I am not sure if this is a Dear John letter or a love letter to my profession. But today I need to tell my story.
When interviewing for a job we often think most of what we will receive for doing the work. You want a high salary, good benefits, maybe a relocation stipend or apparently some jobs even give signing bonuses. I wouldn’t know. I work in non-profit, we basically ask people to give us a signing bonus donation. If we have struggled with a previous job we may look out for some non-financial costs: an unsupportive supervisor, a toxic work environment, overly heavy workloads, long hours or high-pressure expectations.
Working in social media has its own sort of cost, most notably the mental health strain it puts on professionals. Thankfully this has been coming to light a lot more over the last few years. You can find tips and resources to manage your mental health, learn to disconnect, and while the reminders are very important, there are some aspects that will always be present. I probably cannot give a complete view of what makes this job a special type of difficult, but I need to process today what has made it hard for me.
During the General Conference Session in 2015, my Church debated a very niche topic around women in ministry. I live-tweeted an all-day public discussion with many sexist viewpoints. Being fair and unbiased was was extremely difficult, but what really broke me was the response. While I was not able to process my own personal pain, I was the “recipient” of a lot of anger (I know, not me personally, but it can’t help but feeling that way at some point). I read through, responding to some, literally thousands of messages either accusing the organization, which I was tasked to defend, of being sexist or hearing the often sexist praise from those proud that we had “kept women in their place.” I felt broken for months. Actually, I still might not be ok from this.
When I was 7 months pregnant, fighting my own health issues, praying for the safety of my baby, our accounts began to get attacked by anti-vaccine advocates because of a conversation regarding the ethics of vaccinations that we were planning to hold on campus. Apparently there is a connection between vaccinations and stem cells, because I started receiving, as our institution, pictures and videos of aborted babies. I was shaken to the core. I cannot unsee that. And now, no matter what I do, those mental images are a part of my son’s history.
I have seen more pictures and videos of dead bodies, halves of animals, hate messages than I care to remember. When helping report the story of a massacre I saw pictures on Twitter of rows of people killed execution style. That one haunts me. About once a month I have started my day to pictures of men’s penises because they thought it would be funny to send them to our organization. And that has happened working in several different companies. Often I am the first recipient of what I can only explain as pure hate.
But today while doing social listening, I saw a family in the most painful moment of their lives. They had to say goodbye to their son who never got the chance to live. He looks like he’s sleeping. He’s perfect in every possible way from his pursed lips to his tiny fingernails. Wrapped in his hospital blanket he looks exactly like my son did. Only the faces of those who are holding him show the deepest pain you could imagine. Each soft kiss, which should have been a moment of joy, is a goodbye. I can’t look away. There’s nothing I can say that will take away any of their pain. All I can really do is see them. And now, though I don’t know them and I’m not a part of their story, they’re a part of mine. My job put them in my path. I will carry them in my memories forever because they are my community.