It’s been a long time since I’ve written. Time and again I’ve sat down and written a post and then hesitated before publishing it–always I as terrified that what I would say would not just make someone angry (that is never my intention, but it happens), but that one of my worst nightmares would begin to play out again.
You see, for a while I became the victim of a very specific form of bullying: cyber stalking. Basically, people use the ultra-connected society we live in to follow your online footprints and use those things to cause harm.
Many years ago, when I first set up a Facebook and MySpace account, I was a student in seminary. I was living far from home and was looking for ways to keep in touch with people. At that point, social media was still new–but it offered a level of connection that email just didn’t provide.
Quickly, social media took off and I wound up creating a network of friends, relatives, acquaintances, and colleagues from all of the world… I cherished the diversity and how different we could often be. We held a vast array of political, religious, and philosophical opinions. We often disagreed. Sometimes we argued (more like debated)… and occasionally I’d become aware of an unhealthy relationship and would weed them out.
But for the most part I loved the discussion and public dialogue in which we were engaging. I had three basic rules: 1) I would only post things I’d be willing to have a conversation with Jesus about, 2) I would maintain a family-friendly setting on my pages (no foul, abusive, or sexual language), and 3) I would insist on mutual respect. We don’t have to agree, but we can still respect one another’s humanity. And if we respect one another, we can learn from one another.
Social media became a way for me to share forward the items I was blogging about. Since childhood I’ve had a passion for writing and I often process things best by writing about them. Blogging was an extension of my spiritual life and a part of my spiritual discipline–with each new post was the evidence of a growing, maturing, always-developing spirit. It was the ongoing story of my journey in faith.
Those posts were me bearing my soul and showing the world exactly who and what I am. They were my thoughts, feelings, and opinions… but in the end, they were always me.
One day I wrote a post that angered some people.
Once again, it was never my intention to anger anyone. But sometimes when we share our thoughts and opinions, others will not approve. And that’s okay. Because through those disagreements we can learn more about each other and I was offering just one insight in a much larger and expansive public debate. I never assumed my perspective was the only one.
Though it was not my intention, the anger rose. Feelings were hurt. And ugliness reared its head.
That’s when something unexpected happened: The cyber stalking began.
Someone who wasn’t willing to speak with me face-to-face about their issues with my post suddenly became very concerned about what was on my Facebook page. It seems someone was spending a considerable amount of time pouring over each and every action I took on the social media site. Every status update, every article I shared, every time I clicked “like” on someone else’s post was scrutinized.
If that was where it had stopped, it would be fine. But behind the scenes, there was someone (at least one one, maybe more) who was stirring the pot. The grapevine was often hot with my latest update or post taken out of context or misrepresented.
Two particular examples stick out in my head: 1) I had shared a witty cartoon about how the media sensationalizes scandals and reports on it continuously. It was a great cartoon. A friend had shared it on his wall and I liked it, so I shared it on mine. But I didn’t pay close enough attention to the orignal poster, a group called “Unf*ck the World”. It was a tiny little detail–literally the fine print that I didn’t see or read… but that one word became the source of controversy. By the time I was trying to fix it, people who were not on social media believed their pastor had been the one cursing because the gossip had twisted the truth around. 2) I quoted Al Sharpton. Seems simple enough–a Christian minister quoted another Christian minister… but Sharpton is, as we all know, connected to a lot of political issues. No, I’m not a big Sharpton fan for a lot of reasons too numerous and complicated to get into here… but just because I don’t like some of what he says and does doesn’t mean I have to hate everything about the man. However, quoting him on a single item from his vast platform of issues, suddenly became, “she’s praising Al Sharpton” to “she represents everything we don’t like about Al Sharpton” to “she hates us and thinks we’re bad Christians.”
And it was petty stuff like this constantly. A quiet week would pass. Two weeks. I’d get lulled into a false sense of security, thinking it had finally run its course. And then, BOOM! Another controversy about some silly little thing I said or shared.
Eventually I became shell-shocked.
Whereas my rule from day one had been, “Can I talk to Jesus about this?” I found myself not worrying so much about what a conversation with Jesus might look like to whether or not the person(s) cyber stalking me would use it against me.
And so I slowly stopped writing.
I stopped processing my thoughts. I let the spiritual discipline of writing about my faith fall by the wayside… because I didn’t want to go through another firestorm.
It got to the point that every time I’d sit down to write, I’d get sick to my stomach thinking about how each and every word could be twisted to become a weapon against me.
I changed my social media privacy settings to isolate myself from others.
But that didn’t root out the problem, so I changed them again.
I became afraid to have real conversations–the sort of conversations that used to feed me–even with people I knew weren’t a part of the problem.
That’s the problem with cyberstalkers. They operated in the shadows. I had no way of knowing who was doing it…If I knew, I would have been able to stop it.
And that’s when the depression kicked in.
I felt isolated from God in some ways because I was no longer engaging in the sort of Christian conferencing that used to nurture me or using one of the major spiritual discipline in my life to process my faith.
Which created a vicious cycle: the more isolated I felt, the more I isolated myself.
I even stopped journaling.
You have no idea how profound a statement that is–I’ve been keeping a journal in one form or another since childhood.
The thing about depression is that it sneaks up on you.
Even those of us who struggle with it, who have developed coping mechanisms, and have trained ourselves to see the red flags, will still sometimes get caught off guard.
Shortly before Easter I became very ill. I’d never felt that sick before. Through that experience I realized I just wasn’t taking care of myself the way I needed–which was the kick in the pants I needed to get back on track.
