Today is a rough day.
Nothing catastrophic happened, although my kid kept me up most of the night screaming, blowing her nose, and throwing up (poor baby). But aside from that, there are no obvious circumstances causing this day in particular to be rough for me. I’ve spent most of the day in bed because I haven’t been motivated to move and my sick kid is sleeping next to me. I got up to take a shower and got back in bed. I wish I could say this kind of day were unusual for me. Unfortunately though, I’ve spent a lot of days in bed during the last year and a half or so. We are not going to spend time getting into all of that here though–the fury and anxiety and sorrow I feel every goddamn day.
We’re going to talk instead about the fact that my partner and I have been working on a project together, a podcast called “I Never Saw That.”(ineversawthat.com) The premise of the podcast is the pop culture I missed when I was sent away from home from ages 16-18, from August 1994-August 1996. I was sent to a “therapeutic boarding school” in The Middle of Nowhere, Montana. (The quotation marks there are important. The therapeutic techniques were questionable at best, abusive at worst.) While we are talking about the pop culture I missed from those years, we are weaving in parts of my life before and during Montana. It has been a powerful way for me to process some of that experience and share it with people without it being overwhelmingly dark.
As you can probably imagine, though, this podcast is bringing up a lot of painful shit for me. It’s a deeply personal project, even as we discuss the relatable world of television, film, and music of the mid-1990s.
So many people have been supportive and loving about our podcast. They have listened, subscribed, joined and participated in our facebook group, shared the podcast with others, advocated for us, contributed financially, reviewed us on iTunes. Without the backing of those friends and family (and members of a podcasters group we’ve joined–it’s a group of fans of my favorite podcast, My Brother My Brother and Me, who also make podcasts, and finding that group is the best thing that could have happened because they are the best people) I don’t know that we would have made it this far, and we’re only a month in. Positivity and encouragement are vital to a project like this, and I’m so grateful. That said, I went into this knowing that it would not be for everyone and that I can’t expect my friends and family to like it or even listen to it. I went in aware that it may ultimately be people we don’t know at all who connect to it the most. Some of the most supportive people are surprising, and some of the people I expected to be the most supportive aren’t. And that’s OK.
That said, putting myself out there this way is incredibly vulnerable. It’s scary and nerve-wracking (and fun!). So while it’s obviously OK for people not to be into it or not be actively supporting us, I had the displeasure of discovering what is not OK with me yesterday. Yesterday, a friend sent me a facebook message just to tell me that they had tried listening but didn’t even make it through a single episode because it wasn’t energetic or entertaining enough.
I read the message once, then read it again because clearly I was in denial after the first read. But as my brain worked through the fog of confusion I felt, the shock began to move through my body. I felt that tingly, light-headed sensation I get when I’m presented with a conflict I wasn’t expecting. I read it yet again, trying to look for some sort of silver lining or a trace of compassion or caring for me in the message. I did not find it.
I guess this was their response to my posts about the podcast, asking for people to support us, participate with us, share ideas, share the podcast, etc. And I had sent them an early draft of our first episode, well before we even launched. They never responded, so I figured they didn’t like it or didn’t have time to listen to it or forgot about it. I was OK with that. But this person decided it was necessary to go out of their way to let me know it sucked so much they couldn’t listen and that they definitely would not be supporting us (by the way, this person is wrong. Our podcast is awesome. :)).
Self-promotion is hard. Most of us would not do it if there were any other option. Please understand that people who are making things entirely on their own with no financial compensation for their work or time (I’m working on this nearly full time and we are basically broke, which means I don’t know how long I’ll be able to put enough time and energy into it because I need to get a job) and no network to back them have to promote to their community first. If that seems annoying to you, I promise it’s way easier on you than it is on them to put themselves out there about something very personal, ask for support from friends, and receive a dismissive, cold response like this.
So first: Don’t do this to someone. Just don’t. Here are a few other options that actually take less effort!:
a) Ignore them!
b) Be supportive anyway!
c) Unfollow them if they’re really that annoying (this is shitty, but not as shitty as this message)!
There is no reason to send someone a message about their new creative endeavor just to say, “I couldn’t make it through the episode,” weeks into the podcast. Why do that? What are you hoping to accomplish? I’m all for constructive criticism, but only when solicited (seriously, if someone didn’t ask for your criticism, they do not want your criticism) and never without empathy and love and an appreciation of what this means to us and how much we’re pouring into it. We asked a few of the people we trust the most to give us constructive criticism when we were getting started. They were direct and honest and also encouraging and loving, as we expected and needed. This is the best and in my opinion only way to give feedback about something a friend is working really hard on doing. The feedback was helpful, redirected us in some great ways, and I will continue to ask for this kind of criticism when we’re comfortable doing so and when we feel we need it, and we will ask the people we trust to be honest and loving. If this person had said something like, “Hey jen, I want to support you and I know this project is really important to you, but when I listened I wasn’t really into it. Wanted to let you know I’m not just ignoring you,” I would have been hurt but I could’ve responded and had a conversation with them. That is not what happened here.
