Friday, May 29, 2015

She was convinced she was a failure

I spent an entire morning crying over this ESPN story of Madison Holleran, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania who killed herself last year, leaping off the ninth level of a parking garage in downtown Philadelphia.

She was convinced she was a failure. And if you have never experienced depression, you will probably be incredibly confused when you read the article, because you will think, "But she's so loved, so talented, so beautiful - how can that be?" But do read it. Please read it.

There was no widespread Internet connectivity back in the 1980s, but back then, high school yearbooks and morning school announcement and even the local newspaper did what Facebook and Instagram do now: present an upbeat image of the lives of teenagers, where everyone is happy and successful and talented and beautiful. And if you aren't, you aren't pictured at all.

It's only been now, in my late 40s, that I've learned just how unhappy so many beautiful people around me were in high school, how much they were struggling. And it's only now that some of my closest friends have learned just how unhappy I was in my first two years at university, how much I struggled, how much I felt like I was on the verge of a colossal failure. As I read this story, of how afraid Madison Holleran was of failure, of disappointing people, it brought back so many memories of my own struggles. It's mind-boggling that she could feel this way when it's obvious she is SO loved, that people around her would do ANYTHING for her - I didn't have nearly so much support. But, of course, that's what depression does, it twists your mind, it twists reality. You cannot be reasoned-with - your mind isn't working right.

And the most pressing thought of all: If she quit, wasn't she just a failure? Wouldn't that be the first in what would become a lifetime of letdowns?

Throughout my freshman and sophomore years, I felt like I was one failure away from being exposed as the total loser I believed I was, the utter fraud I believed myself to be. If I couldn't make it at a public state university that took anyone with a heartbeat and ability to pay, I had no backup for somewhere else - the university I was attending, the one I could afford, was my backup, when I realized I couldn't attend my first choice, in another state, nor my second choice, in California, because the person I was going to go there with backed out.

I could not grasp the idea that things would get better, that I could survive it, and that people around me probably were NOT judging me - and if they were, screw 'em.

But things did get better, I did survive it, and I gradually stopped constantly comparing myself to other people (though I do still compare sometimes). And it was time, more than anything, that got me through it. I still grapple with insecurity and fears of failure, but nothing - NOTHING - like I did in high school and at university. I so wish Madison Holleran could have held out - even for just one year, because I think she would have realized all this as well.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The real me on social media

On a very popular social networking platform that requires users to use their real names and does not permit users to have multiple accounts, I have two accounts.

If this company ever discovers that I have two accounts, I will be asked to delete one of them - or they will do it for me.

One of my accounts has my real name, plus a word to indicate that this is an account that represents me as a specialist in my chosen field. The other account doesn’t spell my real name correctly, but my friends on that account know it’s me. Each account lists me as living in a different city - one is Portland, and one is the town where I actually live, about 30 minutes away. I'm hoping those differences in the two accounts will continue to fool the company's algorithms, as well as search engines regarding searches of my name.

Why did I create two accounts? Because as soon as I got on the Internet back in the early 1990s, I knew that online activities are the same as publishing, and that while a case can be made that email communications are private, it’s hard to do the same for a message posted on an online community, even a supposedly private one.

Also, I have always understood that people have two personas - the one that they share publicly with co-workers or fellow members of a group, and the one that is for very close friends and family. Sure, there's overlap, but the reality is that I don't necessarily want my co-workers to know what a Harry Potter fanatic I am. I may love posting a photo of myself for my friends where I look great - but I'm holding a beer, and that might put off many of my work colleagues, particularly in religiously-conservative countries.

I became very happy that I created two personas online for other reasons as well: when I work in public relations and marketing, my public speech is as a representative of a company or program, and when I work for humanitarian organizations, I am mandated to be politically neutral in public speech. My public, professional persona meets the standards of most of these agencies - my private, friends-only persona most certainly would not.

My biggest problem in all this? It's not that someone will hack my personal account, though I wouldn't like that if they did. No, my biggest problem in all this is that my public online persona on the very popular social networking platform is SO boring. It’s milquetoast. I cannot be controversial, I cannot be political - I cannot be truly ME. I’ve tried to jazz it up on occasion, posting about, say, a motorcycle trip. Or my dog or cat. And I’ve followed the advice on this blog, about how to endorse an idea but remain politically neutral. But my public profile remains boring. I certainly wouldn't follow it. And, to be honest, my friends on that account - mostly professional colleagues and neighbors, as well as family members that couldn't handle the real me - are also rather boring, rarely posting anything that makes me want to have an online discussion, that provokes thought, that really educations, etc.. I don’t rush to read the account, let alone post to it. I'm there more because I have to be, because of my work, rather than because I want to be.

I often think celebrities have the opposite problem. Someone like, say, Steve Martin, who online, and in his professional life, is hilarious and irreverent, but in his private life, probably loves to leave that persona behind and be just a nice, calm guy. Me - I have to be nice and calm on my professional persona online, being oh-so-careful re: anything and everything I say. And it takes all of the fun out of social media, truly.

(I suspect that Nathan Fillion is exactly the same person online as he is offline...)

So, if you follow me on my private account on that certain social media platform, good for you: it means you know the real me. It means I’m being myself with you online. I know I rant a lot on that account - about human rights, against pseudo science, about politics, and on and on. I tell off-color jokes. I use language that would make a sailor blush. But it's me. The authentic me. Enjoy!

If you follow me on my public account... well, don't be offended. The reality is that you shouldn't even know this blog exists... but if you do, and you are a friend on my public account, it's probably because we work together or have worked together. And I like to keep work and volunteering online activities separate from my political rants and inappropriate humor.

And someday, I’m going to win the lottery and get to delete that professional account and rant publicly all I want.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Major Lucy triumph

Let me mark a major event for Facebook: Lucinda the dog figured out fetch and retrieve tonight. We had NOT been trying to teach her - we just like throwing the tennis ball and watching her grab it and pretend it's a ferocious beast, and we hope that, eventually, she'll drop it such that we can get it. But tonight, unasked, she *consistently* brought it back and dropped it at our feet. We're blown away by her intelligence. OUR DOG IS GIFTED. Fetch me the appropriate bumper sticker.

She's a year old now - her birthday was May 4th. Same day as May the Fourth Be With You day. I've never known any of my dog's birthdays. I gave her turkey bacon for her birthday.

Some recent photos:


Fierce dragon at B Street Trail start

Lucy and Venice

Lucinda amid the Dafodils