Bo Burnham: Inside left me speechless

When I started watching Bo Burnham’s special, Inside, it was late evening but still sunny outside. When it ended, my apartment was dark and I sat for an amount of time I can’t remember in awe. I finally got off the couch to write this post.

I’ve rarely seen anything that made me feel so many things that intensely. It was nothing short of genius, but what really hit me the hardest was at the end of the film. I empathized with Bo’s story about agoraphobia and panic attacks.

From late 2016 into 2018, I remained inside due to severe anxiety and agoraphobia. I lied in bed most days, not eating, too afraid of my own body’s mysterious illness. It later turned out to be a severe case of GERD, and my anxiety only made it worse. I became anorexic during that time.

When 2019 came around, my life started to improve. I was finally on medication and had a doctor who, at last, believed me about my stomach. I gained weight back and was no longer weak and dizzy. My fear of the outside receded slowly but surely, and in middle to late 2019, I started going to the coffee shop almost every day to write. I couldn’t afford a laptop, but I had a tablet with a keyboard. My agoraphobia was gone.

I had been on testosterone for my transition for a year at least — finally on the right kind that my body wasn’t allergic to and could handle well. Everything looked so beautiful. The holidays were equally as great, and I spent them with my family. I remember being happy more often than not, and my manic states and mixed episodes were non-existent for the first time in my life. I hadn’t felt suicidal or severely depressed in some time, and I was so busy with friends I didn’t have time to think about the mental health issues I’d struggled with my entire life.

I thought I had recovered. I finally was able to live a life full of friends, happiness, and I was on my way to accomplishing my goal of becoming a better writer worthy of being published.

2020. It came quickly. I watched as my personal sunshine dimmed more and more as the months dragged on. PTSD hit me full blown, and I was, once again, not only dealing with severe agoraphobia that made me shake and nearly pass out every time I left the apartment — it still does to this day — but past ghosts and actual PTSD hallucinations and dissociation from isolation, which I’ve written about in detail extensively here and on my side blog, Waking Dreams.

I got a year of recovery in 2019. 2020 was going to be the year I accomplished everything I didn’t think I could before. Now, half way into 2021, even though things are looking a little bit better and I’m vaccinated, 2020 not only set me back to stage one, it left me worse off than I was before with many more shadows I can no longer stuff down and hope they go away.

I am starting to see a bit of light again, but the end of Bo Burnham: Inside, as well as the scenes about depression, resonated with me and gave me a sinking feeling not only in my stomach, but in my chest. I know. I know what that feels like. I know the absolute trauma 2020 caused when you were so close. When you were right there and everything was so damn beautiful for a minute.

I am definitely going to watch Inside again. It’s a truly honest look into what 2020 was for so many of us who remained inside. The music, all of it, is fantastic and there isn’t a single song I disliked, but the message was the most important thing in all of it. It was so painfully true. Sometimes humorously true. Sometimes ironically true.

I hope Bo can find his strength to perform, and if not, I hope he continues to make music when and where he can. I hope he realizes just what a masterpiece he created and how it’s touched so many people.

©2021 Shane Blackheart

Image source: Netflix

The importance of self-awareness in cancel culture outrage

I’ve been in therapy for, it’s safe to say, most of my life. Since I was about seven or ten, I’ve also been taking psych meds. Things got worse over the years due to trauma, and I had to eventually admit what was wrong, open up about my problems I’d kept inside, and seek out more intensive therapy. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, while I feel it — inadvertently — taught me how to mask my autism a bit, also helped me learn to slow down, breathe, and take nuance and facts into consideration before acting.

It taught me how to handle problematic or aggressive people, and it helped me cope with my over-sensitive emotions and addictions. For a while, however, I still fell into the social media patterns of clout-chasing mobs, and I joined in on the calling-out culture, even for smaller accounts involving people who were virtually no one in the grand scheme of things. Just like I’m no one in the grand scheme. Only a select few are, and they hold obvious social status and influence.

I dived back into my spiritual practices, and I started to meditate as often as I could remember, or as often as my spirit guides would remind me to. I also finally found the right counselor, and have been going to weekly counseling sessions ever since. Even then, I still got caught up in the rage social media likes to reward.

At some point in all of it, after dissecting it all, I realized the problem and why I was constantly so upset.

I had become so distracted by the fast pace of social media that I’d forgotten the lessons from DBT and meditation. There was no time on Twitter to slow down with the brief character-limit posts, and with how quickly things spread like wildfire. It’s easy to get swept up in, and it’s sad what it can do to good people.

Over time, I realized an ironic thing. In the writing community, among those who are quick to take people out of context, there are groups who ruin lives with glee. They get caught up in the rage machine, and no one leaves room for nuance or stops to think about their words. People forget the person behind the picture is a real human being who needs to eat, work, and survive. Aren’t writers supposed to be good at slowing down and thinking about what they write?

Instead of blocking people who don’t have much influence — your average person — and moving on, people ruin lives over misconceptions. Over things they’ve interpreted their own way without a care to ask what the original writer meant to begin with. Lives are ruined due to a bad day, one misstep, one or two wrong statements said carelessly. Being canceled for a bad day or a mistake in wording is like being put on death row.

