I know I have been especially quiet around here on the blog for quite awhile now.
To be really honest, I have strongly been considering giving up blogging altogether.
When I first jumped into this world of blogging, it was exciting and cathartic.
For once in my life my fear of holding everything in grew greater than my fear of speaking up.
At that point, very few people I knew had ever experienced a faith crisis like I was going through, and finding an entire online community of writers and readers who were all sharing similar stories was a gift at a very dark and lonely time in my life. The thought that if I was brave enough to share my story that I might let even just one other person out there know they weren’t alone, made me feel like I was doing something worthwhile.
Soon my journey and writing became like breathing: inhale and exhale.
Then, I slowly started connecting with friends and family and acquaintances in ways I never anticipated. Magically it felt as if my writing opened doors to conversations I never thought would be possible to have.
The relief I felt to finally let my guard down and just be myself, come what may — was incredible.
After a few years though, both my personality and the ever-addicting 24 hour cycle of blogging began to slowly crowd out my joy and inspiration for writing.
Insecurity and comparison brought my fears back like a flood. Suddenly it was more about the number of posts I put out, or the number I didn’t. I fell into this internal war as I struggled with who I should write to, what I should write about, how I should write about it, what I should say, what I shouldn’t, how to be vulnerable and truthful without oversharing, how to offer hope and worth through my own stories but not hurt people I love in the midst of that. Competing voices of advice in my head fueled my fears and insecurities. To add to the mess, the comparison game sucked me in like a vicious vortex, as I struggled with finding the worth of my writing next to this blogger or that one.This is the ugly truth behind the ups and downs of my writing. Click To Tweet
In starting Untold Stories one of my deepest held values was to stop wearing the masks. To stop trying to always posture myself, my voice, my thoughts, and my words around what I thought others wanted to hear and to just simply show up and be myself.
Reality is though, its incredibly hard to be real and vulnerable with people. Period. I have spent more time in my life wearing masks, people pleasing, and posturing myself than not. Breaking that habit in person or online has proven to be one of the hardest tasks of self-improvement I have ever undertaken.
The internet and social media’s ever-devolving state into a blaring, outrage consumed machine however, is what broke me down the most.
Every day there is something new horrible happening, and every day there seemed to be mounting pressure to say something, to take a stand, to have all the right words to say about everything all at once.
I have spent months now contemplating how to fix what I felt was spiraling out of control.
My first step was to slowly cut down on contributing.
Next I deleted my social media apps off my phone as I quickly realized just how much time during my day online interaction and social media had consumed.
I started only letting myself consume in small amounts. Slowly I began to notice that there was a direct link between what I consumed, how much I consumed, and how anxious I felt. I also began to notice sooner and sooner, when I found myself mindlessly and endlessly scrolling and clicking the minutes by.
This past election season felt like the final straw as I watched myself and so many I know and love all get caught up in this never-ending posting match on social media.
No matter which side, I think for anyone who engaged online these past couple of years, we all woke up the morning after the election bruised and bleeding somewhere. The dividing lines between us and those we know and love were everywhere. Everything felt so personal, so scary, and so final.
After it was all over, I felt like I gasped out my few last thoughts and then all I could do was step out of the way.
My only thought became to simply catch my breath and figure out how did I ever end up here?
Exhausted and running for the safety of old masks–my confidence in vulnerability, the internet, and my writing was broken. All I found myself doing was contemplating every exit door I could see.
Becoming a mother in the middle of this election season made these struggles especially challenging.
Amongst so many other women, my postpartum experience introduced me to levels of fear and anxiety like I have never known.No one tells you just how terrifying it can be to be a first time parent. Click To Tweet
It soon became readily apparent that one of the worst sources fueling my anxiety was time spent online, watching the news, and feeding on the sociopolitical mania that was palpable everywhere I looked. Couple this with being a stay-at-home postpartum mom who had nothing but a baby and a house to take care of, with lots of time sitting, nursing, and holding a baby–and suddenly my instant access to the online world through every device at my side became the perfect recipe for meltdown after meltdown.
Ready or not, election day came and went.
As we all soon learned — nothing changed.
The outrage machine just kept spinning. Click To Tweet
The conversations and posting wars just kept going.
Online conversations and headlines everywhere were swimming in emotions of fear, anger, and outrage mixed with needs for validation or justification.
