how i learned to stop worrying and love the internet hate
I’ve written before about how being an internet-visible person can be pretty stressful sometimes. e.g.:
or, my personal favorite:
I visualize hangups as little crooked bits, like muscle spasms, in the soul. Sometimes things are ironed out and smooth, but sometimes there’s a tangle where a part of me has seized and is trying hard to prevent further damage. I can’t see into the tangle, I just know that it’s tight and afraid.
My strategy for these tangles is something like “be gentle and slow, keep careful, persistent, compassionate attention on the thing that bothers you, and it’ll work itself out eventually”.
This has worked marvelously for most things, but ‘dealing with internet hate’ has been a very resilient tangle.
I was used to it, sure, but every time I stumbled across hate the little knot inside me grew harder. I knew this because I felt a low-grade fear most of the time. I felt defensiveness and a deep, childlike hurt. When I took acid I grieved without moving through it. A journal entry from some months ago:
Some innocent part of me really doesn’t understand. It stands there kind of shocked, hands open and palms up, saying quietly “but… I’m a person. I’m a person. I’m a person!””
I made some friends more well known than me and subject to equal or more internet hate, and they seemed to have… gotten over it somehow? The hate rolled off them like they were oil, and I wanted to learn how to do this. I was glad to know it was possible, even. I asked them but they shrugged - probably they never had my flavor of tangle in the first place.
A big part of this was trying to navigate my changed relationship to the world. I didn’t know how to handle being a symbol to people. Something about it felt off. I wasn’t supposed to be a symbol, and people were wrong in some deep, horrible way when they failed to see my humanity.
I had a sense of attempting to manage my reputation. If everybody decided I was bad, this would be terrible, and I had a compulsion to keep close tabs on what the Aella-discourse was so I could… I don’t know, catch things early? Combat misinformation?
And it wasn’t just limited to online. It was especially rough when the blight spread to people I met in person - people who acted friendly to me but it turned out had been saying terrible things about me, people who I thought were friends who got a bit mentally unstable and tried to cancel me, or in one instance a social group I’d started regularly attending when it turned out many of them were in a group chat where mocking me was a passtime.
another journal entry:
is this just what being a public figure means? can I just not trust people anymore, because they've formed their opinions about me before meeting me and some percentage of that will be really negative? I feel like my image of me is so far away from me now, I'm totally out of control of it, and I am now built to be hated, I can't escape the hate, it will follow me wherever i go, no matter what I do or how good and kind I actually try to be
Things got even worse when the threat moved from social to physical. I can’t say much about it yet, but a pretty serious in-person incident last year rattled me enough to make me even more sensitive to things people said. Even though I knew it wasn’t rational, my body started processing insults online as evidence they might try to kill me or something.
It got under my skin. It was like having schizophrenic voices whispering from all angles that you are terrible and should die, and you try to ignore it but it’s still there all the time, and slowly changes your psyche to the point that this jungle of knives is the default, you can’t remember what it was like to feel safe and loved.
All through this, I was dimly aware that my reaction was a tangle. I knew there was a way through this, that I was missing something important, and that if I could just figure it out I would be okay. I would be like my famous friends who laughed it off when they trended on twitter. I would be light and easy, and internet comments would be back where they belonged - in the bin of trivial curiosities irrelevant to me.
Part of having a tangle is that it’s hiding the true thing. I think the true thing I couldn’t see was, somewhat embarrassingly, a well-worn error - I believed that all this should not be happening.
Some months ago, I made some friends. I liked them, and we had a few uniquely connective experiences. They supported me during an intense experience where I wailed with grief and horror; we did a lot of eye contact, danced. I really did like them, thought they were wonderful. I wrote their names down in my diary as people to remember who were cool and I wanted to invite to more things.
And a few weeks later, when I was a conference, I checked my phone and saw they’d left some snide comments about me on a forum, agreeing with some people who were insulting me.
Something inside me just gave up. I went to my hotel room bed, cried gently, and let myself go through the Giving Up. Of course this would happen. Of course the intimacy I’d had was a raw tunnel leading under my skin, and it had let in pain. Of course this would happen again, as it had already happened so many times.
And I think this was the key, for me - the of course. It wasn’t a hand-spreading, pleading why - it was surrender to this like the laws of physics. It wasn’t that this shouldn’t be happening - no, it should. I’m a microcelebrity, and this means that some people will use me in ways that hurt. Throw a ball, it falls. What the fuck else did I expect to happen? This is the dynamic like the earth beneath my feet is the ground.
