In my years of blogging I’ve tackled a lot of personal topics. I did that because I believe in talking about shit, even if it makes me vulnerable. Because when people google Ankylosing Spondylitis, or anorexia, or antidepressants, I hoped they’d find something to help them feel less alone.
It may be an amusing surprise that I originally began Writehanded as a blog dedicated pretty much exclusively to high heels and cat memes. It was infrequent and banal and lapsed entirely when I moved to Canada for a year.
When I got sick, I dusted it off because I needed an outlet for my frustration. Back then It took days to pull anything together. I was too weak to use the computer for longer than a few minutes. But I finally felt like I had something real to say. I was struggling with the loss of my health and my job and a compromised identity, and of course, I’d started dealing with WINZ.
I wasn’t blind to the problems with the welfare system before I got ill, I grew up with that reality, and that was probably why I fought so violently to stay well and stay employed. Partly because so much of my identity was in my work, and partly because I was terrified of being a beneficiary. I’d internalised so much of the stigma, and I had no illusions that being on a benefit was going to be easy. But I still didn’t know what I was about to go up against.
When the social worker in hospital brought me the stack of application forms, I cried. I read all of the things that were required for the application, and I sobbed, because my body was so wasted by this point that I had no idea how I was going to actually physically gather everything. It was all so intense and invasive. I knew I was signing away my privacy and, it felt, many of my rights, in exchange for a meager sum that I would have to constantly defend.
I was so frustrated, not just by this process and the loss of my autonomy, but by the public perception of beneficiaries. That was what kept getting stuck in my craw. It infuriated me that people didn’t know the truth – and when I tried to tell them, they said things like “But you’re different. You deserve help.”
I’m not different. Nothing about me is different. We are all entitled to help, no matter the circumstances that lead us there. That’s what having a welfare system is for. Because circumstances change at any time, and we have a democracy that, in theory, supports our people.
I was intensely frustrated by the myths reinforced by the government to divide and villify. That beneficiaries are “lazy,” “dole bludgers,” “faking it,” “undeserving,” “taking money out of taxpayer’s pockets.” On and on and on it goes, until you even start believing it about yourself.
And what else?
I never intended to keep writing about this topic, for six years now, or all the other things I’ve ended up talking about. And I worry that I share too much. It’s possible to find out a lot about me on the internet, and I’m pretty uncomfortable with that. It feels open for exploitation. Sometimes I meet someone IRL for the first time and wonder how much they know about me. It’s possible they know far more than I’d ever assume, more than I’d actually tell them, more than I know about them. Which is a pretty bad balance of power.
I also know that, like most people, I had some shitty and naiive opinions in the past – and that’s all out there. We live in “cancel culture” now, where anything you’ve said can and will be used against you, even if you said it years ago and you don’t stand by it now. Sometimes I agree with that; if the thing was shitty enough, you probably should have to answer to it. But we also need to be able to grow and change. Everyone has a history, even if it’s not a public one.
I’ve toyed with the idea of salting the earth. I did it, kind of, when I abandoned my original WordPress blog for this one, and my original Twitter handle. There’s a lot on my current social media that could be deleted. Sometimes when I Google a topic I want to write about, I find my own blog, because I already did it and forgot. Reading that old stuff can be painful, like looking at early, sharp-edged, knock-kneed, more mouthy versions of yourself.
What would happen if I got rid of it all? What would happen if you could set the major social media sites to automatically archive your content from more than two years ago? Would everyone be allowed to do that? What about public figures? Politicians? Who would retain that archive?
For me this is a labour issue as much as anything else. If I decide that I only want to retain some blog posts and some tweets and some Facebook updates, I will have to manually trawl through a decade’s worth of content. It is a lot. I have 30,000 tweets alone. And doing this would not only be hugely labour intensive, but emotionally exhausting as well. I don’t think I really want to revisit every single thing I’ve written in the past ten years. In fact, I know I don’t.
