My name is Colby.
And I’m asking for your support.
(Note: Drug abuse, mental health, and suicide will be discussed below. If you prefer not to read but would like to offer support, please click here!)
Anonymity can be a great thing for many people. We’re allowed to speak against abuses of power while minimizing the possibility of disproportionate retaliation. Participation in support groups can occur without potentially disapproving or uninformed friends and family knowing that aspect of your life. Victims can prevent stalkers, harassers, and abusers from showing up in every conversation they have, every place they go, every moment of their life both online and off.
Anonymity can cause a lot of problems for many people. We can launch an endless barrage of threats towards someone speaking against power we enjoy or hope to attain. Support groups become a place of safety you can exploit to bring endless grief and discouragement upon the marginalized of society. Stalking, harassment, and abuse can be exacted to every conversation, place, and moment in a person’s life — both online and off — with seemingly no consequences.
Anonymity is all in how you use it.
I wasn’t always anonymous. When we got our first computer and internet connection, I used it to share everything about me. The only example I had to follow was that of my mother, who spent most of her online time in Yahoo! chatrooms for firemen (go mom!).
I spent roughly a decade putting myself out there. Had an online girlfriend from Canada, and then later one from Virginia. Met my fourth girlfriend through MySpace and my parents weren’t all that concerned with letting me spend a couple weekends at her house with her parents.
A year of college came and went while Facebook took over and Twitter was a thing. Nobody I met ever told me you’re supposed to be anonymous online, not even my roommate who spent most of his time on 4chan. My Facebook and Twitter were no different from every other place I’d participated online. And they stayed that way for years, with plenty of political statements and disagreements and geotags on pictures from all the places I’d been.
And then I joined Reddit.
Every other day, you’d be told that someone had a SWAT team sent to their house because someone else didn’t like the way they played a video game or their political views or just because they were bored. You’d hear of a shadowy cabal known as Social Justice Warriors who would get someone fired from their job just for a racist tweet (and, of course, you’d be told that the only real racism occurs against white people). Someone would be accused of having a Reddit submission that wasn’t up to some arbitrary standard or was too popular, and a dozen people would dig for an hour to find out where the submitter lived, if they had any nude pictures on the internet, that one time they said they liked or disliked something controversial — literally anything that could be used to intimidate and shame.
All of which is just considered commonplace and proper online interaction between users. That’s frightening, isn’t it? This wonderful technology that allowed me to connect with people from around the world and share in their experience; here it was being abused and used to drive people as far away as possible.
Then you see places such as Reddit’s /r/conspiracy board, where people spent their time digging up information about every parent for every child killed at Sandy Hook. They used that information to accuse the parents of being actors, part of a government operation to take everyone’s guns away, and even called the parents with threatening messages. You watch as Reddit’s users respond to the Boston Bombing by trying to identify the perpetrators, eventually pitting allegations against a man who turned out to be a missing student who committed suicide.
Frightening gets turned up to terrifying and you never want the world to know you ever existed. When I started using Reddit, I talked about where I’m from and who I was. On the anniversary of my sister’s passing, I shared a picture of the homecoming thrown in her hospice by her friends and the community. She got to be crowned as the queen and celebrate with people she loved days before her years-long battle with leukemia finally ended. People were mostly supportive and grateful to share a glimpse of her life. Some accused me of “karma-whoring”, the act of submitting a picture about something sad to Reddit with the hope it gets popular. But this wasn’t a sad picture. This was a picture celebrating how people came together and helped my sister have a wonderful experience.
But like I said, that was when I started using Reddit. After a year of seeing people try and dig through my comment history, fearing they’d use it in the ways deemed reasonable by portions of the internet, I deleted my account and left the site — for a few months.
I came back because I was addicted to content. You would never run out of content on Reddit, just experience an extreme lack of worthwhile content. I also came back because I wanted to blame the failings of my life on people I’d never met.
By 2010, I was a mess. I had tens of thousands of dollars of student loans looming over my head. I was unemployed, living in a crappy apartment, and spent every day getting as high as possible. Even bounced a check to buy groceries, and ended up paying for those groceries twenty times over later on. My maternal grandmother, someone who raised me as much as my own mother, had passed away a within the past year, followed by family friends and my own friends dying off. One overdosed on oxycontin. Another was killed in a car wreck. A family friend I’d known most of my life died a week after having surgery. Even the two dogs I’d grown up with on the farm died, one from old age and the other from a heart attack. If I wasn’t high, I was miserable. If I was high, I was miserable. Drinking and smoking and taking various other drugs never turned off that part of my brain that told me life wasn’t worth living.
