THE BLOG
07/29/2006 07:13 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

BlogHer Day Two: Sensitive Topics and Outreach

[The room crackled with emotion during this panel, and I have to say it really pushed my comfort level and brought up difficult issues for me. There were times when I found it hard to keep listening. I wonder how many people in the room were crying? I was - thinking of questions of what I blog or don't blog, of my friends who write about difficult topics on their own sites, but also of times I've gone too far in helping others, as Denise described doing. Why is it so hard, so fraught, to help other people or to be helped, in the way that our society is structured? We also did not touch on gender; how as women we are socialized to be helpful and pay attention to others at our own expense - but that's another conversation worth having. ]

danah boyd is moderating.

danah boyd: We were talking on BlogHer about teams and my research on teams. Teams are spending a lot of times talking about sensitive topics. Anorexia, self harm, problems. The challenges and rewards of sensitive topics on blogs. Let's keep it sensitive. People are trying hard. Let's be respectful. Background on my involvment. Vday, Vagina Monologues. I helped make these spaces for people to work through their own challenge, rape incest female genital mutilation. It became a space of recovery. It became a powerful place for me to do my own recovery. When I started blogging about these issues, it was hard, I've been struggling. What does it mean to create communities for healing, and have them be a place for attack? One of the women in the Vday space, her husband regularly raped her. And she geared up to talk to him about it. And he killed her. So in the space, people din't even know how to help her and the problems she faced. I'll open it up and we'll do introductions and save questions for afterwards.

Leah Peterson. Dissociative identity disorder. Similar to multiple personality disorder. In 2002 I became more or less integrated. Now my brain is normal. *audience nervous laugh* Stigma that goes along with saying you have or had a mental disorder. danah invited me... So, there's a huge span, a spectrum, of where everyone fits. There isn't really a super normal. And then suddenly on the other side insanity. Everyone's on a spectrum. I'm struggling right now, to answer all the people who write me. I am not able to reply to everyone who writes me.

Jenn Satterwhite of Mommy Needs Coffee. I'm a recovering drug addict. I'm a suburban mom, god forbid I talk about it. When they invited me to do this panel I was terrified. Is anyone going to read me? Recovering from pill addiction. Treatment, recovery. And I have to say it's the most freeing thing I've ever done. Lisa came to me and talked about how powerful it was for me writing about my mom who passed away in January. .. People have trouble with my boundaries, they write and ask me for my phone number or how they can get pills! But also they write and thank me for writing about grief and recovering from grief.

Erica - of Marzena - I got her looking for ani di franco lyrics and found danah's website.

audience member - That was the first website i ever went to - danah's.

Erica - I'm from Buffalo NY - That's how I found danah's blog. I don't waste my time reading things that are not of interest to me. She just grabbed me and I was so interested, even the techy stuff. I dropped her an email never expecting to hear from her again and maybe 2 months later she and Elisa wrote. And I'm like, Okay, why me? My mother tells me I was abnormal from the age of three. Things fell apart for me when I was in the 7th grade. It was then that I stopped eating. I was a dancer, I was a quarter of the weight I am now. One of the things, the stigma about having an eating disorder. The media makes them gaudy, celebrities... but for me every day it's a conscious decision I struggle with it - what am I going to eat, how many times am I going to go to the bathroom and throw up my food. I get emails from girls who thank me for just telling them that they're not alone. I was sexually abused by my mom's brother and she said she woudl call her entire family and tell everyone that it wasn't true. My parents have been less than supportive. I've basically been forced to go through a lot of it with the help of friends. They've been wonderful. I've been bounced from one therapist to another been terminated from all of them for lack of cooperation. Eventually was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Your brain processes stress differently. Takes longer to come back to a baseline. A fear of abandonment. With me all the time. I have a job at a group home dealing with people whose problems are worse than mine. I feel better not focusing on my own problems and helping other people.

Denise Tanton of flamingohouseblog: I don't do outreach blogging b/c every single one of those stories grabs me and I want to help them. If that means answer the phone at 2am, I will. If it means I don't do my job, because she needs somebody to talk to, then I won't do my job. And for almost 7 years, that's how I lived. I worked on message boards dealing with sensitive topics, with Lisa Stone. I would rescue every one of you in a heartbeat because it hurts so much and I've been there. My entire life was fixated on helping people. It was causing me to not be able to help myself. I had a change of employment, and lifestyle. And at that person I decided I can't do that anymore. when I blogged about self-harm on Blogher last month I just barely went there. If I go all the way it would take over my life. I was where she is (Erica) thirty years ago. There's no fear I'm going to be back there, but I fear it will take over my life to help her and I would help her... but I have these boundaries set up.

danah boyd: It's funny to bring up the ani page because for 8 years people thought I was ani di franco. And I still get emails from 8, 10 year old girls who need help now. How to help them. How do you set the boundaries for yourself? And how do you help people get help? Advice any of you have?

