’t quite do. Unabashed, teasing laughter about how ugly my children are, or how tortured they must be for events they remember as exhilarating and fun. How close they may have come to having their lives destroyed by anonymous “pranksters” who feel no remorse or responsibility for their actions. And I don’t want to have to have my kids come up to me and ask me why people treat others that way, why these horrible, untrue things are floating around out there about them. About me. About the rest of their family. I don’t want to have to answer, “because I wrote about my life online in a human way, and so they said I deserved it”.
I never thought I would ever really quit blogging, and maybe I’ll still come back to it yet. But for right now, it feels like the balance has shifted too far in the other direction, and with where I am in my life right now, even as it helps, I don’t know that I have enough reason to keep going.
But damn, I have nothing but the utmost respect for all those who do, especially those who have experienced far worse than I have. You’ve got a lot more patience and energy than I do, and I admire you for it.
I’ll end this post on a positive note, with a few images of my beautiful, growing children:
Kids on Easter, March/15
Tempest, Xan and their friend Aryeh playing Nerf gun wars in the rain – April/15
Kids at the beach, May/15