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Thank You, Troll. Now Scurry Back To Your Bridge

by Steven Fitzgerald 18 days ago in humor / humanity / career
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Finding empowerment through the ramblings of someone who has too much time on their hands

A few months ago I wrote a piece about the need for men to speak up about their struggles with mental health.

The majority of what I write is undiluted garbage, and after writing for a few hours my apartment needs both a deep clean and an exorcism to rid it of the stench of my latest attempt at literary immortality.

However, this particular article was good. Well, less awful than my previous ones.

And others thought so too.

Granted, I’m still waiting to be told I’ve been nominated for the Pulitzer and the Nobel Peace Prize, but a few thousand people read the piece and left nice messages which more than made up for my lack of recognition from internationally prestigious award-bestowing bodies.

(No, I’m lying there — I’d like to say that my readers matter so much more than any awards, but come on, we all want shiny, trophy-shaped objects!)

Except, among the positive messages was one slightly less happy one. I’m lying again — it was downright vile.

In my article, I argued that traditional models of masculinity were not only outdated but also harmful when it came to the promotion of good mental health. I posited that showing vulnerability and being open about having a mind that doesn’t always work were GOOD things.

If men felt able to open up, if they felt it was utterly fine to cry or have a meltdown, if they believed it was okay to admit they struggled, or felt a failure, or were just deeply unhappy, then maybe they wouldn’t feel as if suicide was a viable option. Which, for many men, it still appears to be.

My claims were credible.

Not only am I a suicide survivor, but I am also a depressive who for years felt ashamed.

I saw my mental illness as being representative of my innate faultiness. I viewed myself as broken, and that shame buried me. I was a man, goddammit! I should’ve been piloting a space shuttle, or coaching an all-conquering soccer team — not lying on my bathroom floor and crying a lot. I didn’t speak up and eventually reached a point where ending my life seemed like a good idea. (HINT: It’s not, and never is.)

However, I am also an experienced mental health professional; I’ve seen this professionally more times than I can count.

We are all capable of being mentally ill, but men are particularly bad about seeking help when they are, at understanding that there’s nothing wrong with simply sometimes being sad. It’s just one of those things that happen, and — when it does — you need help.

I admit I was feeling a bit feisty when I wrote the article. But I’m always at my best (well, less bad) when I’ve got some fire in my belly. However, there was still nothing in the piece that I felt was overly controversial. It was confrontational, but it was a serious subject: Ambivalence would have been inappropriate.

As it turns out it was a bit too controversial for one reader. I had attracted my first troll.

In the interests of transparency, I have reproduced their reply:

“The idea that crying is effeminate, weak, and “girly.” —it is. OK for girls, not OK for Men… and all the rationalization and self-delusion in the world is not going to change that. I feel sorry for any women who partners up with you as you spend “too much watching Netflix, and not enough time exercising”. You are probably gay; certainly a city dweller.”

Yeah, yeah — I know what you’re thinking: It’s as if Oscar Wilde has internet access in his coffin, and — instead of writing plays — is spending his afterlife trolling part-time writers who post on self-help websites.

However, once I had recovered from the injuries my opponent had caused with their devasting rapier-like wit, I began to pick through their words. And there are lots of interesting morsels to nibble on.

I especially like the allusion to me being homosexual. I’m not and don’t see the relevance, but I appreciate that they’d gone to such lengths to try and offend me. The only issue is that, although calling someone gay might be derogatory where they came from, I live somewhere different. It’s called the twenty-first century.

I used ‘gay’ as an insult when I was six years old and didn’t know any better. I’d like to say that it’s the banalest insult I’ve ever worn but it’s not even that — it’s lazy. I mean, if you want to take me on, at least do so with some aplomb. Insults from the playground are a tiny bit underwhelming. What’s next? Are you going to mock my Luke Skywalker lunchbox?

There’s also the wonderful contradiction — one second they’re saying they feel sorry for any woman that chooses to have a relationship with me, and a few sentences later they’ve made me gay. Make your mind up, champ. What am I?

Even better, they’d poured oil onto the fire. Normally, I’m lucky to get a dozen responses to an article. After my nemesis had posted his riposte, I got hundreds. Most of which very eloquently pointed out the absurdity of their message.

Maybe transforming my little piece from one that, without their input, would have only been read by a handful of people, into one that was seen by thousands, was all part of their scheme. Perhaps they were trying to raise awareness of what I was saying by widening the audience. If so, thank you again — you achieved it! You are far, far cleverer than me.

However, there was one aspect that stayed with me and motivates me even today. They showed me I was right.

By responding with those exact words, they’d — ironically — validated my article. There I was saying that our traditional attitudes of what it meant to be a man were outdated, and — bingo! — they’d written a reply that not only showed how nonsensical those outdated attitudes were but that they were still blatantly out there.

Thank you. I mean that.

This castiron certainty is one we don’t get very often as writers. We spend most of the time thinking our work is unfunny, unoriginal, or unimportant. We don’t always want to change the world, but it’s nice to think our words have touched a nerve. Well, I hadn’t so much touched one single nerve — I was a literary octopus whose tentacles were busy prodding someone’s entire nervous system.

And it felt good. (Not for them, obviously.)

I had always wondered what it would feel like when I attracted my first troll. Turns out, it was far more pleasurable than I could have ever imagined. It was surprisingly empowering.

On the advice of the website’s editor, I never left a reply to their comment. However, I’d like to do so now. Thank you, troll. Sincerely; thank you. You gave me the conviction to keep writing. To keep fighting the fight. You also ensured that more people read that article and that I actually made money from it. You have my heartfelt gratitude.

And if, having read this piece, anyone feels the need to troll me…

Please do. You know where the comment box is. Honestly, you’ll help me far more than you could ever imagine.

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About the author

Steven Fitzgerald

Hi!

Film, theatre, mental health, sport, politics, music, travel, and the occasional short story... it's a varied mix!

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Comments (1)

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  • Kim Mitchell15 days ago

    I liked the first post of yours I read, so when I saw your masked face under another interesting heading, I decided to read it too. I'd like to say you're an unimaginative, dry-witted, over-reaching, honestly-self-depreciating, dim, producer of sense-less words...I mean, if you really think it would help. The thing is I pride myself on accuracy, and every 'helpful' word would be the opposite of true. In fact, I quite like your writing! Thanks for sharing.

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