Guarding My Mind While Doing Online Activism
[TW: Online harassment, depression, anxiety, suicide]
I still identify as a secular humanist, but lately I’m finding little nuggets of truth in Buddhism. A few months ago, someone viciously attacked me online, and it triggered my anxiety and depression so bad that I wanted to kill myself. Then one morning I tried a guided meditation I found on YouTube as a last ditch effort to save me. In that moment, I realized I haven’t been taking care of myself. Sure, I did things that made me happy—drinking beer, taking my Effexor as prescribed, eating pizza, smoking cigarettes, listening to my vinyl record collection, watching Sense8—and none of those things are bad in and of themselves (except the smoking part), but I realized those things weren’t getting to the root of my mental health issues. I needed to step away from social media for a week, and focus on being in the moment. And that meant picking up the Buddhist practice of mindfulness.
I also got a book of daily Buddhist devotions from the local library. One day I found this particular quote:
“In the same way that someone in the midst of a rough crowd guards a wound with great care, so in the midst of bad company should one always guard the wound that is the mind.”—Shantideva, A Guide to the Bodhissatva’s Way of Life 5:19
Holy shit, this is the story of my life!
Doing online social justice activism has its great rewards. I’ve met the most amazing people in the world, I’ve shared the stories of those who are often ignored in the atheist community, and I’ve had the opportunity to share my story here on Queereka. Online activism has blessed me with a community that I would not be able to find anywhere else.
However, online activism has also led me to ugly encounters with online bullies. I don’t victim blame myself for all the attacks, but I must admit that sometimes I put myself in situations where I would be more vulnerable to attacks. I tried to talk about feminism on hostile online forums, and I picked battles with notoriously toxic people. Normally I would just block people from either Twitter or YouTube, but one day I got into an argument with an infamously toxic person that ended with me calling them rude names. This person then tried to get me fired for what I said (even though technically it was on my own free time and not during work). That’s when I knew something had to change.
So now I’m going to carefully guard my mind whenever I find myself in a not-so-safe space. With my lifelong history of mental illness, my mind is a wound, just like what Shantideva said. It’s been battered and bruised after years of bullying, gender dysphoria, and self-hatred. Sure, I’ve healed some during the past 32 years, but all it takes is just one ugly incident to send me into a total relapse.
Wish me luck, friends!