Your “Online Presence” is NOT who you are, it’s a PERSONA

We spend so much time online nowadays that we tend to forget this. It’s a lesson I learned back in 1997.

You have to realize that back then, most people didn’t have computers. We used corded phones and most communication happened face-to-face or over a corded phone. Dating meant just that, and “online dating…” Geez, that sure didn’t mean you turned on your computer. I have no clue how that term would have translated back before 2000.

I had obtained an old, used, Win95 machine, complete with monitor, keyboard, speakers, etc. I got a printer, too, but also, I had my old printer and another one. I remember I traded them back and forth and the paper went flying all over my office space in the back corner of my fifth floor apartment.

Oh, the luxury….

Joe thought I was absolutely nuts. He had no clue why I wanted a computer. Same with my mom, but I insisted. I told my mom that having a computer was gonna change my life. I had to put up with my mom kinda embarrassing me cuz we had to go to a bunch of stores trying to buy the setup. I remember rushing her out of one store, quickly telling her, “I don’t like the looks of this place,” just because I sensed that an awkward situation was headed our way. The salesman seemed…I dunno. Like he was determined to sell me something, determined to make my mom spend lots and lots of money not really caring if he was selling quality equipment or not, and I would end up feeling embarrassed, ripped off, and sorry for my mom. Who knows what I’d end up with, too.

We found a hole-in-the-wall place but the salesguy seemed more honest. Not that this meant I’d end up with “better” equipment or a “better” deal, but…this was an easier and less awkward situation seeing as I had to deal with this via my mom. Unlike the other guy, he wasn’t determined to sell me something just so he could squeeze money out of my mom. At the time, my computer knowledge was so limited!

You gotta realize that I had no idea what “online” meant. I had never before seen e-mail. I didn’t know what e-mail was. I had never seen the screen of “online.” I had hardly ever before seen a color computer screen! I had had lots of computer experience(for a girl) but this was in old programs and the computers were monochrome. A full-color screen? Wow! And even sound to go with it and it is used with this new thing, a mouse. How can that be, and how would I ever, ever learn to use that darned mouse? Aren’t they flimsy, too flimsy to really work? Naw, that technology would never, ever catch on. Those mice will go out of style in a few years, won’t they? They’re so cheap-looking!

So I was there with my mom. My mom is even shorter than me. She used to embarrass me ALL the time…Well, what’ya expect? I’m her daughter. When I was a teen, I was always embarrassed anyway cuz that’s the nature of being a teenage daughter. We look alike and do you know how it feels to have so many people say, “You look just like your mother!” all your life? When I was overweight, they’d say how much better shape she was in….Wow, I remember when complete strangers said that and I felt like smacking them! I lost tons and tons of weight and ended up with anorexia. That happened a bunch of times in my life. I went out with my mother and got this line, “You two must be sisters!” Oh geez. Or, “The mother looks younger.” Lovely comments from complete strangers and they don’t even know how hurtful it is. I hated going to restaurants…The waitresses invariably came up with the worst insults. Or they’d say my mom was a “cute little old lady,” which I felt was terribly patronizing to her.

I wouldn’t have gone to the computer stores with her…except she insisted….and I needed that “check.” After that whole embarrassment, I tried to avoid the “mom in stores” deal cuz it was too, too embarrassing and it made me look, well…dependent. I wasn’t, except for the darned money. In fact, she’d often come up with some remark about, “Did you take your meds today?” right in public, not even realizing people could hear. I was determined to get this embarrassment to stop because I wanted privacy, discretion, and independence. I was 39 years old and I sure didn’t want to be Miss Tag Along. Not to anyone.

Life has changed. I’m not a dependent mental patient anymore. I’m much, much happier, too. Oh, I suppose there is Miss Tag Along. Puzzle.

Anyway, finally, I got that computer home. And it was mine. I turned it on. Back in those days you could sign up for AOL within minutes cuz everyone was being sent trial disks in the mail….either CD’s or little floppies. I had a bunch.

“You’ve got mail!” I did. This was December, 1997. My life was about to change. I was about to have new friends. A lot, lot, lot of new friends. I was about to learn some valuable lessons, too.

#1. I had wanted to kill myself, but I don’t have to now. I don’t want to anymore.

#2. I am capable of being a friend and having relationships. The doctors were wrong all along.

#3. I am a good person. I am capable of communicating with others. The doctors were so, so wrong.

#4. There are billions of people on the planet, not just people in my town. I can communicate with them using my computer.

#5. Writing is a useful skill and I have exceptional talent in it. The doctors were wrong when they said I had no talent and no ability.

#6. I needed to be careful, too. I should never assume that “online” is the same as “in person,” nor should anyone assume this about me. You can get hurt with online relationships and people aren’t who they say they are most of the time.

