A Very Troubling Blog Comment

Posted On: 11.27.12

About a month ago, I got a comment on a very old blog post, one I wrote years ago. This happens from time to time, that I get a response to archived piece I’ve written, but there was something different about this comment. It was very sad. It was from a young guy who was patently in the throes of a very rough time, who couldn’t find work, who went as far as to mention taking his own life. For several reasons, I didn’t publish the comment.

I get super vulnerable comments from time to time on this blog, and for the most part I love these comments and the deep thought and humanity they evince. It heartens me to know that there are indeed real people out there in the world reading my words, feeling my questions, taking the time to share bits of self here. And, the thing is, by choosing to be vulnerable myself here from time to time, I know that I am in many respects asking for these gritty and gray words, these honest and sometimes heartbreaking reactions.

But this comment I got a few weeks ago? It was different. It crossed a line, a line of which I’m not sure I was aware. I read it at first in the morning when I was busy with many things. I read the comment to Husband when I had the chance. I could not stop thinking about the comment, and about the guy who wrote it. I am a storyteller and I began concocting a story in my head, a story of suffering, of sadness, of soul. I began to collect clues – the comment’s author had written it in the middle of the night. I was able to deduce his Twitter handle and read his recent tweets. I felt relief to learn that in the hours since he’d left the comment on my blog, he’d been tweeting up a storm.

That night, after returning home from a movie with Husband, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It pained me to think that this guy might be out there somewhere, really struggling and maybe keeping his struggles a secret. In the past few years alone, I’ve known too many people who’ve killed themselves to have this whole thing roll off me.

I came close to emailing the guy. And then I hesitated. Deciding that I have zero expertise in handling such a situation, I ended up calling a suicide hotline. A woman with the perfectly soothing voice answered the phone and I told her about my situation, my dilemma. She told me to do what my heart told me to do. I implored her to give me more concrete advice. She didn’t.

I wrote the guy an email. It was short. All I said was that I was sorry he was in such a dark place, and that I hoped he would talk to a professional if he was indeed thinking and feeling the things he suggested in the comment to me. I wrote the email and edited it. And I never sent it. I felt a surge of instinct telling me that my role is not a counselor, that I have a family, that I must protect myself and not engage with strangers, particularly strangers who seem to be embroiled in drama or tragedy. I went to bed.

But before I fell asleep – it took me a long time to nod off that night – I had a conversation with myself. Husband was asleep next to me, his breath rolling in and out of a snore, something which I found oddly comforting. I said to myself: I didn’t sign up for this. This has become something I never intended. What if I just stopped? That’s right. I considered quitting my blog right there and then. In many ways, I was drafting my exit post in my head, rationalizing to myself why it might be time to go.

And then. I fell asleep. And woke up. And as so often happens, the world felt different the next morning. My thoughts had calmed, clarity and reason had returned. I took on the day and essentially put out of my head the angst I had felt, the ideas I had had, mere hours before.

But the thing is that those thoughts and those questions never went away. They scattered to the corners of my consciousness, but they’ve been there, waiting for their turn. And over Thanksgiving, they reappeared. And here they are.

I guess I am wondering something: Is there a way to do this blogging thing, to be out there in the world, to allow myself to be raw and honest and real from time to time and invite my readers to be raw and honest and real from time to time without exposing myself too much, without finding myself in these odd and precarious situations? Or is this all par for the cyber-course, something I must learn to live with and handle as time goes on?

I want to continue blogging here. Doing so makes me a happier person and a more thoughtful mother and a better writer. I love nothing more than huddling up at the screen and sipping my coffee and asking the big questions that too often get lost in the shuffle of modern life. But. But I am human and have emotions and am not made of steel.

Today is a day when I would so appreciate your thoughts – on my particular dilemma with the commenter a few weeks back, on blogging within important lines and limits, on anything really… There is of course the possibility that the author of the blog comment is reading today, so if you have any words for him or more general thoughts about resources and methods of coping with hard times, please go ahead and share them.

