I deactivated my Facebook account last night, and felt a great wave of relief roll over me, tossing and turning me, then spitting me out on a distant shore. Or something like that.
Facebook has for a while been my main social outlet. I’m not ashamed to say it, I don’t regularly see any real-life friends. I’m a single Mother who works at home, home schools her child, and lives in a rural area. The only phone numbers on my contact list are my Sister (who lives 1500 miles away and who I’ve only met one time, over 20 years ago), the veterinarian, dentist, and doctor. I might interact with my neighbors on a casual basis, or be friendly with a clerk in a store, but other than that, Facebook has been my main social outlet for feeling connected to humanity.
Unfortunately, I’ve watched that degrade over the past year, as I’ve become autistically out. When I released two Autism Acceptance eyeshadows via my work earlier this year, my wee little Facebook friends list grew, as people in the Autism community wanted to be my friend. This made me feel like I was part of a larger group, and like I could voice my daily challenges, frustrations or difficulties within the context of others who might relate. You know, the very human act of venting and feeling supported.
At the same time, this brought non-autistic people on my friends list into the mix, who often would comment and make me feel stupid and petty for having said difficulties. I often felt like my safe space was being overrun by people trying to tone my content, or leave their opinion on what I should do. Here’s the thing: if I want opinions on how to do something, I’ll ask straight out. The worst thing autistic person me needs is non-autistic Facebook friend telling me what to do when all I want/need is the most basic human connection- “ditto” or “<3″ or “I get it”. I’ve had this happen over and over again in the recent few months and as a result, found myself feeling like when I post I have to exclude certain people, or even worse- not feel like I can post at all. On my own Facebook page.
Anyone’s Facebook friends list is surely a menagerie of personalities, and mine was no different. I had friends from all walks of life, all corners of the globe, and all variations of variation. Across all spans of political and religious beliefs. I’ve felt caught in between Scylla and Charybdis when it comes to this. Hands tied behind my back, to feel that I could not “like” or “share” certain things, lest worry I would offend or upset someone on my friends list. When your Facebook friends list is your only social outlet, you take these things seriously. If you think it’s pathetic that I don’t have real-life friends and that relying on Facebook for socialization is sad, then you probably shouldn’t be reading my blog. My blog is about the neurodivergent journey I am on, as a late-diagnosed Autistic woman who’s been through the ringer and back, estranged from her family and striving for peace and serenity. I spend each day putting all of my available resources towards my child, his homeschooling, running a small business that supports us, and caring for pets. There’s little left for socialization after that, but I clung to Facebook for this purpose like it was a survival raft. But that raft was toxic.
I’d regularly share photos on Facebook. It made me feel tenuously connected in a world where I often feel anxious and out of place. I went to college for photography, and spent twenty years paying off the student loans for that education, so I damn well better be able to take a pretty picture. But being able to take a pretty picture has it’s downfalls. People see your pictures and that’s all they see. Your life must be so easy. Your life looks like a vacation. You must poop rainbows and fairy sparkle dust in your perfectly nice looking prettily photographed life. As if photos are any indication of what someone’s life is really like, right? That’s one of my beefs with Facebook. People see what they want to see, and sometimes it’s just the gloss and finish. No one’s Facebook account photo timeline is accurately indicative of their daily life. No one’s.
Facebook also has an obsession with “family” and “if your Mother/Brother/Sister/Father is awesome, share this” sort of memes. That’s fantastic if you’ve been raised in a supportive family, but what if you haven’t? Facebook could be a constant reminder of painful things, which intensified those feelings and made them resonate loudly within my microcosm. Birthdays are especially difficult. Holidays are the worst. Realizing that Facebook trends place massive importance on Kim Kardashian’s nude photos over the astounding Rosetta comet landing? Maddening. I’d regularly share statuses or articles on Facebook. Things that really interested me, or things that I just wanted to voice to get off my back. You know, that very human desire to just say how I’m feeling. Put it out there. I’m probably different from a lot of my Facebook friends in that I live a very solitary life and don’t have a strong social support network, or a strong and reliable family network. Facebook had become my family. But when Facebook started reminding me of the reasons why I’m “no contact” with my Mother and my Brother? All bets were off.
