The internet is robbing us blind of attention, time, and our most important asset, hope.
Or rather, it still is despite the pandemic.
And we’re either just sitting here gawking or helping ourselves to the spoils of someone else’s despair, just as we were doing before. Only this time our collective mental health is tanking, unable to process the magnitude of the doom and gloom algorithms use to gouge our eyeballs out of our skulls with.
There’s pain within, there’s pain without, and there’s the profiteers picking your pockets while your spirits plummets.
So how can you combat the clerks of clickbait clamoring for quick cash?
The internet, it seems, only trades in negative net worth. It wants failure, it wants shame, it wants humiliation. It wants to spectate the misfortunes of others so it can feel better about its own downfall. The schadenfreude of shit-posting goes viral in a vortex of validation, you’re not lazy, you’re not crazy, but you sure are ditzy enough to fall for the con every single time.
Always look for the self-helpers, Mr Rogers might say if he had gone rogue.
There’s this invisible thing out there killing us and we still see fellow humans as interchangeable, replaceable, disposable sets of eyeballs, an enhancement for our self rather than another self just as precious as our own. And nothing brings this home more than our online behavior, a mix of voyeurism exploiting human disempowerment for clicks and bucks and scammers who posit they can help you get paid, which generally involves learning how to scam others. And you always have to pay upfront.
If you toil in the trenches of the online attention wars, your job isn’t to hold the line for human decency by ensuring the content you produce is either neutral or uplifting.
Your job isn’t to be a custodian of language when influence is contingent on depleting words of meaning.
Your job isn’t to celebrate life when it pays so much more to focus on death.
Writing has never meant so much and so little at the same time.
You can write words that catalogue what’s missing — human warmth, heart, hope — or you can write words that conjure those very things up, unbidden, and sneak them onto the internet. You can make ninja rainbows even when there isn’t a pot of gold at the end because, perhaps, love is the reason you’re still here.
Enter chronic depression with suicidal ideation.
I stared death in the face for five years and I never once recoiled because I trusted love would come through; I trusted love would not let me down. I trusted love to lessen the urge to die, I trusted love to be that steady light in the darkness that sometimes flickers but never goes out. I trusted love to take my hand, sit me down, and help me safeguard vocation even though I would once again come to manhandle and abuse and enslave it in the name of survival.
Love, word love.
Vocation is single-handedly responsible for my still being alive today; vocation is the one thing that keeps me going, unbidden. Vocation is what some mistake for courage, determination, and fortitude and yet it is none of the above. Vocation is what keeps me upright through exhaustion, heartache, hardship, chronic illness, and geographical instability.
Vocation is love made manifest, an ode to life, a daily reminder to push through current discomfort in the hope greater ease might be on the other side. Vocation, in my case, is the belief that you can conjure up all that you lack through words as long as you take dictation from the human heart.
And it has become deeply incompatible with this internet that looks like even AI can’t be bothered anymore.
Where are the words that contain hope?
It is almost the end of the pandemic soon.
See what I did above? I put nine words together and ended up with a sentence that means absolutely nothing yet makes you feel something. It also bestows upon me an aura of knowledge I do not deserve. Because I’m just like you, I have no clue about what happens next and the internet is a good a crystal ball as any. Why would I lie to you when you can already do that yourself?
To save you the trouble?
The more time I spend online, the more I notice how I retreat further and further into my head again, unsure about what happened to vocation. All love takes work though and vocation is the kind that humbles you with its relentlessness, an omnipresent life force, unstoppable.
If the heart stops, the brain dies so how would you even write?
But what if words are all you have now and cranking out formulaic clickbait on the content roulette could pay your rent? Some people on the internet say it can so you choose to believe them.
Failure to take into account the ecosystem you live in and those in it further would insulate you from the sense of belonging you’re seeking.
Right now, that feeling is digital gold.
When many of us are isolated in our homes and cut off from all human contact, we desperately want to belong. Whether you grew up with parents who modeled what love was or people who instilled into you love was something you had to deserve, you want acceptance. You want a fellow human to see you, to acknowledge you, to appreciate you not for what you can offer them but simply for who you are.
You want a chance at love and so do I, that’s why I’m here, because I want that for everyone too.
But sometimes you want that chance so much you sacrifice everything you are and everything you have in the hope a fellow human will pay attention. You long for someone to recognize you are but another version of the same prototype, an unkempt mammal behind a screen forever searching for meaning and connection.
You long for someone to care you exist alongside them, not as a threat but as an equal and even a complement. Life is so much more worthwhile when we can share it, isn’t it? What is this yearning for love and belonging but another name for hope?
And if you could believed words could make it happen, would you write them?
Feeling the world is collapsing around your ears day after day wears you down after a while, no matter how positive your disposition. So I scavenge for joy in print; I salvage and repurpose pain into light on the off chance it might bring relief to someone who is hurting, so alone they could howl. But that person is never an abstract, that person has been me and still is more often than I ever thought possible.
While our collective mental health is hanging by a thread, words are like shooting stars leaving behind a trail of light and yes, all writers have a Messiah complex, especially those of us who seek to shape reality to our vision of a gentler future. We hug hearts and minds with words while secreting poetry books inside pockets because words matter, you know?
When you feel so invisible and isolated you no longer know what to live for, words can provide succor, solace, lessening alienation. Writing them is liberating and can help you gain some critical distance; sharing them is how we humans understand one another. Communication is how hearts forge trails where minds see roadblocks.
Because words can turn life into an ode to joy.
What is hope but a powerful analgesic against a ruthless, unforgiving reality made of appearances and transactional interactions?
Just like most, you’re physically, emotionally, and spiritually adrift during the pandemic and you’ve been spending too much time online. There’s no one you can rage against for yanking your strings this way and that, only yourself for enabling and empowering the clerks of clickbait and letting them rule your imaginings.
You don’t need anyone to tell you what’s possible, you only need the curiosity to find out and the willingness to follow through.
Writing is never not a leap of faith. It’s also how we build bridges between what is and what could be, like human warmth, heart, and hope.
Or as close as we can get to better mental health for now.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.