Dealing With Pain On Social Media


The thing about the Internet is that you can be confronted multiple times a day by very real things: widespread diseases, forest fires, suicides, wrongful deaths. And we’re so used to seeing these stories blasted across our Facebook feeds, our Twitter feeds, that we glance at them and think, “Oh, that’s terrible, but it’s not happening to me” and go back to looking at dresses. I do that shit every day.

The thing about the Internet is that we live so much of our lives on it, and present a carefully curated person via those platforms. It’s mostly true, but it’s not the whole picture. (“Trust me,” said my best friend John. “No one is happy as they look on Instagram.” I should have this tattooed on my arm.) You can be as open as you want to be on the Internet, but you’re not disclosing everything. There are always things you want to keep to yourself, feelings that might not be worthy (or might not be appropriate) to share with the world. You can say something and it’s forgotten a day or two later.

But when life, the part of life that isn’t all miracles and fun and new seasons and babies, comes banging on the door of someone you love (and you can love people you don’t know very well!), you can’t really push it away in favor of Alice & Olivia for cheap on eBay. And the thing is – you don’t want to. You want to take on some of that sadness and unfairness and help them bear the brunt of it. You want to help them in any way you can, buy them thing and sing them lullabies and be with them as long as they need you. The worst kind of helpless is when you can’t fix everything for a friend.

I recently read a tweet from a writer I admire that said, “If you want to accomplish great things, you have to cherish pain quite a lot.” I’ve been coming back to it often these past few weeks, looking at it from all different angles. I always say that I can’t write anything good unless I’m hurting.

You can’t place yourself in other people’s pain; I’m sure it’s dark and black and constantly moving like the deepest part of the lake at night. It’s probably white-hot, hard like a diamond, ready to spew all over everyone and calm and reserved at the same time. Pain and sadness and grief move and shapeshift that way, but they’re different for everyone. You can’t ever place yourself in someone else’s shoes this way, so I won’t even try. We don’t wear the same size shoe. But I do know how it feels to hurt, badly, and I know that sometimes the best way to deal with it is just to wrap your words around it.

It takes an incredible amount of courage solely to go on when these things are happening to you, to get out of bed, paint up your face with a lipstick and look alive. And it takes even more courage to put it all out there for your family and friends and strangers (often the cruelest of all) to see. Sometimes you just have to write it out and let it out into the world, give it to them to take on if they want, or to empathize with, relate to, pass on to their friends. Sometimes your pain does good things. It can connect people. It can soothe them. That’s the wonderful part of the Internet. It’s not near enough to make up for all the shit that happens, but it’s something.