Yesterday, I felt myself in a quandary about something with work. A customer had written on her invoice that she was having a hard time at work, and could I write something inspiring or nice on her paper invoice. I read it, and felt completely stumped. Numerous questions popped into my head, and I was immediately gripped by anxiety. When I read this, I was engaged in my daily routine of printing out orders, signing them, stapling them, putting a sticker on them, and putting them in numerical order for processing. This is part of my very structured daily routine for work. In my work, I rely on things being very orderly and routine, so that I can accomplish my basic tasks without my numerous executive function deficits popping up where they aren’t wanted. But this… this was a wrench in my works. I immediately began stressing and obsessing over it, wondering why someone who doesn’t know me nor I them, would want me to write something nice or inspirational on their order. It stopped me dead in my tracks, as the gnawing anxiety of having my daily routine interrupted gripped me. I soon found myself on the internet, searching for short inspirational quotes. I told myself, maybe this is what a “normal” person does? Finds a quote, any quote, and writes it down with a heart or a smiley face? I found lots of quotes, but I also found myself dwelling on each one. What if she doesn’t like it? What if she hates Anais Nin? What if the quote offends her? What if I’m misreading her situation and the quote isn’t appropriate? What if she thinks the quote I chose is stupid? And the list went on.
After about 45 minutes of scrolling through quotes (when I should have been totally completed in this task and well into my next one), I posted on Facebook about it, just voicing my frustration with what I’ve learned is a social trend that seems to have originated via Reddit. There is a subreddit related to my line of work, and I occasionally read it, as it’s an extremely influential group of over 10,000 subscribers. There are some company owners who are talented artists and draw adorable things on customer’s invoices. There are others who hand write nice personal messages. I can’t draw cute things, and I have horrid handwriting, but I know how important a handwritten, “Thank you (customer)!” is, so I sit quietly with a stack of orders and try to carefully coax my hand into legibly writing a personal thank you to each customer, spelled properly. Sometimes I add a little heart, but most of the time those little hearts look like distorted little butts. I print my invoices on pretty paper that looks like pressed leaves and flowers, and I give every customer free samples that I choose based on their order contents. This is the best I can do, really. I wish I could do it all- draw cute pictures, write perfectly legible, friendly, cool little notes, and leave customers so happy that they posted raves about my company and how happy I made them feel. But I can’t. That doesn’t mean I’m not giving 200% of myself, because I give everything I can. Unfortunately, it’s never enough. So I turned to Facebook to voice my frustrations to my friends.
Now you’re probably reading the past paragraph and think it sounds extreme that customers would expect these things, so I feel compelled to explain that this is a social trend that appears to have originated from Reddit. People requesting employees in various industries to write something, or draw something, and then the receiver sharing it via social media. It seems to be most popular in relation to the pizza box (or other food delivery) concept, where there is direct contact between parties. I personally don’t understand the trend, but I’ve tried. In some ways, it feels selfish for someone to expect a company owner to do this, especially a small company owner- particularly when I’ve shown no signs of doing this trend otherwise, and my being Autistic adds a whole other layer of complication on top of what one might feel is a simple request. I own and operate a small indie cosmetics company and do 99% of every task associated with said shop. To accomplish this requires very strict adherence to routine. I could write a very thick book about the mental gymnastics it takes to do my daily work, but now isn’t the time, as we were talking about… Facebook.
I made a mistake on Facebook last night, and I hurt someone’s feelings. I didn’t mean to do it, and when I found out I had hurt her feelings, I immediately apologized and explained myself. In my numerous discussions with friends about the latest social trend and my frustration and difficulty with a similar request in my real life, I mentioned something I had seen in my Facebook feed- a picture of a cute animal drawn on a pizza box, as requested by customer. I thought it was a viral image, that was being shared. I didn’t know that my Facebook friend had requested to have it drawn on her pizza box. She commented on my post and said it was her photo, and that the employees at the pizza places enjoyed her requests and drawing things. I immediately felt horrible and very worried that I had hurt her feelings. I saw her comment pop up on my phone, stopped everything I was doing, and sat down at my laptop to write her an apology. I apologized profusely, and told her I had no idea it was her image, that I hoped I did not hurt her feelings, as I would never intend to do that. I also tried to further explain that my frustration with this phenomenon, as an Autistic person who was being very affected by a customer request to do something similar. I explained that my feelings were in relation to the overall phenomenon, and not her specifically. I mentioned that if she and the employees at the pizza shop enjoyed this mutually, then that was awesome. Because it is. But for me personally as a neurodivergent business owner I feel that having these kind of requests are strange, and they make me uncomfortable and extremely stressed. My day was so affected by the request that I lost 90 minutes of work time, and was unable to pack a single customer’s order. That is a great example a direct executive function deficit in relation to my being Autistic. The request represented a complete interruption of my routine, asking me to change my routine, change direction, do something I had no clue how to do.
