This is a story I have stopped myself from telling nearly half a dozen time since 2015. But stories have a life of their own and you can only keep them bottled up for so long.
If you follow me over here then you may have noticed a lull in posting last year, which was unusual even by my write-when-the-mood-strikes fashion. I was in a haze of unsettling emotions and while that was excellent food for writing, it created a unique situation for publishing said writing. It began, like all things do, with a tweet.
During the incident of “the problems with girls in the lab” by a prominent male scientist (I am not naming him, because I am convinced that will cause trolls to pop out of the woodwork faster than Bloody Mary herself), I tweeted a thing. A thing that apparently ended up on HuffPo. A thing that lead to a bizarre few months. Not because of the tweet, but because of who followed it all the way, not to my twitter account, but to my blog here. And what happened next was, for a lack of better word, perplexing.
A guy made a rambling video on my post, strangers called me an idiot, a spoiled princess, a brat, a whiner, a mediocre not-really-a-scientist (that was a fairly used one). People I had no idea they existed, sent essay length comments on my post calling me everything from lazy to pretty princess (can you smell the sexism in the air), and weirdly enough accusing me of “scoffing at hardworking Asian students”. This went on for almost three months, which was three months after the post was originally published.
When I first started getting the comments I laughed to myself, thinking who had so much time on their hands to make a video on an old post, that by my own standards, was a fairly basic piece. I stopped laughing when, disregarding the golden rule of the Internet that is to never, ever read the comments section, I read the comments section. It was an interesting experience. I have never had hundred of strangers call me names. I have, however, been laughed at by my classmates in Grade 6 when I was called to read one of my writings. So one would think, I would be used to that borderline out-of-body sensation. One would be wrong.
No matter how ‘strong’ you think you are, there are bound to be few things that will slither past your defenses. Flimsy barbs masquerading as criticism sneaks past my defenses, despite the fact that they hold very little substance. The sheer volume of the comments surprised and baffled me. I kept wondering what prompted so many people to resort to schoolyard bullying on a perfect stranger.
Bemused. Confused. Angry.
I have considered this blog to be a safe haven. A place where I could tune my voice, where I could share my thoughts and maybe, just maybe, help someone with similar struggles. To have that illusion of safety taken from me by weekly comments calling me all sorts of things, made me angry. Angry at the people writing those horrid things and at myself for letting them get to me. I can handle criticism. Of the few things my parents taught me when I was a child was to understand the validity of criticisms, to be self-critical enough to pay them heed. It is a lesson I have tried my best to remember. But this wasn’t criticism. It was strangers calling another stranger names. Perhaps they were bored. Perhaps they were just small-minded, spiteful human beings.
It reached a point where I was flinching at the orange speech bubble in WordPress. Flinching and sighing at the comments and pingbacks I would have to go through to disapprove (I had approved only the first and the last comment I received on this post out of more than half a dozen one). It turned from a bemused, off-kilter, one-off incident to a tiring, simmering rage-fest. It made me not want to write over here, a blog that has seen me through my first diagnosis of clinical depression. And I didn’t write for a while. I distanced myself from contributing to another science blog because a part of me was scared if something like this would happen there. That what I had to say was meaningless. That it would be better if I didn’t voice my thoughts.
This is when the rage at myself truly kicked in. Yes, I had to sort through all the horrible things being said about me. But I also had a tremendous amount of support from people I knew of in academia. They took the time to say kind and thoughtful things to me. I felt that by giving into the trepidation I was essentially letting both them and myself down. It took a while for me to sort through my own emotions and by then the rage had transformed into understanding myself a bit better.
I had carved a place for myself at 3 Am Ramblings. This is who I am. And I will be damned if I let anyone take that from me.
So I am back, writing. You can join me, but please, for the love of all that you hold dear, no essay length comments.