Leah Peterson. I'm not a therapist, I'm not super comfortable giving advice. I let people know I've heard them and I say I hope they will learn how to take good care of themselves. You can be codependent and if you are you're always going to be disappointed.

Jenn Satterwhite: I'm her, before the boundaries. Just thinking about it I'm teary-eyed now. People come up and say I think I'm an alcoholic, can I talk to you about it? And I'm like "yeah". I'm still learning boundaries. Advice, I can tell you what worked for me. Let me hold you till you figure it out. I don't have a boundary answer because I don't have them [boundaries].

Erica - One of the issues with borderline personality disorder is boundaries. Boundaries need to be set for people with BPD. I am a person who needs to be in control of a situation when I'm *not* in control of a situation. I am crazy. I can't function. Book: "I hate you, don't need me." Switching back and forth, it's called "splitting". My last interaction with a person, if it's good, I'm going to walk away liking them and if it was bad, I'm going to walk away hating them. Paranoia and self esteem issue. I've had low self esteem since I can remember. Was in an eating disorder clinic about a year ago and learned you need to focus on yourself and stop trying to please everyone else around you.

Denise: 10 years ago I should have sat down and set boundaries. I should have had rules. I have to sleep... even if everything isn't done. Sending template responses. Even 3 years ago I never would have done that.

danah boyd: Do any of you in the room blog about sensitive topics?

Kathryn: Post partum depression. People tell me their stories and ask me what they should do! Tell them that you care, and I'll say what worked for me. I've gone so far as to look up in their home state and look up resources for them. I try to get them to a resource that can help them. And at first I would give advice like that. But now I now I'm not a doctor... and I'll ask them questions back. When I was in the middle of it myself I had a hard time mentally, having the resources to look stuff up and know how to do that. So I can help them in that way.

Terry, you're all very brave, blogging. Teen blog, women who are child free. You give out your emails. Are the comments you're talking about? Or emails?

Leah: I was talking about emails. People with sensitive issues are often more comfortable in email or being anonymous.

Jenn: For me it's both. So many comments from recovering addicts. And I'd be like "wooo! really? You don't look like one. Oh, I guess neither do I." If they're in a desperate place it's usually an email.

Erica: most of them are by way of comments. Sometimes by email address.

Denise: When I did outreach it was on chat rooms and message boards and I'd leave my email and cell number. When I leave a comment, with my email address, I think twice, because that person might reach out to me and want more than I can give.

Kathryn: I use an anonymous email address without my last name. It's just my blogging email. You don't know what state people are in. I use my cell phone because you know what, if it gets too bad, call up and switch the number. Do you use a po box or fake address to keep yourself distanced?

Leah: I do. I have a po box.

Erica: I use a pseudonym. It's a Polish name that means dreams.

Jennifer: Blog on Club Mom called stay at home motherdom. I just came out recently writing about my recovery from alcoholism. What was rewarding and then, did you get negative emails?

Jenn: People say they're proud of me. That's good. I'll be thinking I'm having a hard day and thinking, I can't do this. And someone will say yes you can. That helps. When someone says, "When you wrote that, you helped me. I realized I had a problem and I sought treatment and I'm clean now." Bad ones are hard. I got one, I saw you with alcohol. You cannot be drinking. There is a difference. There are gonna be haters. Leave them alone. I was once told, you're a mom, you were an addict, you should not be allowed to have custody of your children. *general oooOOOooo from room* The best think I can tell you is, DELETE. *hand gesture of hitting delete key*

Leah: It's difficult to think there's someone out there who dislikes you enough to take the time to let you know. If the subject line doesn't give it away... if in the first two lines I start getting the vibe, I don't read it. It's negative energy and I don't need it. It's a representation of something they have a big issue with, and it's not about you. The rewarding thing is, what I'm writing in public might be helpful.

Denise: You don't know how many people come up and track me down, and say you don't remember me but 7 years ago you talked to me and talked to me and talked to me in that chat room and I'm not drinking anymore and thank you.

danah - best advice of dealing with haters - it was a mailing list of friends who would send the emails, the horrifying terrible emails, the anger... and then everyone would make fun of it. We post our hate. And then everyone makes fun of it. It's amazing how that has relieved my own heartbreak with so much of the hatred. I can't handle it. It's easier now, but it wasn't.

Person on other side of room: I don't blog about the stuff I'm struggling with. What I want to know is how does someone who doesn't understand, how can they be supportive. What is supportive or helpful to someone who's going through something very major.