I began considering the areas I needed to make some changes and I was a little horrified when I began to realize how far into the pit I had let myself slip:
- I wasn’t reading
- I wasn’t praying on a regular basis
- I wasn’t walking or swimming (my favorite exercise)
- My house was filthy
- I was only eating one meal a day, and an unhealthy one at that
- I wasn’t keeping in contact with family
- I wasn’t keeping in contact with friends
- I hadn’t practiced any of my favorite hobbies in months
- I was watching television hours a day (something I usually don’t do)
- I was waiting until I got cancellation notices before I paid my bills
- And then I’d hate myself for not being on top of things
- I was forgetting things like meetings or events
- I was irritable and angry all the time
- I would cry over anything
- I wasn’t thinking past the day–I had no vision of a future
And so I began to make some changes.
The first one was simple: I started Geocaching again. It’s one of my favorite hobbies–and I hadn’t visited the site or logged a new find in months.
Geocaching meant I was walking again. Often in the woods–where I have always felt closest to God.
Getting in the woods again got me away from the television–and put me in a place where I had to talk to God. I mean, I was right there in God’s presence.
Talking to God meant I started writing again because that’s often how our conversations manifest themselves–through the discipline of writing.
Writing meant I started praying more.
Praying lead to curiosity–it always does with me…
Curiosity lead to reading more.
Reading more made me think more.
Thinking more made me get more honest with myself.
Being honest with myself made me realize I needed to take better care of myself in all aspects.
I’m still clawing out of the hole–I had fallen pretty deep without realizing it. But every day I see more and more light above me… and everyday I reclaim a little more of myself that had been stolen away by someone else’s unhealthy behavior.
I still don’t know who’s responsible for the cyber stalking and gossip–but I don’t worry about it so much anymore. I’m more interested in exposing it for the hurtfulness and anti-Christian practice that it is because if a self-aware woman in her late thirties can be hurt so deeply by it, imagine what these sorts of things are doing to the young and the vulnerable.
I’m struggling right now. I won’t lie. But I’ve got a grip on it now and I’m remembering that God loves me–that God has called me “beloved”.
So, blogosphere, I’m back. Cyberstalkers be damned. I’m reclaiming myself as God’s beloved child!
Dear Heart, know that you are loved!
I’m so glad you’re “back”. I’ve missed you!!! Please know how much I value you. Pat
Amanda, I feel your pain. I hear your cry. I know that deep pit — all too well. And I am SO glad you are back! I’ve missed your thoughtful messages and your all-encompassing love for people pouring forth from your keyboard. I, too, went into a retreat for a few months, with almost exactly the same responses, but not for the same reason. I didn’t need anyone to cyber-bully me — I could do it to myself all by myself, and did. But no more. Welcome back, and don’t let anyone cause you to hide your light or snuff it out. God knows what’s in your heart — and in the heart(s) of the cyber-bullies. You just keep on being you, expressing your thoughts as only you can. You are one of a kind (that’s the way God makes us, ya know), and I’m blessed to know you. Peace. Dot Smith Stewart
Wow…we’re fairly different in many aspects, but this experience is a carbon copy. You’re not alone. I had very similar experiences after being encouraged to “share my gifts” online of creativity that found voice in the culinary arts..and soon it became, “does all the preacher do is cook?” (I only posted 2 or 3 a week, I started to think fast food was the preferred way we were supposed to eat…) and began sharing some passionate thoughts about foster care and “prolife” issues that others used as springboards to their own opinions (you got your own wall, use it…) and it all led to withdraw and rare sharing. I’mean still guarded about what I’m willing to post. If some one wants to dump on it, I’m not giving them a target (Don’the cast your pearls before swine….) but I am going to start writing again this Autumn. Lots of quiet space with the kids returning to school. I look forward to reading what you chose to share and I might send some things your way too…
Oh, so sorry to hear you had to go through that! My own experience was much less involved than yours, but I suffered some of the same things–people who claimed to be concerned with my spiritual welfare stalked my Facebook posts and even made printouts of the things I posted. Thankfully, I figured out who was behind my issues, and I deleted and blocked them. But I still have trouble trusting and sharing things of a spiritual nature.
Beautifully written! Thanks for sharing your feelings. I pray you continue to claw your way out of despair.
Thank you for your honesty and your vulnerability.
I’m not sure if a response will get back to you but I want you to know I’m sending positive thoughts and prayers.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone
Pastor Amanda, Beautifully written and inspiring. I’ve been there too in that place, where you pick yourself up and dust yourself off and talk to God again. It’s a tough place to be, but by golly you did it and I’m still working on it. We are God’s children thank goodness!
First…gotta thank Lynn for posting this link. Once I started reading, couldn’t stop. I know it’s hard to try and find yourself again. Especially when you didn’t even know your were lost. Or find a place where you “fit in”. As my pastor Mike Ring calls me…..YOU are a unique, child of God. I know now, UNIQUE is good. How boring if we were all the same. Worry only sees the wind and troubled water. Regret keeps looking back, searching for the shore. Fear may only see the thunder and the lightning. Faith keeps walking on, looking to the Lord.
As I read your story I was reminded of the disciple Peter who was taken aback by a little girl as he warmed himself by the “enemy’s” fire. He denied his place and his role even though he knew Jesus personally. Then twice more he denied. If Peter could falter then we are all subject to fail. But like Thomas, ” show me and I will believe” There will ALWAYS be naysayers. I don’t always agree in total with you. Our position is based on your relationships with friends, family and most important, Jesus .It is good to hear that you are back on track Don’t forget to take your medicine, in other words, keep writing.
Thank you for sharing your experience. Been there. Holding you in prayer.
You write so well, it would be a shame if you were slowed down or stopped by a few bullies. So nice to read your posts, which I just found and quite by accident. I have been looking for a good place to discuss God and Spiritual issues, and I adore your honesty, so I may have found the spot. Please know that what you went through has happened to many of us. It is a wild world these days, but it is our responsibility to keep on keeping on. God Bless you and please do keep on writing.