I moved back home that year while looking for a job far away from all the death that seemed to surround the place. In a few months, I got a gig as a salesman in a store on a company’s main campus. And my sister passed away just a month before I left for the city.
Things seemed to have reached the bottom and this job would surely be the ladder back up. Six months of living in hotels or sleeping on couches wasn’t that bad because I could afford to go to the bar almost every night. I shouldn’t have, though, because those student loans were still there and not going away any time soon. But I was happy at the very least, and had enough to keep death from plaguing my mind.
By 2012, it’d all gone to shit. The wonderful manager who hired me was forced out and replaced by a manager who encouraged shady tactics to meet quotas. We’re talking about someone who told you to put add-ons on peoples’ bills without telling them, someone who wanted you to exaggerate the price of products so someone would buy a “bundle” of items under the impression they were included. And within the last year, my paternal grandfather succumbed to colon cancer. The constant pressure, immoral tactics, endless debt, and yet more death; it all came together as a constant gravity pulling me back to bed, a hole in my chest I knew everyone could see even as I tried to hide it, never filled by the bottle of tequila I had each and every night. A coworker connected me to a coke dealer and I thought it’d make the hole smaller.
For months, I had a routine:
Two scoops in the recessed filter of the Parliaments I smoked, every morning when I woke up.
Two scoops on the way to work.
One scoop at lunch.
One scoop in the parking lot after work.
Two scoops on the way home.
Endless scoops all throughout the night with some tequila to complement.
I kept this up until early 2012 when I eventually had a breakdown at work and had zero control over my emotions. I decided in March to stop smoking, drinking, using drugs, and eating shit food. Salads and sandwiches and protein shakes were how I’d solve everything in my life.
The end of March is when I stopped showing up to work. Funny in a way, since March is the month when my skull was cracked open in high school. Mom was told by the doctors that my head would’ve “splattered like a pumpkin” if it wasn’t for my build. They didn’t explicitly attribute my survival to my gallon-a-day habit of milk, but I like to think it helped.
The first two days, I called in complaining of a vague sickness. The third day was my scheduled day off. The fourth day, I finished Final Fantasy XIII-2, watched Ran by Akira Kurosawa, took handfuls of whatever pills I could find in the apartment with a chaser of tequila, and went to sleep intent on never waking up.
To my surprise, I did wake up. I figured I’d buy more tequila, stronger pills, and try again until it stuck. But it turned out someone cared about me, and he was outside my apartment talking with police. He was a coworker who was worried he hadn’t heard from me for a week. After about twenty minutes of hearing the police knock on my door and try to get ahold of the apartment manager so they could come in, I opened the door.
Ten days inpatient. Two weeks group therapy. A dozen meetings with a therapist, a psychiatrist, and tests for sleep apnea and ADHD.
I was transformed. I had cried with people who knew grief. I had met people you’d never suspect were holding the pieces of their lives together with a convincing smile. A banker, a priest, a nurse, a teacher, a soldier, a mother; all of these were people I assumed had it all figured out. And now they were sharing themselves with me, crying with me as I cried with them, letting everyone see the hole in their chest and maybe patch it up a bit.
But it was still a struggle. After so many meetings and so many medications, I tried to return to work. The same manager was there, breathing down my neck, holding a clipboard to record everything I did throughout the day. A week of that was too much and the fragile grasp I had on reality broke loose. I locked myself up in my apartment again, ready to die and be done with it all. Police showed up again, but this time the psychiatric hospital wouldn’t take me back in. I caught a taxi back home, scheduled an appointment with my therapist, and couldn’t make it ten seconds into the meeting before I started crying with no explanation why it was happening.
About two months after I first entered the hospital, I received a letter from work. I was being “voluntarily terminated” because they didn’t receive the fax from my therapist stating when I’d be ok to return to work.
I don’t know if I cared. I just accepted that it was happening. I remember going to work one day after that. Not to do work, but because I wanted to pick something up or talk to someone. I’m not entirely sure. I just remember my manager having a grin on his face as he confirmed that I was no longer with the company. A grin as though he thought the last two months had been a farce, had been all pretend, that I wasn’t really suffering and suicidal. And I remember walking to the station next to one of my coworkers so I could grab something from a drawer, a screen cleaning cloth or something, but really so I could tell her I was officially let go.
Awhile later, the coworker who called the police on my suicide attempt came over and showed me Reddit as something to pass the time or keep my spirits up while I dealt with everything. He also put Dwarf Fortress on my computer. Always wish I could’ve gotten into that game.
And that seemed to be the end of an era. None of us really kept in touch after that. I haven’t talked to both of them more than a couple times since then.
Reddit was a place where I could share this experience. Reddit was also a place where I learned that I should blame marginalised people and Social Justice Warriors for this experience. I refused the very idea of privilege. I was a white guy with massive debt for an education he never got to finish, and I’d had death follow me wherever I went. I’d spent my high school years hating myself and cutting my wrists, attempted suicide with my dad’s gun, and had friends out of pity. My year in college brought another suicide attempt with a broken window on the tenth floor of my dorm.
I was angry that everything I’d experienced could be written off as White Guy Problems when the suffering and pain had been and still is very real to me.
But I wasn’t hearing privilege as it was intended. I was hearing the distorted, regurgitated, bastardized concept of privilege from people who’d spent years already hating marginalised people and Social Justice Warriors. I was angry about something that people had never actually said. And the people who never said that, are the people who surely were to blame for a world that had done nothing but fuck me over as long as I could remember.
So I went from sharing my sister’s photograph as a happy celebration, to sharing screencaps of random internet comments as proof that feminism and social justice were the tools of people oppressing me.
Anonymity is all in how you use it. And I used it to hate and shame anyone who cared. All of my accounts were made as private as possible because I had learned on Reddit that Social Justice Warriors and marginalised people would make me unemployable if they weren’t. I went private so I could lash out and make others miserable without any repercussions.
After leaving Reddit, I landed my dream job working for my dream company thanks to a friend’s referral. I had my medications back. I had insurance again. I got a new psychiatrist and life looked like it was turning up. But even though the pay was great, part-time meant half of my pay went to just covering rent every month. I still needed someone to blame, and Reddit offered communities like /r/TumblrInAction where I could hate women and people of color and teenagers all the same.
So I went back in 2013. And the hate felt good for a bit. I had a new username and denial of privilege to wield carelessly. At least, until I started to listen to people outside of the hatemob.
I learned from an anonymous social worker about obstacles like mine being magnified for people who weren’t white males. I learned from an anonymous psychiatrist how the care I received was almost inaccessible for black people in a similar situation. I learned from advocates and students and people for more knowledgable than anyone in my hatemob that privilege didn’t discount my suffering, nor did it exclude me from facing my own struggles in finding empathy or understanding. (And you know what? The people Men’s Rights Activists say don’t care about male rape are the people who made me realize a bad experience I had in college wasn’t a joke; it was the exact rape that MRAs claimed to care about yet laughed about when I shared it.)
I learned privilege meant there were people just like me who never had a second chance, and privilege meant they would be shamed, harassed, or killed for speaking up about their frustrations that I never had to consider.
Privilege gave me the ability to be accepted by a hatemob and consoled for my suffering, encouraged to lash out by telling marginalised people to shut up.
I didn’t like that privilege.
After realizing how misplaced and unjustified my anger was, I became more conscious of my actions and words. I learned to respect people even when I didn’t understand their lifestyle. There were still times where I let that misunderstanding turn into yelling and screaming, of course; nobody can be perfect 100% of the time. It’s just that, as I listened to more people and gave them more respect, those times were happening less and less. I knew where to focus my frustrations — not on those struggling but on those in power who I had allowed to keep pushing others down. I knew to look at institutions designed from the ground up to exclude anyone who didn’t fit the Ideal American archetype. And I knew to turn my focus inward at how I was enabling and encouraging the factors bringing despair unto those most in need of support.
This transformation was the backdrop to my professional life, where the months of being put on different medications to find the right combination left me too exhausted to continue. I was still doing great at work; every metric used to measure my success according to company standards was glowing. The income problem was solved by moving back home, living with my grandfather, having an entire basement to myself while taking care of him when I wasn’t working. For all intents and purposes, I was three rungs up the ladder on the way to being okay.
But those metrics couldn’t reflect the orgy of emotions and medications occurring my brain. And just like before, something snapped. I spent days at a time only leaving bed when my dog needed to go outside or when my grandfather would start hollering down the stairwell wondering why he hadn’t seen me all day. I called my psychiatrist three times, leaving messages that everything was going wrong and how I couldn’t justify living anymore. Her assistant returned one of those calls and told me to schedule an appointment. I didn’t have it in me to drive four hours to see her, and I couldn’t imagine explaining to my family that I was suicidal and needed help. The very thought produced scenarios in my head where I was abandoned for being such a colossal failure at life.
Imagine being stuck in this rut for an entire year. I was officially let go three months into this breakdown because I had no documentation proving that I was suicidal, and my psychiatrist seemingly forgot I existed. The 401k I had been so excited to setup? I cashed it out and spent it like I still had a job, while lying to my friends and family that I was on the verge of a promotion. I’d stopped taking all of my medications. Thought I could save them for when I really needed them.