Has anyone in your real life or virtual life ever mentioned suicide? How did you handle, or not handle, this mention? If you are a blogger, have you ever received any particularly troubling comments or messages along the way? Any thoughts on how to blog and blog openly without rendering oneself too vulnerable to such things?

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23 Comments for: "A Very Troubling Blog Comment"
  1. Anonymous

    Wow. This is powerful, and hard. I have seen suicide in my own life. Too much of it actually. And I can understand why you were shaken, but I think you did the right thing in not responding directly/personally to this man. Obviously, you cared enough to do so but I do not think you need or want to be taking on something like this with someone you don’t know. There is the possibility even that the comment was not real, that it was a person just trying to get attention? And even if it was real, let’s hope that guy has been able to say these things to people in his life. Feel good about how you handled it. And keep blogging!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I definitely considered the possibility that I was getting worked up over something that wasn’t real, but my instinct was that it was real. I guess you never know though. It’s interesting because I’ve been wanting to write a blog post about suicide (or around suicide) because I’ve glimpsed it from a small distance too many times… but obviously it’s a sinister subject and immensely complicated and I’ve hesitated. And then this happened and I shoved it aside but found myself thinking about the comment and my paralysis in response to it… and so wrote about it. I do hope that people comment today as this is an area about which I lack any expertise at all. I do have stories and experiences and feel a great deal of emotion around this topic so I hope that something good comes of this conversation, you know?

  2. howie

    Aidan,

    I find it admirable that you are so concerned for the world, those in it and the problems they face. I too feel for this person. I hope he finds the right the person to speak to. However, as a parent, my first and foremost priority is the health and well-being of my wife and children. Simply put: they come first. Hopefully, this commenter pursues the appropriate channels to get the help that he needs. It would seem to me that neither you or your blog should be put in a position to confront someone who is so troubled. I would simply point him in the direction where he could get the appropriate help.

  3. Hope

    Hi Aidan,

    I think you handled the situation perfectly and did the right thing by not responding directly to this person. The thing I love most about your blog is it’s rawness – you have the ability to say what I am often thinking and feeling. I would be so sad if you stopped blogging. Keep on keeping on…… Stay true to who you are always! xoxo

  4. Kristen

    I also feel you handled the situation correctly. I imagine you felt like you were stuck between a rock and a hard place. However, you do not personally know this individual and that makes it hard to offer the ‘right’ advice. Friends and family are the greatest source of strength in difficult times and I hope this young man found the support and comfort he needed with those that love him most.

    I fortunately have not known anyone that has committed suicide or thought about committing suicide. I have, however, faced extremely difficult times as I’m sure many of your followers have as well. The toughest moments in life, the darkest and greyest moments, are just that…moments. In these moments, that are truly brief periods, many feel like the clouds will never part. But they do. They always part. And that is the beauty of life – the dark contrasted with the light. We must all go through the dark moments to fully appreciate the light and sunny moments. It always gets better…it just takes time and faith.

  5. I think you followed your heart. I think it would have been ok to email him too and you still can to check up on him. I’ve had some commenters reach out with painful experiences and it can be hard to hold that. But we’re all in this life together. Sometimes a kind word from a stranger makes a world of difference.

  6. I have had the same exact feelings you have described so well today. I am a 911 dispatcher and a hostage negotiator. I have been in this situation more than once. Too many times actually. And it’s a hard place to be in. I know. I do care about these people, and sometimes too much so. I have had to learn to let go and know that for that moment I was present for them, but that’s it. Just that moment. If you hold on past that then your own wellbeing will take a hit and then you will spiral downward. I see it in your post, you have lost sleep, you find it evading your thoughts and then ultimately want to pull the plug on your blog. I’ve been there…. I have wanted to quit my job because I care too much. I have had to take a leave of absence because I was suffering from “compassion fatigue”.

