I’m reading a new book, “The Invisible Kingdom,” published just a few weeks ago and included in a list I saw recently of the “best books of 2022 so far”. I saw that it was a chronic illness, including a long covid one, and put it on my reserve list at the library. For many months, well, almost two years, I have been experiencing a lot of new symptoms, or exacerbations of pre-existing symptoms, which could be related to a long covid, or perhaps perimenopause, or could be the result of an outbreak. … increases in my multiple autoimmune disorders (and perhaps others that have not yet been diagnosed), or perhaps just the chronic, low-grade stress of living and raising my parents during a pandemic.
One of the new symptoms I’ve been dealing with is “brain fog,” which for me has had a huge impact on my ability to write. That’s one of the reasons I’ve posted less and less here. But it is not the only reason. When the pandemic began and people’s lives and lifestyles changed overnight, the number of DW readers suddenly dropped by at least 50%. Traffic to the site never really recovered. With a lower demand for my care and labor, and a much higher demand for these things at home, my priorities changed; I no longer felt motivated or called to share so much here. That was more than just not feeling like I didn’t have time. I didn’t feel like it. After a decade and a half of writing Dear Wendy columns, turning them into the center of my creative output, it was a new sensation. I didn’t know, and I still don’t know, what to think about that. More specifically, I think I’ve been experiencing something of what I call “identity questioning” (different, I must point out, from an identity crisis).
One of the things this book I’m reading about is the role of stress and toxicity in our health, and specifically in autoimmune disorders. I don’t like to call this work I’ve done here “stressful,” when, compared to so many other types of work, it’s very comfortable. But the toxicity of writing online really can’t be denied. I was hoping that when I left the women’s website for which I wrote between 2008 and 2011, which was an extremely toxic experience for me, I would be in a better position to control / limit the amount of toxicity directed toward me. And that was true to some extent. He was in control of removing nasty comments, blocking accounts he deemed harmful. But before I could use these methods, I was still faced with negativity first. And even though over the years there was a lot less toxicity in my own place, and more positivity and support than I had experienced before, there was still so much … hate.
For years, I tried to cultivate a thicker skin, ignoring the nasty comments they made to me almost daily. But beyond being completely unsuccessful in this endeavor, I wonder how this act of indifference, or, trying being indifferent has affected my creativity, my openness and my health. When you imagine yourself actively shielded against the defense of incivility, where and how do love and inspiration come from? When I think about the effects that my autoimmunity has had on my body: skin eczema, hair loss, brain fog, periods of deep depression and discomfort, I have to ask myself: does it work? to defend myself, to imagine myself. myself in armor, did I play a role in my body spinning on itself?
Of course, writing on the Internet has not been the only stressful factor in my life, nor the biggest. I’ve fought for a lot of things I’ve shared here and kept private. But I do believe that there is a real vulnerability that comes from being oneself – or a version of oneself – in a public way like this that involves certain dangers that I have never been great at dealing with. No matter how useful it has been to use this space to connect, to build community, to feel as if you are creating ripples of positive change in small, sometimes very small ways, all this has always been contrasted with the opposite: a feeling that I have alienated others, which I have created or been part of waves of negativity, a feeling that has been confirmed or at least helped by thousands of comments and emails saying so. Years of this push-pull energy have left me … exhausted, and I’m not sure what my next move will be.
I turned 45 in September – what exactly is half my life if I’m lucky enough to live to 90, and I feel a lot like I’m in a stage of half-life questions. Along with the brain fog I’ve been experiencing since the pandemic started (and when I had my own bout of covid symptoms), I don’t know what role writing will play in my future or what I want. how I felt or how I want to share it with others in the future. As I work through whatever I’m going through, I don’t know how much I’ll share here. Probably not much.
During the 18 years I’ve been writing online, I’ve felt protective with the people I love, with firm boundaries about what I would share about my personal life to include them. My boundaries around me have been much less firm. And I’ve learned that even when the content of what I write doesn’t reveal anything personal anyway, it’s easy to avoid talking about myself if I want to when I address other people’s problems, it reads a lot in my tone, the my presentation. How many times has my mental health been analyzed in the comments here through my tone? So many times. I’m not here for that anymore. I want to protect my well-being in a way that I didn’t care so much about before.
For now, this site will remain here and will continue to be updated as I feel inspired to update it, when I receive a letter asking for advice to which I feel called to respond, when I have things I want to discuss and share. But, as has been the case for the past year or two, these times are likely to be erratic. This is not a goodbye; it’s an attempt to explain where I’ve been and an admission that right now I have no clear idea where I’m going. In a way, this feeling is no different from my questioning of a living room (which, in fact, it was plus a crisis). Although I feel wiser and generally happier and certainly more settled in some significant way (I have a husband and children and a home in a city that I think is home), the feeling of not knowing is really familiar. This time, however, it is not accompanied by a paralyzing level of fear that I will not achieve, and the process does not feel painful. In any case, I feel excited and hopeful. Dear Wendy’s advice column was born in an era of personal research. Who knows what might come out of this current period of reflection?
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