An hour later, I refreshed my Facebook feed, and saw a post she had made on her wall. It was about me, and was a very dramatic and contextually stretched version of what occurred deep within the comments of my post about the customer request. She either hadn’t seen, or didn’t accept my apology. There it was, her voicing very loudly how I had made her feel like a total piece of shit, and that I had sucked the joy from something that she liked doing. I felt horrible. Tears welled into my eyes. I immediately apologized to her again, trying to let her know how sorry I was, that I had made a mistake, that I didn’t know it was her photo. That I wasn’t referring to her specifically, but rather the overall social trend. That I never meant to hurt her feelings. The keys on my laptop started to blur and stretch, as words stopped coming out, and only frustration erupted. Because I had started reading the comments to her post. They were horrifying. Absolutely vilifying things were being said about me. Her friends said I was stupid. That I was entitled. That I needed to go to the proctologist to remove the stick from my ass. And numerous others that I don’t remember the exact wording of- just that they were devastating to read. One person posted a meme of cats licking their asses. Just about every reply inferred that I was a total asshole who deserved not a second of her time, and who was not deserving of her friendship. Tears started pouring down my face, and they didn’t stop for hours. I couldn’t stop them, and my Son saw me like that. I maintain my composure so well, so often, but I completely lost it when this happened.
It became clear to me that I had hurt her feelings, that my apology wasn’t wanted, and that she was going to hurt me back. She knew I would see that post on her timeline, because we interacted all the time. I thought we were friends, or at last friendly acquaintances. I liked her and respected her. She’s an Autism Advocate, and a moderator on numerous pages I frequented. Sure, she told her friends who had just ripped me numerous new assholes– that I wasn’t dumb, and that she respected me- but you know what? When you respect someone, you don’t lay them down on your Facebook page, wide open for the ranting and hurtful words of your other Facebook friends. At the very least, if she needed to vent about her upset at my innocently referring to her pizza box drawing as an example buried very deep within the confines of my own executive function nightmare, she could have excluded me from the conversation. No, she didn’t name me outright, but I’d be a complete asshole, devoid of any humanity if I didn’t see her post and immediately feel horrible and want to apologize repeatedly and let her know how awful I felt, and how sorry I was. That’s what I did. And then the walls closed in around me. I had been triggered, completely.
Every incident of being bullied, made fun of, laughed at, and insulted came flooding back at me. I couldn’t believe what I was reading, or that it was happening again. I never meant to hurt this person or make her feel badly. I would never do that to someone purposefully. I couldn’t have apologized more. Some might consider deactivating my FB page to have been a knee-jerk reaction, but for me, it was a survival reaction. As someone who has been severely bullied online in the recent past, what happened last night was deeply triggering. I’m not ashamed to say that I spent hours sobbing, or even that I started hyperventilating several times and had to breathe into a paper bag. I cried myself to sleep, and woke up with my eyes crusted shut with tears. I felt suddenly very alone, helpless, and confused. I work so hard every day to remain positive despite life’s challenges. But last night, all of those walls broke down.
I have no idea where this will go. The person whom I hurt is someone whom I consider to be very well connected and respected in the Autism community. She’s a moderator on several prominent pages. I would never purposefully hurt her, and I’m devastated about what happened. It’s impossible for me at this point in time to “un-see” the scathing comments her friends wrote about me. If she wanted to hurt me back for innocently using her pizza box drawing as an example in what I had written, she succeeded in spades. I cried more last night than I’ve cried in years. I felt more desperately alone last night than I have in years. I think it’s safe to say that she succeeded in punishing me many times over and over again, whilst triggering my psyche about severe bullying I’ve experienced in the past.
In other words, I’m wrecked, and Facebook is no longer a safe space for me. I have no idea where I stand within the circle of friends I thought I had. She is good friends with them, so I fear that I’ve just lost connections with people that I deeply respected, felt growing care for, and valued my friendships with. Knowing from experience that everything I think I have in life can be pulled out from under me in an instant, I’m not going to fill my mind with false hopes. Unless someone tells me otherwise, I’m going to assume that I’ve lost the connection and respect of a big part of my neuro-tribe. All over an innocent comment about a drawing on a pizza box… that was never stated to hurt anyone. I don’t know if or when I might want to return to Facebook… I just know that right now, I feel uncomfortably vulnerable, and I need to deal with the flood of triggered emotions that this has brought forth.
On other fronts, Happy fucking Monday, y’all.