The Terror of Being Vulnerable Online


credit: Me, showing off expert selfie and MS Paint skills

“I was born with Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome, and ever since I was diagnosed, I’ve been fighting with myself about what I should or shouldn’t do. Then I fought with myself over not doing enough, and nearly did myself in while I did so. I honestly can’t tell you which is more demotivating: telling myself I can do anything, as if it wasn’t an option already, or thinking that I might have wasted my best years doing nothing, perhaps, maybe, but there’s no actual telling, because even specialist doctors can’t tell me about this illness I have. 

Running long distances is a big deal for me. It’s not about being “healthy”. It’s not about being “inspirational”. It’s not even a big one-finger salute to the rare jackass telling me not to even bother. It’s me, with every doubt and every fear I have about running (and, more to the point, about having a seizure on the side of the road), and doing it anyway. And I’d like this to bring meaning to something other than myself.”

I posted this, along with a bunch of other stuff, on my fundraising page. (Not this picture, though. This is a picture for the fundraising campaign last year, for a different charity. I spray-painted over the irrelevant bits.) Why did I write something so personal? Oddly enough, so that I’m not embarrassed about my digital footprint in 12 months’ time.

Let me explain.

There seems to be this idea that the Internet is this scary place that saves all your past mistakes and blunders, and if you went viral for the wrong thing, your reputation is pretty much ruined for all eternity. The best way to go, according to this idea, is to micro-manage all your channels and err on the side of caution when it comes to what you should share. And while I agree that we could do with better privacy filters, I also think that “saving face” doesn’t have to be our main priority when interacting with our friends or talking about things that we are passionate about.

Because sometimes we have a private language that we only use with our friends, and which only our friends are allowed to use with us. That’s not greedy or selfish, that is human nature – forging social contracts, creating informal spaces, where you are allowed to say things and do things without being judged by your peers.

Because sometimes, the things we are passionate about are also things others would rather ignore. Because we all have one, or several things that make us profoundly uncomfortable, if not viscerally terrified, and we choose to engage with them in different ways.

Because, regardless of how strange or difficult we find certain aspects of our personalities, we still need to express them, and we make ourselves vulnerable doing so.

It is my belief, more from experience and less from my reading, that we could be kinder, more generous with others and with ourselves online. And man, generosity is scary. Kindness is terrifying. I mean, what if we are the only ones? What if others take advantage? What if we are fools, or worse, naive?  What if we are giving away the most precious parts of us for free?

The irony of the Internet – everything is free, unless it’s your heart.

Well, let me tell you about my heart: it’s small. It bleeds more than it is healthy for it. There are too many cracks in it, and I do a piss-poor job at patching it up. I won’t let anybody else take a look at it, to help me help myself mend it, but if anybody throws a rock, I turn to give them better access. Given all the abuse I’ve let it take, the poison I let it soak up, I’m surprised it hasn’t shriveled up completely.

This heart isn’t hidden away because it’s priceless. It’s hidden away because I’m afraid nobody else would find it so.

Unfortunately, without it, I’m an incomplete picture. I’m a non-entity, a person so formless that they might as well not be there. If my motivation is hidden from others, I might as well not have one at all.

You can’t do good while also keeping yourself hidden. At one point or another, you have to step out and make yourself vulnerable.

That applies to fundraising, and it applies to Internet culture. It applies to writing. Hell, it applies to life.

And what if I really am a fool? Well, at least I’m in good company.


One thought on “The Terror of Being Vulnerable Online

  1. Such a great blog post. I have been thinking a lot about how much to share on my own blog. I’ve come to the conclusion that in order to be myself that involves sharing my personal story.

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