How it feels having my highly personal story go viral
People keep thanking me for being brave, as if I knew what the fuck I was doing.
A few days ago, I wrote this story where I talk about a guy sticking his unwanted fingers in my vagina. I wrote it in one go on my laptop while sitting on the floor, but it took hours. Several times, I stopped to hold my head and cry. Sometimes I had to get up to stretch, but mostly I just wrote straight. I felt like I had to get it out. I’m the sort that process things by writing, and I’ve kept a diary since I was ten years old. But, other than my brother who occasionally stole it, no one ever read my diary. My childhood home has many brightly decorated books full of my writing that only I will read. Even as I transitioned to blogging as an adult, it was pretty rare that I would get more than my friends reading my posts. My medium would get tens of views on a good day.
When I had finished writing that emotionally exhausting but cathartic piece, I hesitated for a second before publishing it. I try to be an open person, but I considered that maybe this one was too open. But then I thought, whatever, 50 people will read it and that’ll be the end of it. So, I published it, put it on facebook, two of my friends shared it and, as expected, about 50 people read it.
Then, a few days later, almost a thousand people viewed it (where the pink arrow is below.) I was pretty amazed! But, the following day it looked like it was dropping off so I figured it was winding down.
However, the day after that, more like 15 thousand people viewed it. Suddenly I started feeling nervous. 15 thousand is more views than my writing has ever received before, but once, I did get 6 thousand after hitting the front page of hacker news. That had been a feminist piece on women in tech, and I was on the receiving end of a lot of anger in the comments. I wasn’t looking forward to repeating the experience. Then, the day after, I got 75 thousand views, and I called my parents.
“Are you ok?” they asked, “How are the trolls? Are you getting trolled?” Then, “Why did you never tell us about this? You know you can tell us anything.”
“I didn’t tell anyone about it, really, before I wrote about it,” I responded. Literally, the day before, I had talked it over with a few friends but, almost as soon as it entered my consciousness as a significant thing, I had the whole traumatic event out.
Eventually, my parents asked me “how are you feeling?”
How was I feeling?
I lent my friend my iPad once, and he opened up the drawing app. In it, he saw that I had handwritten I am worthy of love, I am worthy of love, I am worthy of love over and over. When he told me he had seen that, my insides froze.
And, as I breathed through it, I realized it was ok. He had seen this thing I hadn’t meant to show him, but he wasn’t mad, and he wasn’t mean. It was ok.
“It doesn’t work,” I told him. “When you write that over and over, it feels like you’re trying to convince yourself, and then you feel even less worthy.”
“I can see that,” he replied.
We had talked about this before, he knew I struggled with feelings of self worth and lovability. But somehow, knowing he had held the graphic evidence of my deep loneliness in his hands, I felt revealed. I couldn’t play it off with a joke, or an ironic smile. He saw me, with all of the wonderful and terrible that represented.
And, when my piece went viral, suddenly thousands of people were seeing me in this way I never intended to be seen.
But then -
“It’s ok,” I told my parents. “It’s not really good, but it’s not bad. It’s ok.” Because it saturated my own network first, people I know (old employers, clients, etc) are especially likely to have seen it. I haven’t brought it up at work, but I keep looking at my coworkers and wondering “did they read that section where I talked about my corpse getting fucked?”
Are most people happy when their stories go viral? Tense is probably the word that covers it best for me. And tired. And confused. I read some blog posts about what to do when you go viral, and they things like “keep writing! it’s ok if you never get the same number of hits again!” and I’m all like ok, that is a later problem. What do I do now?
One of my friends suggested putting up a facebook page, so I put up a facebook page. I bullied a few of my besties into liking it because I didn’t want to look like a total dork with no facebook likes, and then I waited. And, people started liking it, and commenting on it. I was afraid to read the comments. I asked one of my friends to read them for me — “tell me if there are any mean ones!”
But, it was amazing. There were very few mean posts. None that I’ve seen yet. When I finally got around to reading them, I saw that people were thanking me. It brings tears to my eyes to write that.
Yet, it was hard too. Many people messaged me with their own stories of pain and suffering, and I don’t know how to hold these stories. I don’t know how to do right by these people who deserved so much better than what they got. They message me, as if I am a person who knows things, and not just — me. But, it was beautiful as well, because as they wrote me, I realized they were healing themselves just like I was healing myself when I wore my article.
And I’m glad I got to see that.