The more I hear about instances of online bullying the angrier and sadder I become, especially when the stories result in the deaths of depressed and lonely young adults and teenagers. Perhaps what frustrates and hurts me most is the fact that the online world can be used for so much good. It can truly be a nurturing, loving environment if one only knows where to look. This has, at least, been my experience. In fact, had I not found a refuge in the online world, I may very well have gone the way of those poor misunderstood souls who only saw one way out.
My high school experience was very much like everyone else's, at least everyone else who was an outcast in one way or another. I was smart and geeky and introverted and reflective, and none of those were qualities appreciated by anyone in my school or, really, my hometown. School was simply a series of rejections, and if I wasn't rejected I was ignored. I felt powerless to change it so I simply went along with it. I hid in over-sized clothes and behind books, sitting as close to the wall or back of the room as possible. I went largely unnoticed by everyone and was miserable. For the most part, I didn't fit in with my classmates. They cared about high school sports and parties and drugs and stuff I couldn't care less about. I felt alone and desperate.
Unfortunately, college wasn't much of a change from high school. It was partly my own fault, as I had chosen to go to a college that was basically the high school after high school. If I had the chance to do it differently, I would. But, at the time, it seemed like the best decision. For various family-related reasons, I just wanted to go to the local college and commute. I didn't realize that it would be just as painful and miserable as high school had been. Although there were some instructors that I loved, the ones I disliked far outnumbered them. I was suffocating and frustrated and so damn lonely. I had no close friends at college and the ones I had had in high school had either abandoned me or simply drifted away. I had my family, but there was only so much support they could lend. And by my third year of college, my siblings had moved out to go to college themselves. Nobody knew it, but I was in my own personal hell.
I was sick at heart. I was filled with this void that I couldn't fill, and the ache that I felt from it was too much to bear. I can't tell you how many nights I cried myself to sleep because I simply can't remember them all. My anxiety problems were getting worse and I didn't have any support outside of my family. I was dying and no one knew. And then, one day, I stumbled across something that, quite literally, saved my life.
As silly as it may sound, 'Mystery Science Theater 3000' and the Cinematic Titanic forum saved me. A professor had renewed my interest in MST3K, which I had seen years before, but had never had access to. We didn't have cable and my collection had only consisted of a VHS copy of MST3K: The Movie that I had found for a dollar at a local antique mall. But when my prof. made mention of the MSTed version of Hamlet, it pushed me to use our newly acquired high speed connection to get some much needed MST3K in my life. It wasn't long after that that I discovered the newly launched Cinematic Titanic site and its forum. I lurked for a while and then in September of 2008 I joined the forum.
My life changed overnight.
The only way I can describe the forum to those who aren't a part of it is like this: it's a family. It was my first experience of finding people who were like me and interested in the same things as I was, and not only that, but they also liked me! (I can't stress this last point enough.) They accepted me right away and before long I was even dubbed the Official Little Sister -- a title that Mary Jo Pehl's sweet and kind husband, Ron, still uses when he talks to me. Finally, I was a part of something that was larger than my biological family. Finally, I had found the support and friendship that I had so desperately wanted for so long. Finally, I was no longer lonely.
That acceptance magnified even more when I joined Twitter a year ago and my online family expanded greatly. In fact, it was the support that this family has given me that inspired me to shake the dust from that crummy town off my feet and see the world. Or, at least, make the big move to the big city of Chicago. My online family showed me that I had a choice -- I could stay where I was and continue to suffocate, or I could take a chance, knowing that there were others out there who appreciated me, and move away knowing that I would find appreciation and kindred spirits out there somewhere.
My life has improved so much in the past two years, and that is due entirely to the love and acceptance I found online. God knows that the Internet and social networking sites can be dangerous tools, but -- at least for this outcast -- they can be lifesaving tools, as well.