Over the years, I’ve had to remind myself many times of all the above. Of course, computers and now, social media has caught on. I started my website in 2002 and then my blog in 2005.

I’ve learned that a person has an “online presence” and NO ONE SHOULD JUDGE a person by their “online presence.” This is a huge mistake. I’ve lost many friends who compare what I say in my blog to what I say over the phone, and they defriend, because they cannot fathom the inconsistency.

Have you ever heard of “stage presence”? Or persona? That’s right. Persona is that mask. We all wear it when we get online. Your handle.

Is there anything wrong with having a persona? No. You HAVE to have a mask. It’s not lying, nor dishonesty…Writers HAVE to have a mask when they write, or genre they use, or voice…per se. You aren’t naked up there on stage.

One day, still in 1997, a person online told me that online people are NOT my friends and that I shouldn’t trust online friends. That they weren’t real.

Was this true? I wondered about this. No, this wasn’t meant literally, and I didn’t take it as such. However, another thing had happened….And it was, indeed, real. Something that changed me.

I was still suicidal when it happened. I had gone through a rather rough time I’d say. I’d gotten away from McLean thank god, but I was rather shaken over it all.

To summarize, McLean Hospital had done a number on me. I’d been there as inpatient and also at a place there that’s been torn down now, called Hall Mercer, one of their “budget” Medicare programs. It was one of the worst places I’ve ever been, or had been so far, and I have been to worse places since. They had no clue what they were doing there, and they had no clue what to do with me! “Listening” was the last thing anyone knew how to do there, trust me!

I remember…wow, it was bad…So-called “care” is getting worse and worse for low income people. McLean does well for patients who have money but patients who don’t get the dungeon. Anyway, the shock doc got shock happy there. I was screwed up from the shock, couldn’t think straight for a long time. They made it ten times worse for me over there and it was a blessing to get the hell out. They didn’t acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, I was a person inside. Someone worthwhile.

As far as “diagnosis….” Get this: I was trying to tell them something was wrong, so they sent me to John Gunderson. Don’t ever go to that creep. No matter what’s wrong, anyone who shows up in his presence will get nailed with Borderline. Anyone. I’ve learned this over the years from other people who have gone to him. He has far, far too much power.

For the next year, I got stuck in bogus treatment. McLean refused to listen. They insisted that any “symptoms” I reported were faked, including my eating disorder. I know it’s possible to lie about eating habits, or to stuff a pillow under your clothes like most mall Santas, but how can a person fake that they are drastically underweight? There was no photoshop back in those days! They insisted I was “faking psychosis,” which constituted BPD. But no, I was trying to tell them I couldn’t put my thoughts together and I had no clue why, and would they please help me. My requests that they quit misinterpreting came across as “neediness,” so again, the misdiagnosis of BPD was reiterated, over and over. No wonder I became suicidal…of course, more fuel for “their” fire…I was slated for the state hospital but they couldn’t get the paperwork through fast enough so I was booted out. Guess they didn’t want me dead, either. It was a blessing.

I was at home one day…or night. I met a young teen and I was messaging with her. She said she wanted to kill herself. She told me why. I told her I had wanted to do the same thing myself…but then I didn’t do it. I told her when I was a teen, particularly sixteen years old, I wanted to kill myself…but held off. We messaged for quite a while. I didn’t tell her to “Go to a hospital.” The thought didn’t cross my mind. Why a fucking hospital? How would that solve anything? Being a FRIEND would do a lot of good for this kid, so I did just that.

After that, I felt good. The doctors had told me how useless I was, how stupid I was, how incapable I was, how I’d never make it in life. They’d told me I wasn’t capable of human relationships or of communicating. But who was it that wasn’t listening at all? People like Gunderson, sure. He was diagnosis happy and had caused a LOT of trouble for me, had he not? I could have died at McLean.

I heard from the girl every now and then after that. She seemed like she’d gotten over the hump. I felt like I myself had gotten over a rather large hurdle. I didn’t have to believe what was said about me all the time. I could believe in my own truth.

I’ve learned that there’s such thing as dishonesty and fake friends, too. You do indeed have to be careful online. You have to be careful in person, too. People do fake that they like you. There are folks that will lead you on, and that’s part of life. There are all sorts of people on this planet, and they all have motives. Be picky and choosy.

A person changes and you cannot assume that the way they were a year ago is the way they are today. Or that if they are in a good mood or a bad mood one day, they are that way every day. Same with online presence. You cannot assume that their online presence is anything like what it’s like when you speak to them in person.

I really hate when people throw diagnoses at me based on my online persona, which is all they ever see of me. That’s the same as diagnosing an actor based on the character he portrays. Get real.

Feedback and comments welcome!