Editor’s Letter: On Kindness in Times of CrisisBy Angelica Malin
I’ve been a bit quiet of late and I wanted to explain why. Truth is, the last few months, I’ve struggled a lot.
You see, I’ve been an ‘internet person’ – someone that shares their thoughts, opinions, emotions & personal life openly on the net – for some time. I fell into the habit of sharing my life online around 6 years ago, at the advent of launching About Time out of university, as people engaged with the behind-the-scenes of growing a business, and it quickly became the norm for me.
Twitter was my living room and I loved it – sharing the highs and lows, fuck-ups, successes. I created, somewhat subconsciously, an internet version of myself and learnt to perform it so well. I carved out a ‘personal brand’ and, in the process, created a caricature of myself, the ‘girl boss’, someone who wasn’t afraid of self-promotion or airing a juicy hot take. I wanted to be heard. I wanted to shout as loud as I could.
But, somewhere along the way, I fell out of love with being that girl.
I felt wounded, time and time again, by the words of others on the internet. There was so much animosity online, so little kindness or compassion towards each other, and I feared at any moment, the internet would turn on me. I had a constant bubble of anxiety in my chest, the feeling that the walls could come crumbling down around me at any point.
Every time I launched something new, my anxiety would be sky-high – I was so scared of being attacked, called out, cancelled. For months, I’ve been knocking back beta blockers in the bathroom at work during the day, washing away the anxiety with Pinot Grigio by night.
The internet had become a nastier place; there was no room for error, for lapses in judgement or failure, really. I felt the internet watching my every move, just waiting for me to mess up, so I, too, would be cancelled.
I said to a friend: most people wake up & go to work every day, I feel like I wake up & go to war.
Over the last year, I watched one of my best friends, one of the most brilliant, fiercely intelligent writers I know, get destroyed on such a regular basis by people online, that she eventually was forced to quit social media. Everything about her life, from her marriage to her body, was attacked by the internet until she was forced offline, left wounded and emotionally drawn out. Nobody really sees the side of things where you’re the one being trolled, when the rest of the world has logged off for the evening, but let me tell you this: even if it’s 140 characters, your words are sharper than knives.
After a while, I stopped wanting to be heard. I kept expressing the desire for a ‘quiet life’ to friends & family, would spend weekends inside alone, wanting to shut out the real world along with the online one. I day-dreamed about rolling green hills, daffodils, somewhere with no 4G or WiFi.
Internet life had swallowed me up whole.
I started to feel the edges of myself get blurry; I could no longer distinguish which version of myself were real. Internet and real life had merged. My online community and my IRL friends had equal value, I realised, even though tens of thousands of them I have and will never meet. It mattered to me more than someone random troll on the internet thought of me & my work than those closest to me in real-life.
My phone felt like it was constantly burning in my hand, demanding attention. I felt the technology taking over my life, unable to stop myself checking, scrolling, liking, commenting. I, quite literally, couldn’t put my phone down.
And, then, last December, 3 days before Christmas, my relationship of 5 years broke down. I spent Christmas alone, sobbing in my empty flat – a 6ft light-up white snowy Christmas tree taunting me with its twinkles and optimism from the corner of the room.
I felt entirely broken.
Break-ups have a way of making you question everything that came before and everything that comes after. Like a wreckage of your own life, you’re picking up all the pieces trying to make sense of things again.
I missed him more than I could ever comprehend. And everything that came after him seemed empty and meaningless.
It felt like sheets and sheets of glass shattering all around me – all the bits of myself I thought I knew, all the strength I thought I had, all my emotional resilience, it vanished overnight.
I was building myself back together, piece by piece.
But when you rely heavily on the validation & approval of the internet to do that, you end up feeling like you’re made out of play doh, all soft at the edges and you can’t really make out the real shape of things.
I realised that the internet persona I had created was an empty shell – I didn’t really know who I was at all, because so much of my identity had been built online.
I kept saying to myself “who am I now?”
And something else had snapped. I no longer had the strength to keep going to war every day with the internet. I realised, after I lost him, how much of my internal strength I’d drawn from the relationship, from his kind smile & open arms, and how vulnerable I now felt.
I wanted to hide from the world. I stopped speaking to camera, I stopped sharing my life, I stopped wanting to launch new projects. At one point, I stopped wanting to be alive at all. I felt scared & very alone.
Why am I telling you all this?
Because when COVID-19 broke out & tore through our lives, I realised how many people are going to have their whole worlds turned upside down. People will lose jobs, family members, money, dreams, relationships will breakdown. Finding out where you draw your internal strength from is key for our survival. We’ve focused so much on physical health over these last few weeks, but our mental health is so important too.
And because now is a crucial time in our history and the way in which we treat each other, both online and offline, defines so much about our experience of this pandemic. It’s hard enough to find your voice online normally, but in a time when so much anxiety, panic & uncertainty looms in the air, it feels like nothing you can possibly say would be the right thing. It’s a weird time to be a content creator, and I know the fear of putting out the ‘wrong’ thing will put off so many from doing the thing that gives them joy.
Don’t be scared of sharing your experience, for fear of what others might say. Creating is always better than not.
This is a time when we must park judgement. This is a time when we must choose love over fear.
Let me remind you of this: there is no ‘correct’ way to respond to global pandemic. Actually. The only ‘correct’ way to respond to global pandemic is extreme kindness.
Everything else – how you choose to spend your time in self-isolation, the content you consume, the emotions you experience – is personal & unique to you. There is no wrong or right way to do this. If some people find comfort in humour, sad films, wine, memes or sex, right now, that’s OK. However you self-soothe, you need to be kind and gentle with yourself. And, crucially, kind and gentle with each other.
I mean online as well as offline. It’s no use buying groceries for your elderly neighbour if you’re going to then troll someone online. Kindness and compassion aren’t just buzz words – they are calls to action – now more than ever.
I implore you this week to spread kindness where you can (hint: following government guidelines would be a great place to start), but also to practice self-kindness. Treat yourself as a friend. Load up on the self-care. Check in with your friends. FaceTime your family. Look out at the blue sky and sunshine and know how lucky you are to be alive. The daffodils are still blooming, despite what’s happening in the world, and I for one find that hugely comforting.
Nature is blossoming around us and our time to blossom will come once again.
I know a lot of people feel very scared & alone right now. And as someone who has experienced those emotions deeply over the last 3 months, I want to tell you that this, too, shall pass.
Whatever fear is coming up for you right now is valid. Don’t try to wash it away. Sit with it. Listen to it. Where you can, make friends with your fear.
This pandemic is a universal assignment: to practice more kindness, to love yourself & those around you deeper, to care for your neighbour more.
Listen to those callings – and choose love.