A really great idea on my part, I know. How could it possibly backfire? I can’t possibly imagine…
I couldn’t sleep last night because I couldn’t stop thinking about this article in the Guardian about the recent Plymouth shooting. I recommend giving it a read, if you haven’t, because it contains some interesting details that the others I read didn’t.
It feels unbelievably arrogant to even be writing about this, but I have some thoughts, and I’m too sick to speak, so this is my only choice. It also feels crazy to be focusing on this story with everything else going on in the world, but I guess that’s just how the world is, now. No matter what tragedy you focus on, there’s a bigger one happening somewhere else.
What broke my heart, what I can’t stop thinking about, about this shooting in particular, is that the shooter had visited a subreddit called IncelExit, and shared his regrets about ever being involved in the incel community. He’d wanted to get out, but he felt “I personally don’t think once you live this life you can really ever change the damage done … I personally believe my scars and damage will follow me forever.”
He’d started to question the narrative of the incel, he’d wanted to get out, but he felt he’d been permanently affected by the ideology and that there was no way out. At age 22.
I haven’t been making youtube videos lately. I’ve often considered taking all of it down, and just calling this chapter of my life over. But it strikes me that whether they believe it or not, incels and I actually have a lot in common. A lot of the time in these kinds of stories you hear about a youtube channel that’s since been taken down, which is so sad and so relatable to me, despite the horror of what the person ended up doing. To feel so alone, so trapped in your own head and life, that youtube felt like the only possible way of reaching out and connecting with people. The only safe way. The only way to actually feel heard.
I thought that I could create a place for myself where I could just drop the pretense of everyday life. A place where I could just exist without feeling scrutinized or judged for being different. A place where I could talk about the things that interested me without worrying that I might be boring someone, or getting chastised for caring about things that other people didn’t. Or not getting to the point quickly enough, or losing my train of thought… A place where I knew that anyone watching was there because they wanted to be, and not because they had to. A place where I could just be myself.
It strikes me that’s why so many of these deeply lonely people, people in so much pain that it leads them to do terrible things, have a youtube channel, too. Or a blog, or leave long rants on reddit or some other forum… they, too, are creating a space for themselves, a safe space, in a way, where they can escape from the feelings of alienation and isolation that plague them in everyday life.
There’s something so sad about a world that tells people that you’re worthless if you’re still a virgin at the age of 22. Until reading this article, it hadn’t occurred to me how American this problem really is. The Guardian mentions the danger of exporting incel culture from the US, and it finally dawned on me that the US doesn’t just have a gun problem, we are mentally ill as a country. We are so aggressively shallow as a culture that we don’t even notice it, it just seems natural to us. We feel that we have a right to comment on the physical appearances of other people, and to many people, it seems, there isn’t much else about a person that’s even important.
As a woman, I feel this all the time. I’ve blogged about it a lot of times before – the desire to want to be perceived by other people primarily as a human being, a psychologically complicated and real being, and not an aesthetic or physical one. But it isn’t just women, of course, who receive the toxic message that their appearance is their only relevant characteristic. But since when is it a crime to be ugly? And for that matter, who gets to decide what “ugly” and “beautiful” mean? Are these categories not largely if not entirely fabricated by the people selling us the products that are supposed to make us good looking enough to matter?
I feel my thoughts aren’t coming out the way I want them to, but I’m sick and medicated, so bear with me.
The other thing that broke my heart about this article was the mention that the shooter’s last post on facebook received zero likes. I’ve been there. The entire reason I stopped using facebook was because it broke my heart every time I posted – I didn’t want to know who did and didn’t like what I had to say anymore. I didn’t want to feel like my social value depended on ones and zeros, I didn’t want to see any more posts of hot girls I went to high school with receiving hundreds of likes while I sat in the corner at the school dance being too sweaty and nervous to talk to anyone, just like I’ve always done. I didn’t want to feel like a loser anymore.
So I tried to make my own online space, instead. Somewhere I made the rules. Somewhere I was the leader, and the judge of my own importance. Somewhere I didn’t have to worry about how many likes I got, because the likes, if there were any, were from strangers who had no obligation, no reason for being there other than being interested in what I had to say. Just like so many other desperately lonely people who got tired of comparing themselves and their social status against everyone they’d ever met all day every day, I tried to escape from the feeling of insignificance that plagued my actual life, and create a new one.
Here’s what I want to say, because this isn’t about me. It’s about the heart-breaking fact that there are incels being radicalized online who want a way out. That there are people who haven’t been touched in years whose skin feels like it’s on fire and who can’t imagine anyone looking at them and finding them anything other than repulsive and despicable, and who’ve learned to take some kind of twisted comfort from their own suffering by sharing it online with people who are in as much pain as they are.
There is always a choice. There is always a way out. Your value as a person is not dependent on how much sex you have or what you look like, and it never was. There is so much more to you than the pain you are in right now. Loneliness is not a feature of who you are, it is a feature of your circumstances.
Our culture is sick, and it is making you sick. But there is another choice. You can delete social media. Go on a walk and listen to the birds. They are real. The tweets on the internet are not. Go take a pottery class and feel the clay on your hands – it’s real. The voices in your head telling you that you’re worthless are not. The digital world is immensely compelling and valuable in its own way, but it isn’t real, and could all be gone tomorrow. But you are. Stop comparing yourself to the people on your timeline. Stop comparing yourself to anyone at all. You are young. There is so much time for you to figure out who you are and what you want out of life, independently from what you’ve been told you should want.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to stop believing the lie that your value as a person depends on things you can’t control. It doesn’t. YOU decide how to define yourself, YOU decide how to treat other people, YOU decide whether you want to let life defeat you and convince you that you don’t matter, or whether you want to take responsibility for your own health and happiness on your own terms, and fight to make the world a little better. Yes, the world is shallow and cruel and unforgiving and indescribably lonely. But you are not the only lonely person. And you can help make life easier for the other people like you. It isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always fun, and it won’t make it sting any less when the wrong people receive the most attention for things that don’t matter. But it will give you something to live for that doesn’t depend on other people. It will give you control of your own life and your own happiness, and it will lead you to the startling and profound realization that everyone in the world at times feels exactly as hopeless and alone as you do.
It is much easier to see yourself as a victim than it is to take full responsibility for yourself, no matter what’s going on around you. But it’s much more rewarding and empowering to give yourself permission to try, even when it might not be rewarded in the way you hope by the people around you. But you have to try. You have to stop blaming other people for the way you’ve learned to treat yourself. You have to give yourself the respect and the care you so desperately want from other people before you can expect it from them. You have to remember that the cruel voices in your head are your own, and only you can change them.
Repeat after me, and then keep repeating it until you believe it: I am valuable. I deserve love. I deserve happiness. I am more than just a body, I am more than how many likes I get on facebook, I am more than how other people perceive me. I am here, now, and I am going to make the best of it. I know that I deserve as much respect as I give to other people. I am strong enough to be whole and to be kind, even when other people are not kind to me. I will not be defeated by the monsters in my head. I will not allow a toxic culture to change who I am deep down. I will not allow my pain and loneliness to let me forget that other people are as real and important as I am. I am stronger than the pain inside me. I am stronger than my fears. I deserve to respect myself enough to get better, and I am strong enough to ask for help when I need it. I am going to be okay.
Edit #1: If this post succeeds even once to attract the audience it’s for, please watch this video because it contains a lot of relevant information and is much better written/all around a better use of time: