Words on a Screen


Several years ago, I used to train my site’s moderators to have thick skins. After all, they’re guaranteed to be insulted often - nature of the beast. Back then, I was a firm believer. After all, if something insulting is said, at worst you hit the power button.


Oh, how the gods laugh. The following happened to a good ‘friend’ of mine we’ll call Pal. It very well could explode into your life, especially if something like this could happen to Pal, of all people.

A safe place

Pal owns a large Reality TV site, a gigantic friendly neighborhood stretching across continents, ages, religion, races. Yet if someone’s husband was sick, we sent flowers. Losing a pet was cause for great grief: we all had had that happen.

Naturally, her site was a safe place where nothing bad could happen. Pal and the mods (moderators) made sure of it, as did the members. They welcomed newcomers, of course, but were quick to stop any incipient rudeness. Because this was a safe place.

When home is hell

Pal began having serious issues at home. She had a house-mate (known hereafter as the HFH, Housemate From Hell,) a friend who went from loads of fun to a world of drugs, booze, and increasingly unstable behavior. Life slid from smiles to occasional verbal insults, lengthy apologies. Moved right along to financial and then physical abuse, as such things can.

Pal slowly became helpless: didn’t dare say no and couldn’t use her phone to do so anyway, as friends were out of the question. Couldn’t even visit her own website - see that ‘friends are out of the question’ thing. Life was becoming somewhat less than a giggle a minute for Pal.

A perfect storm

Until suddenly it changed, as life always does. With the aid of an “Emergency letter of protection” and 5 good-sized cops, the HFH was given the boot in no uncertain terms. In Pal’s somewhat innocent belief, her troubles were at an end. 4 small letters rocked her world, as they have so very many others: PTSD. (Not to mention a trifling matter: attempted murder that would well extend  beyond HFH’s actual stay in the house.)

Pal’s now-ex-house-mate was still up to their eyeballs in drugs, which Pal learned were not cheap. It was a lesson that involved HFH’s deft hand at breaking and entering, something they accomplished with ease considering the homeowner was so terrified she froze at the sounds, couldn’t call the police.

But for Pal, even that wasn’t the worst.

Far worse was thinking that any day now her number would be up, her chips cashed in, she’d be aboard a train to the other side... in short, Pal was scared blind (rightfully so.) Those still reading this bright and cheery story will remember that Pal had a second home, her online site, where she had only to reach out and comfort would flood in as had always happened.

Ain’t the way it went. On Pal’s return to the site (she’d been away ‘enjoying herself’ for several years,) she discovered it was rife with trolls who bullied regular users as well as newbies: injected themselves into every discussion from Survivor to Democrats, merrily ruining forum after forum.

Pal had received frantic email after email for a couple of years, had had to say “I’ll be back as soon as I can...” you get the drift. So when she dumped this virulent group of nasties, she was confident that now things would jump back to normal. Sound familiar?

Now Pal had dealt with this situation (or others closely related) for 10 years prior to her jolly relationship at home. She had fixed it then, she’d fix it now - and in the process, get some relief from the hell that home had become.

If the gods do laugh, those bastards were roaring then.

When Pal’s own site turned out such virulent tripe about her that she was positive nobody would read it much less believe it, she got her first shock.
People are delighted to see your basic web celeb get told that she’d “Ripped her own site off for years,” mainly because she was an “alcoholic who is on her site looking for drugs.” She told me, sick, that this may have started on her site - sure as hell didn’t end there.

Twitter. Facebook. Even a large rival website who was delighted to print that our Pal had been engaged in credit-card fraud, aided by her top chat op. Now things were getting personal just as Pal discovered that if you’ve been ripped off badly enough, you lost more fun things. Like electricity, water, gas.

Of course she reached out to her site, and I don’t want to encourage more nastiness by repeating the charming replies of our friendly trolls.
And now we come to the point of the matter.

Pal and I do still believe that, for the most part, Words on a Screen are just that. We did, however, learn a small thing, almost insignificant...

Screens exist with a human or two behind them.

Whilst words written on that screen can be shut off, so can your electricity. In short, for those of you who enjoy bullying, belittling others virtually, please realize that people have lives that extend beyond the web.

For the worst of trolls out there, ask yourselves this: would you maintain ‘the chase’ if you knew that, IRL, your target was living (if you can call it that) curled under a cover on their bed in terror? Believing that the next footstep brought something truly unpleasant, very painful, and (several times) a dose of near-fatal poison?

Most trolls wouldn’t and Pal realized that, somewhere inside. But when you’re in the middle of a highly-abusive relationship or dealing with the PTSD that results, you ain’t exactly on your game. In Pal’s case - as her psychoanalyst told her - she’d been first ‘betrayed’ by the HGH, someone she’d trusted. And then she’d been ‘betrayed’ by folks she considered to be her 2nd family.

This, he maintained, explained the day Pal found herself in the back of a cop car, in hand-cuffs - headed for the county nuthouse on a 48 hour suicide hold.

Did all of this occur because of ‘words on a screen?’ No, not all of it. Pal’s nightly terror that the HGH would break in, steal at best, kill her at worst - THAT is what caused the majority of her illness. But when the one place Pal considered ‘safe’, where she and others had greeted each other daily with love - when that place ‘turned on her’ so finely and with such adroitness that social media picked it up and inspired a new group of trolls to join the fun - well, it may not have started there.

Damn near ended there.

Pal has told me often that some of the worst of her residual pain is the fear she feels when she simply accesses her own website. The nausea deep in her belly when she begins to post, and the small voice nagging her “Pal! It’s only words on a screen.”

~ * ~

On Pal’s part, she loathed every minute instant of dictating her part of this article. Dreads having it posted. But she’s doing it with great intent, come what may: to reach out to the untold numbers of others ‘behind that screen’ dealing with misery on-line and off. Or the painful results of such.

There are wonderful people behind some of, indeed many of, those screens. And if you don’t go out into the real world often, you need to find those online caring, wonderful souls who still exist. No matter your age.

Raising emus in the desert

The important thing is that you reach out! How to begin? Well, what are your interests? Cooking? Football? Reading? Raising emus in the desert? There are communities for all those and countless more. Simply Google “Community for raising emus in the desert.”

Once you reach a new community, be cautious at first. Read what’s been posted, who these people are. If you feel a spark of enthusiasm, go for it! Remaining encapsulated in your place is neither fun, healthy, or necessary.

Pal’s situation is a bit different, having spent 24/7 on a site she herself had built. She now has a righteous fear of the internet itself - do us a favor, would you kindly? If you figure out how Pal can go back to her own site, or anywhere else on the web, please let me know.

Rest assured I’ll pass it along.