I have never been an athletic person. I can barely go for a jog without being winded, I used to literally hide during Physical Education at school, and balls of any kind terrify me (you can make your own jokes there, if you like).
There is however, one particular adrenaline-rushing activity I engage in regularly. Daily, in fact.
The extreme sport of my choice… is being a woman on the internet.
I truly do love the internet and what it provides, I really do. It is an endless source of information/misinformation, entertainment and communication. Like a lot of us, I am in a polyamorous relationship with my Wi-Fi connection, Netflix and Menulog.
I have met with people I first knew through the internet who I consider to be my closest friends. Twitter and becoming a writer has given me a voice I never knew existed. Plus, memes.
Sometimes men enjoy harassing me online. Harassment may not even be the correct term; maybe just ‘being a dickhead’.
I’m not a huge fan of the name and shame approach undertaken with men and their words on the internet - I feel the societal issues at play with verbal abuse of women are more complex than can be solved by contacting their family or employer - but I have been called ugly, fat; a leftie slut; a stupid lesbian.
People have created Twitter accounts solely to call me stupid, and then hastily deleted those accounts. The online equivalent of yelling out of a car and then speeding off. How brave.
Since having my writing published, I expect to have healthy criticism of my work. Constructive criticism is helpful; nobody could argue otherwise.
But why make it about appearance, or sexuality, especially if in response to a harmless joke about a sandwich?
Regardless of what form her content takes, whether it is a political analysis, comedic sketch, or simply a mundane tweet - a woman’s appearance and sexuality will always be brought into it.
Recently, I had an experience that really shook me.
A person popped up in my ‘Message Requests’ folder, demanding nude photos of me. He kept creating fake accounts after I blocked each one, persistently messaging.
Each account I blocked, a new message would pop up from a new alias. “You can’t run from me, Dee.”
The logical part of my brain laughed it off; it was probably a bored 12-year-old boy who decided to freak out a girl online.
But when you’re already in a really fragile mental state, things like that can tip you over into a panic attack. It can feel threatening and frightening.
So I de-activated Facebook.
The last few weeks have seen a significant dip in my mental health, and it’s true that I’m probably more sensitive than usual. But surely it’s still not ok to abuse people for the fun of it?
Being harassed, sexualized or abused is part and parcel of being openly female online. Offline too; I was cat-called three times as I walked to a doctor’s appointment recently to discuss referrals to psychiatric support.
The world wide web used to be my safe place from that, where I could make jokes and chat with friends and distract myself from either the tougher elements of my job as a social worker, or the battles in my mind.
A few days later, I posted a photo of me on Twitter, of my face on the grass at a park. Someone decided to pick apart my appearance and call me a whore.
I wish I could laugh it off but I couldn’t. When your mental health is already in a really fragile place, sudden comments like that can send you into a tailspin. They’re ‘just words’, but they have consequences.
People have taken their own lives because the tipping point has been online abuse.
Nobody wants to be a victim, but bringing attention to this behavior instantly makes you one in their eyes, and that’s unfair.
I know this can be easily dismissed as a first world problem, because I am incredibly privileged in so many other ways.
Whatever abuse I receive online, this is increased tenfold for more oppressed groups such as women of colour and trans women.
Maybe I’m too sensitive for this game. Maybe it’s time for me to hang up my Wi-Fi password and play outside.
Or maybe it’s time we just start being kinder to each other.