Along with my desire for privacy, my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is taking a real hit from the thought that I have so much uncurated crap spanning across so many platforms. I want to thin it out, I want to archive probably 75% of it. I want to present a less messy, less human version of myself.
But that’s kinda counterpoint to what I stand for. I chose to write about difficult, challenging, uncomfortable topics. I chose to be open about personal things so that other people might not feel alone. I chose to share the reality because that’s true and honest, and being vulnerable is how we create real connection with people.
My father recently said to me (he’s a counsellor, I get cousellor-talked) “I have noticed that you appear to be more scared, these days. Do you think there is something in this observation? Is that how you feel?” And I was like “Yeah, I guess so.” And he asked why I thought that might be, and I said “Well, I got sick. That made me vulnerable. I learned that I couldn’t rely on the health system or the welfare system or the government – or my own body. I am less safe because I literally can’t run away.”
Having thought about that conversation a lot, I actually think what I was describing was the loss of naiivety – just simply growing up. As adults, we probably do feel less safe, because we realise that everything and everyone is fallible, including ourselves. So yes, I probably have a heightened sense of danger because of all the things I’ve been through. But I don’t like to think I live my life scared. I am risk-averse, and that’s not surprising. I was always the sensible friend, the ‘mom friend’, even before I was unwell. Making safe decisions is what’s kept me alive so far.
So, is getting rid of my internet legacy a safe decision? It feels like it is – and it also feels exhausting. And will I want to do it again in another ten years? Or five? Do I start second guessing everything I post? Censoring myself because I think: well I may want to delete this eventually and I can’t be bothered with the timesink? Then I’d never publish anything.
This has been kind of a rambling thought bubble more than anything else, but it’s a topic that’s come up a lot lately, and I’m interested in other people’s opinions. Would you get rid of all of your internet paper trails? Or are they a legacy worth keeping?
I’ve been thinking a lot about cleaning up my social media history too, like auto-deleting my tweets every few months. I signed up to a tweet deleting site and then saw the thing where Twitter’s API only lets you delete the last 3,200 tweets. With over 30,000 tweets that’s not ideal!
I’ve just installed Jumbo, which is out for ios and lets you add multiple social media apps to scrub through. It says it doesn’t look at your data but again you’re trusting another company with your data.
I still feel it’s important to archive my data for myself, if at any point in the future I get the desire to look back.
Hey Mike, oh that’s interesting about these tech solutions – I was sure it wasn’t just me with this issue or having these thoughts. I didn’t know that about Twitter’s api. I kind of want to just delete all the tweets with media, like scrub out every photo, maybe there’s a solution for that. I guess that it goes against what social media and other tech giants want – they want you making more content, not less. And yes, totally agree about archiving for personal record. The blog would be easy for that, if I unpublish something, it’s still here. Twitter etc not so much – obviously you can download your twitter archive but that strips away a lot of context as it removes media and you can’t see the rest of the conversation, only your own response.
I think there has to be an opportunity for a more independent solution that allows you to say, delete all tweets with a certain keyword, or between certain dates, that sort of thing.
I hope you don’t get rid of your old posts as I sometimes refer back to them for advice,help and reassurance I’m not the only one who has major issues with the evil empire(WINZ) and chronic illness. I also completely understand the desire to get stuff private. Obviously your decision what you do. Also your WINZ Tips page gives a 404 not found. Oh and thank you I enjoy your writing a lot.
Hey Rochelle, thank you for this. It’s really good to know that some of the old stuff is still useful for people. I’ll check that 404, I have a feeling I unpublished that page because I didn’t think the tips were very good, but I’ll have a look. Thanks again!!
Again thank you for this Article. I’ve already myself gone through an internet legacy purge for the reasons you’ve described. I’ve also wanted to make a blog of my own discussing what I’ve been put through with WINZ (especially what WINZ did with Invalids recipients on 2008 and 2013 prior to introducing the SLP, which could amount to an historic scandal) but been afraid to speak up our of fear of them targeting me. You have a new follower and I will continue to look forward to your articles.