I somehow kept this charade up until my best friend’s wedding in August of 2014. She sent me an invitation and tried to contact me but I stopped paying my phone bill long before I made the trip down there. I didn’t log into Facebook for months in the off chance she’d see me on there and try to talk to me. My mother was the one who told her I’d be coming to the wedding.
And this is where I was the worst friend possible.
Her wedding was simple but beautiful, followed by a wonderful reception. I saw a lot of the friends I’d been avoiding and people I hadn’t seen since high school. My friend told me she was mad at me for ignoring her but was happy I was okay enough to show up. After the reception, many of us visited the bars, going through three or four before they all shut down.
I found a hotel, shut myself inside, and started researching the best way to kill myself. The medications I had brought along couldn’t be overdosed on due to ingredients meant to induce vomiting if you tried or the simple fact they didn’t affect your body in such a way. I tried to steal my grandfather’s gun before coming to the wedding, but he came home just as I was going to grab it. So I improvised, settling for bleeding out with razor blades. Enough research told me exactly what I needed to do (and I won’t be repeating it here). I spent the next two days preparing myself and saying goodbye to all the wonderful people who had helped me on Reddit. As far as my family knew, I was just having an extended stay to hang out with people from the wedding.
You know what stopped me in the final moments, after I’d already started the cuts?
The simple thought of my dog wondering where I was, why I never came back, missing me, was torture. I couldn’t do that to her. She’d never understand what happened. And even though I knew sadness was a feeling and feelings wouldn’t happen once I was dead…I just couldn’t do it.
I came home and, after a week, explained to my mother what exactly had been going on in my life. She didn’t hate me. She didn’t abandon me. She wanted me to get help. I told my grandpa, too. But it was hard for him to understand and even now he still thinks I have a sickness of the mind.
This was around the time GamerGate began. To keep my mind off of everything, I started hanging around /r/GamerGhazi on Reddit, a forum critical of the abuse and harassment GamerGate was founded on. I had found people who shared hobbies and interests, who came from diverse backgrounds and were willing to share their stories. People who were aware of their own privilege and helped support, amplify, or listen to marginalised people. People who were marginalised and wanted to be heard, take action, and call out those using their privilege as a weapon.
Anonymity is all in how you use it, and here was a mix of anonymous and public people working together against bigotry, sexism, and all walks of sexual and/or gender phobias.
I was added as a moderator after some time, and given a part in shaping the platform the forum provided. And when I opened up to the community about my troubles, they supported me. They raised money to help me see a therapist until I was given a decision on government assistance.
Over a year later, and there have been rocky experiences, but I would give anything to the community we built in /r/GamerGhazi. Through that community, I have developed amazing friendships with people I never would’ve spoken to just over two years prior. I’ve found new experiences to learn from, ways to help, people I can communicate with on everything from managing a bad villager in Animal Crossing to the ways the political system of the United States still mimics the worst elements of ancient Rome.
And all of these experiences have made me realize that I’m tired of being anonymous.
I’m tired of being too scared to share my life with others because some Prick of the Highest Magnitude might try to intimidate me into silence.
I’m tired of letting my failures prevent me from having new successes because I’m afraid of being shamed for those failures.
I’m tired of having to hide and separate who I am online from where I’ve been and what I’ve done.
I’m tired of holding back so much when wonderful people I talk to every day have put themselves out in the open.
But anonymity is all in how you use it, and this is not a declaration that one is weak or lacking bravery for staying anonymous.
Many people have very real and important reasons for staying anonymous. And they deserve just as much support as anyone else.
This is a declaration that I no longer have a reason to not stand by my name and be okay with who I am, what I’ve done, and where I’m going.
If you’ve read this far, I ask for your support, should you be able to provide it and feel I am worthy.
A monthly donation at Patreon will allow me to keep on writing. Enough donations can allow me to achieve economic freedom, no longer relying on food stamps to eat and worrying whether or not I’ll have a phone next month. Enough donations can allow me to afford therapy and medications and work towards becoming the best person I can. Enough donations can allow me to take care of myself while I take care of my grandfather; cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, and keeping track of his medical needs as he allows me a room in his house.
But more importantly, a monthly donation will allow me to stand up and amplify the voices who have something to say. Amala Network is my dream of keeping those voices in the public conversation, and pushing back against those who would abuse their power — both publicly and anonymously.
Connectivity should be examined and that’s what I intend to do. Enough monthly donations will allow Amala to bring on more writers, more diverse voices, more content. We can help shape a better internet and impact real lives offline as connectivity continues to blur the line between digital and analog.
A monthly donation to the Amala Network Patreon will make all the difference in the world, and I hope I can count on you to make this dream a reality.
But before you donate, I’d like to introduce myself.