Back in December, amidst the Reddit stuff, I was getting my boyfriend to moderate my blog comments because a few nasties were coming over - readers from the mainstream media I guess. I saw comments saying I'm seeking attention through telling my story, that I am faking Ichthyosis, and that I'm ugly and I should kill myself. Not nice. And then he took the blows for me, being my virtual shield and deleting the comments he didn't want me to see.
There was one comment that I happened to see - thinking I was brave enough to deal at that stage. I let it through, because really, it was a reflection on them and not me. It was from 'Sandy':
"Here's something negative, but not what you expect. There's more to Carly than ichthyosis - but not much more. Take that away and she is one of the most simple-minded and boring people you are ever likely to meet, she is prone to weird obsession (Darren Hayes, Bob Evans) and talks almost exclusively about ichthyosis, because it's all she has going for her, she is literally one-dimensional. If she didn't have that, and you met her, you would just keep on walking, she is the cardboard of people. She whores herself to the media, but she is in fact incredibly dull and incredibly boring. I know her personally, I know what I'm talking about. This has just given her the fuel she needs to crap on about it for the rest of her life!!! A crusade nobody asked for."
I tend to remember the hurtful comments far more than the thousands of lovely ones I've received. Stupid of me, really. The hatred from some anonymous comments sting, but words from some one who supposedly knows me seemed to cut deeper. It's weird hey? There has been people I know who tell me, face to face, they don't understand blogging, they don't understand the need for me to put my life out there. I've had performance appraisals in my day job. But a comment like this isn't like that. It's a judgement on personality - a comment on perceived blandness. Is blandness the trait we're most afraid of exhibiting?
I was wracking my brain to figure out who Sandy night be. I know a few Sandys in person, and I know they wouldn't waste their time leaving that comment. I figured Sandy is probably someone I met briefly at an event who caught me talking about what I'm passionate about, or who has summed me up from what I've spoken about on social media alone. The comment bugged me for a while - leaving me feeling a bit paranoid and worried that I just don't know enough. Maybe I am a bore? I jokingly replied that maybe I should be watching more quiz shows so I've got more than singers and Ichthyosis to talk about.
And then I told myself: Sandy's words and opinion should not matter, especially if they do know me and were not brave enough to say it to my face. And not everyone is going to like me or find me as interesting as I hope I am. Maybe I do piss people off for talking about what I'm passionate about. That's ok. And if Sandy and I do know each other in person, we probably aren't friends.
I met my lovely new friend Charlotte Lea who blogs at The Good Girl Confessional for dinner last month. She and I talked as much as each other - about blogging, disability, navigating airlines' special needs departments, love and why women tear other women down - especially when the ones being torn down are confident and happy. Charlotte wrote a post about that very topic. She has also received an email similar to the comment I received, from a person who claimed to know her, bringing down her happiness about being in love, plus a comment calling her a slut because she writes about sex over 40. She said, like me, that these sorts of personal attacks shocked her more than other blog comments she's received.
Charlotte said to me: "I've had nasty comments as you know from people who apparently know me. I can deal with differing opinions and it's quite healthy, but to read comments that are nasty, or threatening - it's quite disturbing. I do believe that it says much more about those commenting than about us! I think social media has created an amazing avenue for all to voice opinions and that's great. It does however allow people to hide behind computers while they espouse poisonous sentiments. Not liking my work is one thing. Calling names isn't called for nor is it necessary. I think interesting conversations and ethical debate is much more dignified!"
Charlotte is right - social media is an enabler of anonymous poison. Even now I hesitate to moderate my comments, as I still receive a lot of traffic from Reddit. I wonder what may be lurking there.
And it's probably obvious that aside from being extremely busy planning my trip, working my day job and on other writing and speaking pursuits, and in love, I've been rather absent from regular blogging this year. I'm shaken - from Reddit and from the comments that came after. This is different to the performance anxiety I sometimes feel before writing. It's not worrying that I won't be good enough - it's worrying what will be done with my picture?
Nothing I write here is as protected as I once felt it was. It all changed when I saw my image dissected on the dungeon of the Internet, and then a week later my words made fun of. I have a backlog of appearance diversity and ichthyosis awareness posts to edit and publish, but I have not wanted to in case the subjects' appearances are ridiculed like mine was. I have media requests I've not responded to and I've been overwhelmed by the hundreds of people who sent lovely messages - I want to reply to thank each of you soon, I really do, but it still feels a bit too raw. Sometimes it feels safer to share an anecdote or funny picture meme on my Facebook page. In all honesty, I've been afraid to blog.
I'm doing ok though.
I've thought a lot about self advocacy online since Reddit, the positive and negative aspects of being an online writer, and the idea of "you put yourself out there so expect criticism". I don't buy that. While I expect healthy debate to happen when opinions differ, and I know not everyone will like you (or me), online writers shouldn't bear the brunt of someone else's issues - be it misogyny, racism, ableism, jealousy or pure nastiness. I have many friends who write online, some who write about important issues, others who write just to entertain, and I've seen all of this behaviour targeted at them - some frighteningly extreme. And quite often the online outrage about an issue is disproportionate to the issue itself. Strong opinions, no matter how polarising, should not be a reason for rape or death threats.
There's bravery in being vulnerable online, in writing your opinion for the world to see and even sharing your photos. Writing online is no longer separate to real life - and there's a firm reminder of that when people who claim to know you in your real life come to rattle your bloggy windows. There's a happier reminder that life online is real life when you meet the wonderful friends you've made through blogging - just as I have.
And so, I will do my best to focus on the many, many positive comments that outweigh the very few negative ones.
I will continue to reaffirm that most new readers only know me from 500 words and a picture, so who are they to weigh me up?
I'll remind myself that I wont be everyone's cup of tea but I will be some people's shot of whiskey.
And I will try not to be so afraid of writing here anymore. I want to be back blogging more regularly.
Blogging is something I'm committed to and spent countless hours doing. More so, sharing my story and my photos to break down the stigma, fear and hate that I was on the receiving end is the very reason I blog. I love it and I won't let 'Sandy' and a few other anons knock me down.