Twitter is kind of a big deal to me. I (over)use it to stay connected with people that I am not near geographically. I use it to eke out little clarifying thoughts about my day and the way I work. I use it for jokes, for serious contemplative bits of text, for exchanges with people both known and unknown to me so I don’t feel quite so lonely at my desk all day. It helps me refine ideas down to morsels that can be terse, poetic, witty. I’ve been using it like a short-form diary for years. I love Twitter.
So when I finally got my Twitter archive feature activated, I was delighted. I wanted to go back in time and see how I’d changed, see what I’d forgotten, see if I could detect a difference in my writing from 2007 to now. I opened up my archive and dove in, expecting to see myself. In those tens of thousands of tweets, I discovered two things.
First, despite the migration of various comedic bits through my timeline, I haven’t changed that much as a writer.
Second, I needed help.
That’s not sass. I’m not being flip. I got a look at myself in a weird mirror and found lots of my tweeted messages came with tiny memories. Aspects of myself came into alarming focus. Much to my surprise, part of the secret was hidden in my hashtags.
I’m proud of my hashtags. Silly, maybe, but they’ve brought some amusement and some benefit to people I like, so I like my hashtags.
You might’ve seen #icmf, an acronym involving adult language, which serves as a space-saving intensifier. That’s probably the most popular model of hashtag to come out of this factory:
“Be safe and joyous where you are. See you in the future. #icmf” —Tweet from Dec 31, 2012
We also have #honkahonka, which is meant to represent the sad honking of a sad clown’s sad horn, indicating that a tweet which seems maybe sad is also funny, also a joke (except… maybe not a joke at all):
“Tomorrow’s an experiment in traveling light. (Except something something emotional baggage.) #honkahonka“ —Tweet from Oct 5, 2012
“There are no dues. There’s just the popularity of your current project. That’s all you are. #honkahonka“ —Tweet from Oct 19, 2012
And then there’s #hyperb, my hashtag for hyperbole, whether it’s blatant or insidious or serious or jokey. It’s good for those grandiose conclusions you draw from everyday little cues:
“It’s been a while since we used #hyperb. It’s been forever. All the days have passed since we used it last. We’ve never used it. Not ever.” —Tweet from July 2, 2012
“No one has ever understood how you feel. Not really. #hyperb“ —Tweet from Mar 13, 2012
When you want to post about how everything is the worst, that’s when you use #hyperb. When Twitter’s character count forces you to generalize comically, and you regret it, that’s when you use #hyperb. When you’re reminded, in the middle of the day, that you’ve ruined everything you’ve ever tried to improve because your touch is poison, that’s when you use #hyperb. When the dog starts barking and you realize that you’ll never get 10 solid minutes of writing time ever again or when you break a glass and panic because you’ll never be able to handle glass again without breaking it or when you realize that you have never and will never accomplish what you wanted to do to be the person you wanted to be or or or… that’s when I use #hyperb.
Except… not a lot of people use #hyperb. Why is that? Maybe your brain doesn’t make the leap so quickly from “I made a bad play” to “I lose every game” to “I am a total loser all that time at all things.”
Mine does, sometimes.
When I can’t sleep, I say to my wife, “I have never slept. I have never been asleep and may never sleep again.” It really irks her, I think. It irks me, too. For all that I like a good mantra or pithy quote, I’m not a big fan of generalizations. I love nuance and variety and plurality — I disappoint myself the most when I fail to embrace or uphold those ideals. My brain feeds me disappointments, though, with some frequency. One way it does it is through overgeneralization.
I’m not a doctor. As I understand it this kind of overgeneralization, this explosion of little ideas into big, desperate conclusions is symptomatic of the kind of depressive episodes I experience. If you experience depression, see an expert. I am not a doctor.
The awful certainty of things in the mind is what gets me. My brain’s got negativity down to something like muscle memory, intuitive and instinctive. I don’t always get worked up about these ideas; why would I? They’re simple as facts: water’s wet and I am a failure. Sky’s blue; I am not entitled to pride. Coffee’s great; I suck. I know better most of the time but there they are, frank as can be.
Depression tells me that everyone else knows things I don’t know about how to be happy. Depression tells me that I alone know the truth about my nature as an arrogant jerk. Depression tells me that everyone else is always able to detect what’s wrong with me and — individually and together — don’t tell me I’m not one of them because they don’t think I can handle it. Everyone, no one, always. #hyperb, #hyperb, #hyperb.
“No one has ever felt any of the things I have felt because I am uniquely and especially awful and you are not. #hyperb #honkahonka #icmf” —Tweet from Jul 12, 2012
I don’t know if these thoughts ever go away for good. I’m on medication, I’ve done therapy, they’re still around. It’s not resolve or practice that keeps depression from getting to me. It does get to me. It probably always will. This isn’t something I expect to get past, really. It’s something I manage. It’s something I work through. It’s something I expect to wrestle with for the whole trip. That’s just the way it is. This is me.
Some people have chronic back pain. Some people have arthritis. My brain hurts. That’s just the way it is. It is okay to seek help and talk about our pain. We shouldn’t be ashamed of it.
My first instinct, seeing my tweets, was to hide. “Everyone can see you,” I thought, “so you’d better do better at faking normalcy and quick.” What a shit notion that is — normalcy. I can get behind the idea of being healthy, though, and I’m unconvinced that hiding my pain is going to make me, or anyone else, healthier. This is me.
I’m not changing the way I write on Twitter. Sometimes — sometimes — I find that writing helps soften the pain. Even if it doesn’t, I try. I used to do it because I wanted to talk about my pain more than I felt comfortable doing it. I do it from here on out because I want it to be okay to talk and write about this stuff, for me, for you, for anyone who’s in pain. I want you to know that you’re not alone.
So, yes, sometimes my tweeter feed is a glum bummer. We’ve known that for a long time. So it goes. This is me.