Jenn: The whole been there done that? Not always that helpful. Actually, what helps is: "That Sucks!" I don't always need advice. Sometimes there are times when "been there" does help.

Denise: "I'm sorry, do you want to talk about it." and "Is there anything I can do?"

Jenn: Reminding people , did you follow your treatment plan? Did you call your doctor?

... : Did you write through your treatment? Do you feel like you're a role model?

Leah: I do feel a pressure to be perfect. That's a big question.

Jenn: I did not blog through my recovery. I posted I'm 4 years clean today. I'm nobody's role model. I don't want the position. I'm not Jenn the addict blogger. I'm not Jenn the has no mother blogger. I will not be your role model, I'll be your friend.

Denise: 90% of the message boards I was on, were crisis. So I got pigeonholed into these identities, and they took over. I was the lesbian, I was the crisis person, I was the eating disorder person. It's easy to get trapped within that identity. That would have helped me tremendously if I could have done it on blogs.

Erica: Role model for what? That would be my response. I've always been a writer. I have stacks of handwritten journals and notebooks and things. My parents, the invalidators of my life... well, when I was 11, I read Harriet the Spy. And I started keeping notebooks and kept notes on everything. I bought a compass. I thought I was the coolest person in the world. My dad took me apart one day and told me, "You are not an individual. You are a part of this family." But to say things like "no one's going to be there for you, but your family will be." Of course that turned out to be the opposite. My mom read my journals one day in high school, and got me from school and drove me to the hospital to the psych ward. I was committed solely based on my writing because I had expressed suicidal ideation in my writing. And that was when my friend said, put it all on the comupter, and your parents won't find it. You can say anything there.

danah boyd: I blogged in 1997 working through my rape. And years later people would come up to me in the tech industry and walk up cold and ask me about being raped. I deleted all that, w hich horrifies a lot of bloggers. And people would go through this discovery process and read all my past all at once. And you can't stay in the past in order to move into the present.

.... what don't you blog?

Leah Peterson: I don't blog about my kids, I have 4 kids all teens. And also my relationship with my husband.

Jenn: I will not blog about anything that will hurt my children. I wil embarrass them but I won't hurt them. As far as, is there anything I won't blog about about myself? No. I don't care! I don't have a problem putting it out there. Don't hurt anyone. And, well, don't give away trade secrets except I don't know any.

[Wow, such respect for capitalism and private property!]

Erica: Journal in the bag was exciting... I was up all night... Four months ago, no. I'll blog about anything. Now the answer is, Yes. There is something I can't put out there right now because of the media, society, stereotypes, because of my upbringing. It's created this huge drama. The person involved in this situation with me is extremely supportive but I can't pull it out right now. I don't have a space to completely process it. It's such an uncomfortable thing to talk about.

... What you were saying (to danah) people read your blog and then just come up and talk to you. I have multiple journals, one for the paper, and then my blog. What I think about, how I'm trying to improve myself and go through possiblities. Current boyfriend, there is all this information on my blog... and he made the specific decision not to read my blog from the past before he knew me. He wanted to get to know me in real time in live action, moving forward in the present. The past is not always relevant. I asked this girl... just because you were something in the past you aren't always that person anymore.

Denise: I talk to my teenagers qbout this quite a bit. I would never read their myspace, their livejournal, or their written journal or their friends. Unless they're in trouble with the law... But I talk to them about thinking carefully about what they put in their myspaces or blogs. Because if you're 17 and you're about to go on a first date with someone, what's the first thing you do? You go on myspace and read everything, and you read all their friends, and you know *everything*.

danah: Stigma. We were talking about this Canadian mental health public service ad. A dad holding a baby. Then the camera pulls back. "Do you know what, this man has a mental illness. Do you know what's sick? It's that now your attitude towards him has changed. "

Denise: not an issue for me because I'm not blogging about sensitive issues. But people do put me in their stereotypes.

Erica: I see it all the time not with myself so much but when I take people (from where she works) out for ice cream, out for a walk, the stares, the pointing, the rudeness, incomprehensible for this day and age. . . .

Jenn: Real life people, and then on the other hand people who just read my blog.

Leah: People are really comfortable with labels. Disassociative disorder is about compartmentalizing, so I have to work to be completely honest. It's the way I became integrated and healthy. People even close to me, who say (whispering) "You know, you really shouldn't talk about that." But I don't listen. My brain works a different way and I have to take care of myself.

danah: thank you to everyone. I've been wandering around myspace, blogosphere. I keep asking myself, how can we help, how can I help. I would say one way is look out for the LJ and Myspace and Xanga kids. Conflict and bullying. Street outreach is what happens on the streets when college age kids will go and hang out and be supportive with teenagers. As we move into a digital public age we need to think about how to help kids whose street is the digital world.