Your career, which most on Twitter are living paycheck to paycheck with, is threatened. Suddenly, people who advocate for kindness, mental health awareness, and love start to act the opposite. And they laugh about it. They point and insult like the victim is now an animal in a zoo, and they create campaigns and threads of out of context posts and screenshots, the victim no longer able to crawl out of the speedily devouring quicksand their life has become to correct anything. And even if they tried, no apology would be good enough. Because that’s how it works.

All of that chaos and rage because they said something carelessly on social media that they now can’t take back, even if they wanted to.

Suicidal thoughts come as the hate continues to pour in. What was once a few screen captures becomes a side show of banana phone messages. Soon, people who don’t even know what’s going on read the out of context posts, or only see the outraged comments, and they don’t bother to check the source. They blindly accept voices they think are good because they’re a mutual follower or a friend, not realizing that sometimes friends can be wrong, too.

It’s utter chaos. One person’s life can be ruined — or lost — for an accident or a careless few words. For a bad take that would have naturally been forgotten by anyone else.

As writers, it’s our job to dissect people and see why they do what they do. When we write dialogue between characters, as well as explore the depth of character development, we have to look at the human condition. When we write heroes and villains, we have to get inside their heads, figure out why they are who they are, and why they do what they do.

Another irony is the supposed love for imperfect characters and antiheroes. People praise them, love them, and call them relatable. Myself included. Yet, if any of those characters were real, they would be canceled as soon as they tiptoed onto a social media platform.

The problem is that no one is allowed to make a mistake. But people forget what human nature is, and what being human means. Our brains are so complex, not even scientists can figure out, one-hundred percent, why we do some of the things we do. We’ve evolved into such diverse and complicated creatures that we’re going to be our own undoing, to tell the truth. With power comes corruption, and humans have done quite a lot of corrupting of nature and to our planet itself.

The conversation must also be had about good and evil. Bad and good. All of this is personal judgment, and while many may agree on a definition of an overall evil and good, it will differ greatly from one group to the next. In counseling, this is why we use words like ‘effective’ and ‘ineffective’ over ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ Removing judgmental words helps to create a more calm mind, opens up the ability to slow down and think, and judge less. To figure out what actually works and what doesn’t without emotions getting in the way.

Certainly, there are some people who should be rightly judged. And I mean people who cause very real harm and have the influence to do so. Celebrities, influencers, and those in power can genuinely hurt people, and often do. JK Rowling’s words were used during a hearing in a court of law to deny an LGBTQ+ rights bill, for example.

However, if a nobody on Twitter — an everyday person like you and me — voiced that they dislike LGBTQ+ people, which is hurtful and bigoted and very wrong, I’d just block them, report their activity, and move on. I don’t want to see them anymore. I certainly don’t want to stare at their face and their triggering words for hours on end to create a cancel campaign that will only do more damage to my mental health than their initial hateful Tweet that I vanished in seconds.

Do I hope they lose their job? Not really. I don’t care enough about them. Do I hope they kill themselves? Certainly not.

Despite how awful the above example was, people like that aren’t often who get canceled.

It’s the people who have a bad day, but are otherwise a good person. People who are depressed and express a negative opinion that is slightly offensive on social media. People who are anxious and typing carelessly and make a mistake. People who did something questionable in the long past — we’re talking five or more years ago — who have changed their ways and have moved on, yet someone digs their mistake back up and they are ruined by something they’d learned from already.

People lose jobs over this rage. They lose the food on their table, they lose the roof over their heads, they can’t take care of their kids. Their lives fall apart. It doesn’t just affect them. It affects their family and people around them, too.

I’m sorry, but I will not wish death on anyone. I will not wish ruin on anyone. In the case of internet trolls and bad faith nobodies, I think it’s far better to let them fade into silence, not getting the attention they wanted. Why? Because in the end the best thing to do about a troll is to block them out and not feed them.

Are there some people who deserve to be called out and lose their job, though? Yes.

Celebrities, people in high places that make big decisions about people’s lives, people in consequential positions in society that can actually hurt someone — these are the people who are the threat when they turn morally corrupt. When they become bigots and racists and horrible human beings. THEY are the ones worth calling out because they have the power to actually do a real amount of damage.

Joe and Jane on the other side of the internet with a few thousand followers with a few bad takes? Block and move on. Understand that all of that hate and rage that is being directed at the smaller folks — the people who don’t even matter — is wrecking your own mental health. If you need to spend hours — days — creating a smear campaign against someone, make it mean something and actually affect people who matter in the grand scheme.

Call Rowling out and screen cap and raise awareness because of her harmful actions. People called out 45 constantly because he actually hurt people, provoked violence and division, and was a real threat. Cancel and raise awareness for Bill Cosby like hell because that guy should not be walking free. He is literally a sexual predator.

But a person said something that was out of line, or possibly poorly worded? Do you see the problem here?

The crime must equal the punishment. Otherwise, we’re treating everyone like a criminal, good or not, and we’re being judge, jury, and executioner. We’re yelling ‘guilty until proven innocent, except we won’t accept your apology or explanation so you’re guilty anyway!’

This needs to be redirected. The focus needs to be panned back to the real problems. Let’s stop this madness because the warpath of cancel culture doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t care about the crime or lack of one. It only cares about getting a high from ruining people’s lives.

This is not the kind of internet my 90s kid self foresaw when it came into being. I was told there were dangerous people on there at the time in the chat rooms. It pales in comparison to the danger of social media rage.

©2021 Shane Blackheart