We LOVE participation and feedback from people who listen to our podcast about anything it makes them think about, including when they disagree with what we’ve said and their suggestions. “Your podcast sucks” is not helpful feedback. It is rude and discouraging.
Don’t do this.
What I am certain of is that this person has no idea how much effort and energy and labor it takes to create this thing because I don’t think they would send this message if they had any idea at all. This person is not a heartless monster. But I am also certain that this person prides themselves (themself? whatever you get it) on not mincing words. And I have to say, I’m fucking tired of hearing people say that they just don’t mince words, or that they are just keeping it real as an excuse for being cruel and hurtful. Sure, there are situations when this is a great trait. But I do not see you as stronger or more honest because you speak your mind without considering other people’s feelings. Considering other people’s feelings is not a weakness. It is a strength. And your words should be especially carefully chosen when you are responding to the personal creative project of a friend. Or your words should not be shared at all.
Think about it this way. If a friend invited you to an art opening at a gallery showing her work, would you show up and then leave without looking at her pieces? Would you then tell her you couldn’t even make it through one room because you hated her paintings/sculptures/etc. so much? Of course you wouldn’t. Unless you are an asshole. I know someone who creates beautiful decks of Tarot cards. I can’t even imagine the world in which it would be OK for me to look through them, stop partway through and tell her I just couldn’t get through the whole deck because they just weren’t good enough for me to keep looking at them. Or going to see a friend’s band play and just walking out after the first song. You may be thinking, “but it’s not the same thing…” but it is. It is a person’s personal, creative expression. It contains their heart and soul. That is what this podcast is, even though it may sound to you like nothing more than a couple of jackasses sitting around talking. That is part of it of course, but it is so much more than that.
Why am I telling this story and what does this have to do with anything? Aside from a bit of a need to vent about this and wanting to share with you all that this is a shitty thing to do and ask you to please not do this to your friends, I want to connect back to the beginning of this post.
Today is a rough day.
I do not blame this person for how shitty I’ve felt for the last 24 hours or so. They are responsible for some hurt, yes, but this has ultimately touched on some things I have struggled with for my entire life.
I am a highly sensitive person. There are some benefits to this; I have a high capacity for empathy and compassion because I can sense and care about other people’s feelings. I am forgiving because I can understand someone else’s perspective. But it also makes life painful a lot of the time, and when it comes to my sensitivity about people’s response to or opinion of me, this trait is very, very harmful. It drags me down, pulls me under water, even when I’ve had my head above the surface for a while. While most people would swim back up quickly, probably even climb all the way out of the water (!), I have weights tied to my ankles, which means it takes me a long time to reach the air again. That is what has happened here. I’m struggling to reach the air, struggling to find the sunlight to swim for.
This struggle has nothing to do with the person who sent me the message or even the message itself. This struggle is about my own fragile emotional state. And please understand that I am not about tone policing in matters of social justice, any form of oppression, or hurtful language. If I had been hurtful I would absolutely expect this person, or anyone, to tell me and tell me in whatever tone they needed to. That is an entirely different conversation.
I’m not saying I’m weak. I’m strong as hell. Every day is a fucking battle for survival for all of us out here living with chronic, severe depression. I am learning to see myself as the warrior I am. And yet, I’m still easily dragged under the surface I’ve worked so hard to keep my head above. Part of this of course is because I’m hard on myself as it is, so when someone else confirms that I’m not lovable or worthwhile (this is how my mind interprets it, even though it isn’t necessarily what they meant) it brings out my deepest fears. Maybe my depressed brain is right. Maybe I am useless. Maybe I’m really not worth loving.
It’s silly that all of this comes up after one mean message about my podcast. I have to find a way to digest these things, respond in whatever way I need to, let go of that person if necessary and move forward stronger and more clearheaded about who I am and what kinds of people I need in my life. I have to look at myself as worthwhile and lovable, I have to view my own creative projects as worthwhile and lovable, and leave the rest behind.
Believe it or not, I have gotten a lot better at this. I remain forgiving but I will not put effort into relationships with people who make me feel like shit unless there has been some sort of responsibility taken for that hurt and we have worked through the situation together. I of course want to work through things with friends when I hurt them too. But I don’t have time for people who think considering my feelings is not worth their time. I don’t approach people that way. I don’t want friends who approach me that way.
I’m getting better at swimming toward the surface, finding the sunlight, reaching the air. Those extra weights tied to my ankles still make me slow to get there but I’m getting faster. I will drown if I don’t find the strength to swim out of the darkness. Lucky for me, there’s a lot of light to swim for.
But today, today was a rough day.