Some disability-related writing I was asked to do is going to be published in a national newspaper soon. I’m excited, proud, all of the correct emotions, but I’m also a bit scared. Scared because putting my head above the parapet can draw more attention than I wanted, and the wrong sort.
In 2015 something bad happened. Every socially anxious person’s worst nightmare, and I lived it, for months. Friends unfriending, blocking, ghosting, and worse – being talked about, lied about, with no way to see what was being said. Strands would reach me from time to time, each time more exaggerated or fictional than the last. At my darkest points, I pictured it like a virus infecting every aspect of my social life, every group I was affiliated with (after all, everyone is connected these days). I wrote blog posts in my head daily, of what I could say to try and control the narrative, but always resigned myself with the fact that trying to do so would make things worse. Which is why I’m not doing so now, in fact. I’m still too anxious. But this is where being in the public eye comes in. I started to notice a pattern back in 2015, small but defined. When a blog post was shared around, or lots of people retweeted one of my tweets, I would have a drop in followers. It seems exposure led to a backlash, as some people made it their civic duty to tell others to unfollow me because of what they’d heard . It was hard to swallow, but I would eventually, after months of self loathing, tell myself that people who believed rumours about me weren’t worth having as friends or acquaintances. Sometimes I even believed myself. Even though it’s boiled over, now I’m getting more exposure for activism and writing it’s making me anxious in case it starts up again. The fourth? fifth? whatever wave of it I’m up to now. In a way I feel I’m more able to cope. My friendship groups have comfortable, equitable dynamics, and I’m not going through social destruction at the same time as trying to fight for the benefits I need to survive (2015 was not a good year). But, all the same, despite being a stronger, more self-assured person these days (at least to an extent), I hope fervently that actually getting a readership won’t lose me friends. I hope the friends I have now know me well enough to know my principles.
(An alternative take is I Survived Every Socially Anxious Person’s Worst Nightmare and that in itself is amazing, but I won’t lie and say it doesn’t still affect me. I can’t talk about it without crying. I avoid certain venues and events in case of seeing specific people. I can’t make a new friend without trying to work out how if they’re socially connected to anyone involved, and if they could already have heard of me in a negative way. And I am incredibly, incredibly scared of having an argument with any friend, or being read the wrong way. I screen cap conversations that I worry could come back to haunt me, for fear of being gaslighted again. But mostly I’m just thankful that I didn’t give up entirely, or failed in my attempt to, because it did get better. After nearly a year it died down, and I sat in the ashes of my self esteem and rebuilt from the ground-up.)