My method of gentle, compassionate self observation had, I think, relaxed enough of the landscape around my tangle to allow this mini tragedy to finally rumble the tectonic plate over a few inches. If I’d been anxious about the fact that I had hangups here, I’m not sure I would have had the space for my mind to catch this realization. The shift happened subtly, beneath me, inevitably. I shifted nothing; it shifted me.
I waited some months to make sure it was real. Was the update deep, or was it just a flittering mood swing? I needed to have some stress tests to be sure.
Turns out it was real. In the months since then I’ve had significantly reduced urge to monitor the Aella-discourse. I haven’t noticed the tangle pop up in myself at all; I feel much more at ease, and when I run into people on the internet hating me I feel way less disturbed.
The biggest difference was at Vibecamp. I’d attended the year prior and had a vaguely-panickey writeup about trying to handle the experience, where I used words like ‘feeling held hostage’ and ‘trapped’.
This year was completely different. Whereas the first year I felt like a normal person trying to pretend I was normal and getting unsettled when people treated me weird, this year I felt as though I accepted the crown. “Sure, fine, fuckit”, some part of me said, the part that had Given Up. “You’re a symbol, here for people to love or hate, don’t pretend you’re not. Lean into it.”
It really feels like I didn’t attend 2023 Vibecamp as a human. When the Dating Show To Save The World asked me to be the bachelorette, I said yes. Clearly they asked me because I was well known and symbolic, and participating felt like I was accepting my role in the story - not just the stage one, but the social one too. Over the weekend I deliberately wore vibrant, distinctive outfits meant to stand out, not blend in - another way of communicating that I knew the role I was playing. Float with the current, not against.
And honestly, it felt so much better. Wanting to be normal at the first Vibecamp felt like swimming after a ship in the distance - it’s asking too much of others and is exhausting for myself. No - I’m a human with emotions to some people, and I’m a sacrifice on the altar of Judgement to others - and this is okay. This is throwing a ball that falls, this is the ancient way of things. I am your very own soulless egregore, here at your service, slaughter this symbol as you please.
(This might sound bitter, but I don’t mean it to be; I think much of our opinions about others - including my own opinions about others - are heavily influenced by our attempts to manage our sense of worth to ourselves)
Striding down the aisle as everyone claps for you is scary - if you allow yourself to be elevated, it’s going to hurt to fall. And you will fall - people will clamber over each other trying to knock you off. The only way to get over your fear is to accept that the falling is part of it. This is what it means to be elevated. You’re in a constant state of being slammed down or up depending on the room you enter, and you can’t know the direction beforehand. It took me so long to learn how to relax and enjoy the ride.
I think my inability to accept people’s hatred of me before was fundamentally the same inability to accept the social power they were handing me. And this was uncomfortable for me and probably other people too, because turns out I do in fact have social power. It turns out you can’t not be handed social power. I sorta believed that if I just shrugged and said ‘aw shucks’ enough that this would save me from elevation, but it didn’t. I thought it ought to save me from elevation, but that was the very lil nugget of fuckery that the rest of my psyche was tangling around.
“Noo, it is the rules that are wrong”, I whine at gamenight as I hand over the last of my monopoly money
To be clear, I’m not like… invincible, and I still try hard to keep social hygiene around me. I block on twitter with the enthusiasm of a roided 21 year old American soldier getting released into the middle east. I have zero tolerance for people in my social circles saying stuff like “people only take her seriously cause she shows her boobs”. I’ve got one life and I don’t want to live it without full support from those in it.
(More to-be-clear, I’m quite down with criticisms and suggestions, but only those that come from compassion and a desire to help me)
I also still have normal social anguish like “oh god I don’t want to be socially excluded” and “i hope my friends think i’m cool once i finish this dope project” and “its annoying when people believe lies about me on the internet”.
But some part of me has finally stopped freaking out, and I’m pretty sure it’s here to stay. I’m also really pleased in a narrative sense. Like, for years I was aware that this was a problem with a solution, and it took so long to solve that some part of me started to wonder if my be gentle and stay aware method was going to work or if I had to go to therapy and try something more serious. But no - my original method worked after all. Super cool!
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