The most humbling lesson was just watching myself and how I wanted to respond, as I scrolled through my feeds, read the news, or read the words of various bloggers I follow.
My curiosity drove me to look deeper.
Whenever I felt the urge to say something or share anything I came across, I started to ask myself why?
I quickly learned those emotions of fear, anger, and that instinctive response of “Gotcha” or “I Told You So” were the culprits driving my sharing impulses more often than not.I never realized until doing this, how reactionary I often am online. Click To Tweet
I feel like someone took a flashlight to my online interactions and motives and in that glaring light stood an emotional girl vying for her piece of the pie and a chance to be heard.
The fact is, when it comes to my online presence and participation I got caught up in the frenzy and forgot that I have a choice.
I have a choice to participate.
I have a choice in how I participate.
I have a choice in why I participate.
My exercise in forcing myself to only observe has made it glaringly apparent that my listening skills need some work.
Krista Tippet is an author whose words have been a well of learning for me these past several months. She is an author and journalist, known for her ongoing radio, podcast, and media conversations project called On Being. She has incredible wisdom in facilitating conversations with individuals she interviews from all matter of backgrounds, political perspectives, cultures, religions, expertise, age, and experience. She has this uncanny ability to disarm people having a conversation about the most controversial of topics, and finds a way to bring their best self and work to light.
The more I observed my manner of conversation and style of interaction consuming my online spaces, the more I realized how it had also seeped into my daily interactions with friends and family I engage with offline.
How easy it is for me to reduce people I know and love to one statement or one post. Click To Tweet
If what they say or post makes me feel shocked, scared, hurt, annoyed, angry, or defensive–the instinctive reaction I have to listen poorly and judge instantly is incredible.
Poor listening means I become less curious, less generous in spirit with how I perceive them, less kind in how I remember them, and less motivated to find any complexity or anything of value in what they say.
As Krista Tippet writes so beautifully,
Listening is an everyday art and virtue, but it’s an art we have lost and must learn anew. Listening is more than being quiet while others have their say. It is about presence as much as receiving; it is about connection more than observing. Real listening is powered by curiosity. It involves vulnerability – a willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions and take in ambiguity. It is never in “gotcha” mode. The generous listener wants to understand the humanity behind the words of the other, and patiently summons one’s own best self and one’s own most generous words and questions.
If that is the bar, well I have a lot of work to do to reach it.
The question becomes how do I get there from here?
Surrounding myself with an echo chamber of only voices and people who agree with me doesn’t work.
Contrastingly, allowing myself to anxiously feed on anything and everything increases my fear, anger, outrage, and judgment.
Choosing the nuclear exit option and giving up on social media and any online engagement altogether gives my fear and my defeat the final word. (Don’t think that I haven’t considered this option, because I have. So many times I can’t even count.)
But just giving up when I feel burnt out, exhausted, and frustrated with my choices and my own ineptness at finding a better way forward is not the example I want to live out–for myself or my children.
This is perhaps the most important reason keeping me from throwing in the towel all together.
What standard am I setting for them with the choices I make now in how I participate, what I participate in online, and why I do it?
Opting out entirely may seem like an appealing easy button right now, but the irony is not lost on me that one of my first urges as a parent is to want to just hide my child away from all of this forever.
My choices forward online feel so polarizing and deceivingly like the only options. Click To Tweet
Either I make my online spaces and engagement a fairy land of babies and puppies filled with zero conflict, and thereby very little substance; or I let it all in and become this emotionally volatile, reactionary consumer; or I give up altogether and hide myself and my kid away from something that feels too scary, too hard, and too exhausting.
I want a different choice.
My mental health needs a different choice.
None of these options will allow me to thrive or grow in any way long-term.
None of them recognize the potential for technology, social media, or online spaces to provide opportunities for creativity or connection.
None of them push me to be a better writer, a better mother, or a better human online or in person.
Today I don’t have any answers for you.
I only have a vision of what I am looking for.
Brave Space by Micky ScottBey Jones
How have you grown as a person in your online engagement, for however long you have been active in any of these spaces?
What challenges you to be more mindful of how and why you engage online?
What values and emotions guide you the most as you interact online?
How has someone you disagreed with through this past election surprised you in a good way? Were you ever able to find some common ground?
For anyone who has ever contemplated opting out of online engagement altogether, what keeps you from doing that?