    One of the things I love about me is my compassion for others and to be present in someone elses darkest moment is a sacred place to be. I have learned to let go past that moment and trust that the other party will find the right answer for themselves. Their crisis/emergency/dark moments/thoughts/ are theirs, not mine. Don’t make it yours.

    • Thanks for this. I’ve always wondered how anyone could handle a job like yours. It’s really remarkable. Like Meg, I think the last two lines you wrote are so helpful. I’m going to remind myself of this as often as I can!

  7. Meg

    Lucy’s comment above is a powerful one, and she says it better than I could have: “Their crisis/emergency/dark moments/thoughts are theirs, not mine. Don’t make it yours.”

    In my family, we seem to have a history of getting heavily involved in others’ lives. Not in a snoopy way, but in a “I really want to help you” way — and I’ve had many conversations with myself over the years that summed up with, “I’m only one person, and I can’t battle the world’s evils.” All we can do is take one moment at a time, and I can definitely understand why you would or would not have emailed the commenter. My gut instinct is to help, but then I picture myself getting too involved — and feel like I’m not qualified to give advice.

    But we all have advice to give. You have so much wisdom to share, Aidan. Whether you offer that counsel one-on-one is entirely your choice, and I don’t blame you for not publishing that comment or responding directly. Though I’ve never received a blog comment that heavy, I’ve had comments over the years I felt needed a response from me — and in some cases, they sparked great conversations. In others, I never heard back from them… and that’s okay, too. Cyberspace can be a strange place, but at the end of the day? I’d like to think we’re all humans on the other side of our computer screens. (Well, except for the spambots, of course.)

  8. San

    Wow. I would have been shaken up by a comment like that as well… and the empathetic person that I am, my first instinct would probably been to engage with that person. However, I think it was good that you took a step back and slept on it…
    I’ve heard that one should take mentions of suicide seriously. Always. People, who talk about it though, are usually just asking for help and are not really in a spot where they would act on such a thought. I hope he does have someone in his life that he can turn to, but you are not the right person to handle this situation).

    It’s hard to put yourself out there day after day and get confronted with stories like this…. but I think it’s part of the deal: you open up and someone else will open up to you. It doesn’t mean though that you have to make every problem your own. I think you handled the situation very well.

  9. Cris

    No, it’s not a reason to stop blogging. Leaving aside the fact (not just the idea, the cliché, but the.fact) that when you write, when you share yourself raw, you’re helping many people feel less alone, less only (and it’s been a while, but maybe you remember I wrote to you about our condition of fatherless daughters; you helped me then, even when you didn’t know this particular grieving daughter was reading your words), but…

    blogging, being online, is akin to walking on the street with your eyes and heart open. You see all kinds of people in pain, homeless people begging for food, mothers exhausted in the park needing to just speak to an adult, someone who lost something or who is lost, someone crying, someone, anyone, in pain. And they either ask for your help, or you just see them, really see them, and feel compelled to help. It doesn’t mean you’ll ever see each other again, or, to quote a famous quote, “it can be the beginning of a beautiful friendship”. You never know.

  10. This is one of my big, irrational fears. I don’t know if it’s because I learned about it (notice I can’t even say the word), just as a matter of course in middle school health class, while someone in my own life was going through depression, but it’s scares me so much.
    I write an anonymous blog, and most of my readers are teenagers. About a year or so ago, I received a troubling message (I don’t enable comments on the blog, but readers often contact me via email or through tumblr’s Q&A function. it’s not quite a comment, because I’m the only one who sees it, and it’s not quite a private message, because the only way to respond is to post the question & the answer publicly on my blog.) Anyway, the point is that I read the message, and I didn’t know what to do. I started writing a whole long response, and then I said, “What am I doing? I’m not qualified to give an adequate response. So I wrote a brief response, and posted links to websites with information about seeking help.” It’s always such a gray area for me, because yes, I’m not a mental health professional, but I also believe that every individual, whether “qualified” or not, has the ability to help those in crisis. What’s the difference between knowing your limits and washing your hands of the situation? What’s the difference between setting boundaries and simply not caring enough? I struggle with that a lot, whenever anyone in my life has a difficult situation.
    Anyway, as always, thanks for making me think, Aidan!

