I was stunned and saddened to see this post from Freddie deBoer on Sunday:
My day-to-day existence has become entirely unmanageable, and I fear for my health and safety. I do not have much of a plan at this point other than to get checked in. When I am back out I will try to decide if this project can continue. If not I will immediately suspend the Patreon, but feel free to stop your payments yourselves too. It is clear that I can never return to my old ways of engaging online, and I must leave semipublic life permanently, among many other changes. All I want is to build a quiet and simple existence where I can live and work privately without hurting myself or others. At present I have a hard time contemplating the future. I just know that my life is fundamentally broken and drastic measures are necessary to fix it.
There’s not much more to it, but what’s left is too brutal for me to feel good about excerpting here. I did not read Freddie consistently, but in the information ecology I live in, he was always around, from Andrew Sullivan’s old blog to Facebook comment threads to various nooks and crannies of left-wing Twitter. I very much hope Freddie recovers, whatever that would look like for him.
There is a certain harsh, taut style of online opinionating that is probably inevitable and inevitably polarizing. I get mad on the internet, as they say, and I react to other people being mad (or haughty, or scornful, or merely vicious) on the internet fairly predictably. And since we see each other in these media as words on a screen by an unblinking avatar, it can be very easy to forget the possibility, even the likelihood, that all the stylized fury masks true pain and terror. We’re a world of lonely, hurting people; some of us just have these particular ways of coping that look poised, righteous, and convinced.
On Sunday morning I woke up feeling something like what the monastics called “desolation.” Maybe I’d read too much of the wrong things, maybe I hadn’t slept well, maybe some subterranean reservoir of irritation was rupturing the surface. I don’t know. But whatever I am supposed to be doing with my work and my faith appeared very far off. I went for a run, as I try to do every Sunday morning. And unusually, I prayed as I ran–just the decades of the rosary–if for no other reason than to occupy my mind, or to hold it vacant for a better moment.
There is a vast difference between a bad mood and a mental illness. But both lay bare, in their ways, the febrility and unreliability of our own minds. In next Sunday’s Gospel, Simon Peter says that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and Jesus says:
Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
I take very seriously Jesus’s insistence that “flesh and blood” did not make him known, that it wasn’t some personal excellence or attunement of Peter’s that revealed the answer to his question. We’re really, truly not capable of it. The humblest truths can snap us like a twig. We could never measure, we could never even guess at, the patience, forbearance, humility, and forgiveness everyone is needing from us at any given moment. Or, for that matter, the illusions and compromises we rely on to get through our own day. Behind the avatar is someone who really needs help. Behind the stone images and somber icons is a man whose flesh and blood could not know the Messiah. Who a few verses later is a stumbling block, a “Satan” to the Lord he loves so desperately.
So as I work toward this weekend’s sermon I will try to remember to pray in particular for those people whose virtual presence I find especially vexing. I ask your prayers for me as well.