Some colleagues and I were chatting by the proverbial water cooler the other day and somehow we ended up on the topic of internet privacy. Though they all were exceedingly careful about what they posted to the net, I’m rather the opposite (surprise, surprise, right?). Ever since I first started working as an opinion columnist, I started cultivating my online persona. There’s a lot you can learn about me very easily on the net, more so than many people.
I spoke briefly to them about this, and the unanimous response was that since I was the one choosing to divulge the information, there was nothing inherently wrong with the act of keeping myself public. Their concerns ranged from credit card security to children regretting posting something later down the road to being able to be found easily by people who are not welcome in their lives (that I admit scares me).
I chose to give up my choice of anonymity though. It’s something I wrestle with almost every blog post. I want to write about my life and my experiences, but how can I do so while protecting the privacy of those around me? I have certain measures – psuedonyms and asking permission to name a couple- but what about the times I don’t take those precautions, or those precautions aren’t enough to keep someone else’s privacy sacred?
I discussed this with a friend in a more abstract way a couple months back.We were on the topic of saying something not-so-sweet about very real people. How can we as writers stay true to our lives without hurting those who’ve hurt us? I came back to a quote that circles the net frequently: if they wanted to be written kindly about, they should have been nicer to you (or some variation thereupon). Though I never intend to call out anyone by name on this blog, if someone did something to me that is relevant to a post, I feel an obligation to upholding my truth, the thing I’m sharing here via this blog. The perfect example for this is my rapist; I will never call him out by name. I will not give details that could lead to his unmasking. It makes me feel a bit dirty, almost as if I’m helping him get away with more crimes, but I’d rather not risk the slander lawsuit that could result in accusing a person of rape who didn’t have formal charges brought against them. The same goes for the man who assaulted me in my freshman year of college, though to a far lesser extent.
My life and my view point were shaped by the actions of these men, especially my rapist. Seeing the world through PTSD glasses since I was a youngster has shaped me into the woman I am today. I stay calm in emergencies, but I am cold, distant even, in relationships. Loud noises make me jump out of my skin, but the rush of adrenaline allows for a quicker recovery time. My fight or flight mode is broken, so I’m both always panicking and never panicking. Think of me as the Hulk, only instead of always being angry, I’m always ready to run/fight. This is a very watered down explanation of PTSD, as there is much more to the disorder than a busted fight or flight signal. All these worries and more also go for my Generalized Anxiety Disorder and depression (when it’s flaring). Because so much of my anxiety is triggered by social interactions and situations, those contexts are essential to understanding what I’m trying to get at in each blog post.
When I chose not to write under a pseudonym, it was for practical reasons. I already had a few people who followed my opinion column in the paper. They expressed a desire to continue reading after I resigned. These folks are not people I’ve ever met – our conversations have been exclusively via online, semi-anon means (Twitter, Tumblr, fan and response emails). I can’t deny I was a bit shortsighted in how this could affect those around me and how I discuss my interactions with them.
When I first started this blog, I promised to be honest with you all. Initially, I meant that in terms of not drawing an inaccurate but pretty picture of hysterectomy recovery. Now, I’m trying to apply that to blogging about life with mental illness. No surprise, but it is much harder. How do I talk about the friendship that is majorly stressing me out because of immaturity but I don’t want to end because I don’t want to lose one of the few friendships I’ve truly cultivated? How do I talk about students (both violin and composition) if something they’ve said triggered me (FERPA concerns aside)? How do I talk about relationships of all types, since so much of that is what I struggle with? Where is the line between being honest in my narrative and not violating the privacy of other people?
I don’t know these answers, and maybe I never will. For now, I’m just going to use my best judgement. Pseudonyms and permission, and maybe even a little over-caution. Though I feel like this is being untrue to my story and my truth, all of our stories are intertwined – it isn’t just my story, but his, hers, theirs. Separating these threads fairly will be a daunting task, but one I’m a bit excited to undertake.