  11. AG

    I think you handled the situation perfectly…but at the same time I could see how that could stick with you and bother you about did you/did you not do the right thing. I think you have to focus on all the ways you touch people’s lives everyday through your writing and I am sure there are personal emails bloggers send to you that touch you that you do respond to and give people the support they need…but not every situation works the same way. You have to use your judgment and listen to the tiny voice in your gut…which it looks like you did. Basically I so enjoy reading your blog, selfishly I hope you don’t stop!

  12. First, I adore the kind and caring soul that you are. To be so concerned for others, for how your writing invites the good and the bad into your life and how it affects you – it’s why I come here. To be inspired.

    That said….

    If you write and you write to be read, you make yourself vulnerable to all different kinds of response and emotion. This is unavoidable. Take comfort in the fact that you did what you could, for an anonymous writer. You reached out. You cared. For someone you had never met before.

    And that’s a good thing.

    The other comments above mine have said something similar to my take-it-for-what-its-worth advice. I echo their responses. Everyone has their own personal pain. We can do what is in our power to ease suffering. But there comes a point when we have to let go and allow them to use their power to pull themselves out.

  13. Tessa S.

    Yes, this is a tough one and has got me all jumbled up thinking about it. I think you did the right thing, Aidan – by listening to your inner voice – as there is no really rational right or wrong way to handle a situation like this. My father used to say “You can only live your own life and you have to leave others to lead their own lives in their own way.” I know what he was saying and it wasn’t that we shouldn’t reach out a helping hand, when necessary. I am disturbed, in general, by just how much we turn a blind eye to personal suffering around us. Of course we cannot ‘save’ every individual but we are often quick to pass on by with an attitude of “it’s not my problem”. I saw a woman crying, really crying, on the subway train the other evening on my way home from a concert – and everyone just pretended they didn’t notice. I said “Do you need anything? Can I help you in any way?” She cried even more, but finally gained her composure and said “My grandmother died today and I’ve been with my family the whole day calling people up and making plans for the funeral and, now, sitting on the train on my way home was the first time I was alone and able to just let my emotions out. But thank you so much for caring. That’s what made me cry even more.” We need to care and we need to act. Many years ago I was on the verge of suicide and people that I barely knew saved me. They immediately took me into their home, called a doctor and a counselor, got me medicated and calmed, fed me and put me to bed, and kept me safe through three days and nights that went by in an emotional and drugged blur. When I finally could get out of bed, they helped me make a few important decisions, before hugging and kissing me and telling me how much they loved me – and I went on my way. They saved me in my very darkest hour. They acted. They reached out. I can never be grateful enough to them. One morning not so long ago, a woman got on a subway train in my city just before the rush hour started. She was only wearing winter boots, nothing else. Noone approached her, noone spoke to her, noone reached out to her. But people did take videos and photos of her on their ‘phones. You can hear the comments that were passed about her on the video clips and her picture appeared in the local newspapers and on the Internet. This disturbs me. Why did noone offer her a coat? Or just ask if she needed anything? Four stops later she got off the train and disappeared into the crowd.

  14. Jacqueline

    I imagine this is one of the most difficult types of comments you could have received. And while I am no expert on suicide prevention or anything about it, I think you did the very best thing you could have done. I can certainly see how this gave you pause and deep thought about wanting to continue your blog. I just have to say that I so, so hope you decide to keep writing for us.

