The Comfort of Online Strangers
It would be an exaggeration to say that I live my life online. Much of my life is devoted to my wife and two sons and I can assure you that the online realm currently means absolutely nothing to month-old Harris Theodore Rex Rabin, only food, sleep and being held. I envy him in that respect. Part of me wishes that I could live in a world without the crazy-making pressure and intensity of the Internet. And part of me thinks that a life without the internet would be no kind of life at all, that it’d be lonely and scary and that I would feel cut off from the rest of the world.
After all, you are reading this on the internet. Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place only exists because of the internet. I’m able to support myself through my website only because of the internet. I’m able to use Squarespace to run a modest small business and Patreon to monetize that small business only because of the internet.
This Big Whoop blog only exists because of the internet. It can be weird and a little scary living on the internet instead of what the young people call IRL (in real life) but it can also feel safer, more comforting and kinder than the offline world.
I belong to a number of Facebook groups. Some I’m deeply invested in and post in regularly, most notably my group Society for the Toleration of Nathan Rabin and in some of these groups I’m a quasi-lurker, having posted not at all or only intermittently.
I belong, for example, to a group for people wrestling with mental illness, depression and anxiety, a group that I imagine encompasses literally everybody who has ever been born since the beginning of time.
I think Depression and Anxiety are both sane responses to living in an insane world, in a capitalist society overseen by Donald Trump, who has caused so much Depression, including in me, that I’ve taken to calling my current Depression a Trumpression, and the free-floating despair and hopelessness that followed Trump’s election a culture-wide case of Post-Trumpmatic Stress Disorder.
But the Depression that my fellow members of the group share is not sadness or deep, lasting displeasure with the way the last election turned out. No, these are people who deal with Suicidal Depression, with intense anxiety, with the kind of all-consuming, oppressive self-hatred that can make it difficult to sleep at night or function in life.
I will always be a Depressive. That’s part of who I am. That’s part of my identity. It’s hardwired in into my DNA but it’s cyclical. Some days are harder than others. Most days I feel like a fundamentally happy, well-adjusted person with a disease I need to manage and control like any other, except that it will never completely go away.
There are times when I don’t feel depressed enough to even be a proper member of this group. Reading the harrowing experiences of strangers makes me feel grateful to be in a relatively good place with my Depression most of the time, although I've really been struggling for the past few weeks. It also makes me feel a lot less alone. It’s a necessary antidote to the constant reminders social media provides as to much more successful everybody you’ve ever known or worked with are than you.
Social media is a tool for relentless self-promotion. It’s a way of building your brand. I know I use it for both purposes. So it creates a false vision of the world where everyone is doing super, everyone is leading their best lives, and everyone is winning awards or scoring plum gigs while you struggle not to lose everything that you’ve built and stick around in an increasingly rigged and hopeless game.
So it is refreshing to know that there are lots of people out there who are falling apart inside, who don’t just wrestle with the kind of pain and rejection that you do but face even more formidable demons. There’s something about the members of this group being strangers, pretty much, that makes confiding in them seem safer. There’s comfort in knowing that strangers, or people who share a single common passion, whether it’s a podcast or a cult pop culture writer, feel, if not the same pain, than a similar kind of personal anguish.
So if you’re not quite ready to see a therapist or join a support group in real life, two things I’ve been putting off forever, I recommend the online version of a mental health support group as a way of finding some comfort, solace and community in an online realm that otherwise can be pretty damn scary and invalidating.
I make my living through Patreon, so if y’all would be kind enough to even consider as little as a dollar pledge over at http://patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace it’d be nothing short of