  15. LD

    I so enjoy your blog – please, please hear me on that. You possess such humanity too – yet it seems when you had the chance to express that humanity to someone you didn’t. WHY? It appears I’m in the minority here…but I think your instinct to email was right and you are upset you didn’t follow that. Just because you email them and remind them to seek professional help that doesn’t mean you are making their drama yours – or endangering yourself or your family – it just would have been an act of humanity. Please know I truly understand and respect your comment that “I have a family, that I must protect myself and not engage with strangers” but you are putting your entire life out on the Internet – engaging with strangers is what you do everyday. You write about messy stuff…how can you expect to not get some messy stuff back from a reader? Again, it doesn’t mean you have to be a problem solver for them but I think personally whenever someone expresses anything about suicide it should be taken seriously – it is a cry for help and we are all human and sometimes those calls for help are real. That doesn’t mean you have to “get involved” — just remind them to seek professional help. Then, be done. Then, you’ve done everything you can. I think the question isn’t whether to keep blogging or not…perhaps it is instead if he had taken his life whether or not you could live with knowing you didn’t follow your instinct to respond? Perhaps that is what is what is hovering at the edges and bringing all this back up? I’m sorry if this isn’t what everyone else said, but I’m just being honest in my perspective – I hope you know it isn’t a judgement or anything of that sort – just a dialogue about it as always which is what you are great at fostering!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I am still processing your words, but wanted to say thank you. I don’t feel judged at all; this whole thing has been very hard for me and I have continued whether I have done the right thing or whether there is a right thing. And, yes, this whole blog is about conversation and questioning and dialogue. Really appreciate your taking the time to write this comment, particularly because it does diverge from the others.

      • LD

        And, your response – is why I so enjoy reading you…always open, always looking at things from many angles, perspectives, and always creating a dialogue. At the end of the day, however you come out on your feelings about this topic, please don’t stop writing or blogging – you create value and impact as evident by your readership and the community you have fostered through your blog.

        • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

          Thank you. I’m not going to lie – I have had moments when I’ve been profoundly tempted to throw in the blogging towel. and the reasons are varied – because of a desire to be more private, to spend more time on my fiction, to soak up more minutes with my kids while they are so young. But these moments of doubt tend to evaporate rather quickly once I really think about this place and its value to me. I think this figuring out is an endless privilege to be honest and feels tricky at times, but that is okay.

  16. Far to often I have worked, as a volunteer, with people who are so stressed out and depressed that they mention that they can’t go on, the conversation usually moves toward the question of “What can you do to change the situation?” Sometimes its as simple as seeing a doctor to help for the phyical symptons of depression. However, sometimes the anti-depressents or other meds are causing the problem. I’m in a different position that most people when I volunteer because the place where I am volunteering has a safety net of professionals for me to hand off to. But a few years ago, I lost a very close friend to suicide. He never talked about taking his life. In fact he frequently donated to anti-suicide education programs. It was quite a shock.

  17. Moses

    Hi Aidan, it has been quite a long time and I hope this finds you well. I thought it appropriate for me to leave a comment here about this particular blog. It is a shame you didn’t receive any comments from mental health professionals, especially those who work with people who are at risk. I have read your blog post and all the comments and your replies. I find the most valuable thing I do as a therapist is to ask as many questions as I need to in order to understand the situation I’m presented with. Seeking clarity void of personal bias and judgment is key to knowing. I found your blog post filled with missing bits of valuable information which are needed in order to come to any informed conclusion about this anonymous guy. What was he wanted from you? What was the intention of his comment? Without any disrespect to your ongoing readers, I’m left with many (probably unanswerable) questions for you about this blog comment left by this anonymous guy and would rather leave it in a state of curiosity, wonderment and a little bit of concern. What a wonderful thing you’ve done here with this blog. Staying true to yourself and your form, you put your experience out there to see what grows from it. Communion an connection still make up the number 1 preventative factor to suicide. Facing suicide alone is daunting if you’re experienced and trained, and potentially traumatizing if you’re not. In a way, you have role modeled exactly what to do when you need help and support – turn to loved ones, friends, professionals and turn to a place that is comforting and positive. From what I’ve read, this blog is a valued comfort to you. When you are faced with a situation that is nfamiliar to you, outside of your expertise, it’s always best to say “get help from a professional-here is the website, hotline number, email…” All the best.

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