A few days ago, my son–my older son, in his mid 20s, the one with autism–decided to take one of the thousands of silly quizzes that pop up on his Facebook feed. This one promises to tell him what the internet really thinks of him. He puts in his name, birth date, address, maybe some other information. What he first finds doesn’t surprise or even especially interest him. But near the bottom of the list, in what he later describes as “tiny, 2-point font,” there is something with his name and the name “Andres.” He clicks on it and…
The link takes him to a post on my site, something I wrote more than a year ago about some of his mental health struggles and how our of control he felt a the time. I called him “Andres,” not his real name, in the post. I was deeply worried about him then, and to help communicate my tenderness to him, I had included a photo of him as a two-year-old. My guess is that there was some tag or data attached to that photo that included his real name. This surprises me, because I feel like I’m careful about that and tend to even change the name of a photo before I post it. But obviously I was not careful enough.
So through that little twist, suddenly my son has stumbled onto my website. From the photo and the post, he knew right away who wrote it. At first he felt hurt that I had written about his “bad” behavior. Then he clicked on the About page, and the whole backstory. Then he kept going and, over a few days, he read everything on my blog, all 401 posts.
I wonder if you can imagine the sense of shock and exposure that hit me as I realized he’d read everything I have written over the past three years. All the times I’ve felt suicidal. All the times I’ve struggled with self-doubt about my half-memories of sexual abuse from my father. All the posts in which I’ve included quite a few details about awkward to abusive sexual experiences, oh shit. I did that as a way to help myself overcome the shame I had attached to those experiences. Writing about it all in a semi-public but anonymous way let in some fresh air for me.
But I never envisioned sharing it with my anyone in my family. I’ve printed out maybe a dozen posts and shared them with my husband. E has seen more than that, but she hasn’t seen most of them either. I’m not writing for them. I’m writing what is essentially a private diary. I share it because I have learned that sharing it brings me warmth, validation, encouragement, and most of all, a sense that I am not alone in my confusion and struggles.
It might be that my son benefits from reading this. He’s told me he respects me for everything I’ve been through and my strength. He says he likes knowing “the real story.” He feels like he knows me in another way, adult to adult, he says.
But I don’t know. It’s my story, my very personal story, and I didn’t make the choice to share it with him.
Furthermore, in our family, he’s the person we’d all vote “Least Likely to Keep a Secret.” He takes so much pleasure in sharing information that others don’t know. I told him I don’t want him to share any of what he’s learned without my consent, and he agreed to that. The truth is, however, his history and personality give me no reason to believe he’ll stick to that, even if he really means it in the moment.
So I’ve gone private for now, while I think about the future of my blog. In addition, I have made some posts password protected. This buys me some time to think.
Maybe I’ll just close this chapter of my life, decide that the blog has served me well for three years, and it’s time to move on. Maybe I’ll start a new blog, with a new name (and no personal photos, dumb mistake). Maybe I’ll hypnotize my son so he will forget everything he read. Can anyone tell me how to do that?!? That’s the solution I most wish for, to simply erase his memory, to make this all go away. Ha, I think we all have more than a few situations in our lives we’d like to solve that way, wouldn’t we?
CREDIT: Photo by Tom Pottiger on Unsplash
I’m sorry this happened. I know the shock of people finding your “anonymous” mental health stuff online. I’d just like to say I’ve never commented.. on anyone’s blog actually!.. But that I have found some of your posts tremendously helpful. In many ways. I have actually shared bits with my therapist (don’t worry, I cropped any name or anything out so all she saw was text!) that I was too scared to verbalize myself. So i just wanted to say thank you and I really hope you don’t disappear! I often come back and read various blogs you’ve done when I get lost myself. Take care. 💖
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Oh my is my first thought. When I broke down which is almost 4 years ago I was a very different person. I thought about that today Q, it was like a lifetime ago when our little girls began healing together. We’ve grown so much since then. We have evolved. That being said, we are human. Our kids are human. Your son was obviously curious. Possibly because he really wanted to know more about you, possibly because he was concerned that you had written more about him, possibly a little bit of both. You didn’t do anything wrong. Your blog is beautiful. It is a true testimony of what healing is all about. I agree with Em and your blog has helped me on several occasions as I’m certain it has helped many. And as you said, it has helped you tremendously. On the opposite point, i think my youngest son read my blog. I feared anyone I knew reading my blog. But I love that I have it. It documents my therapy and where I was at emotionally day by day. I wouldn’t change a thing! I don’t think I can write that dark anymore. So it’s just for me now. I still write but mostly on Docs. You’ll figure it out because of course the answers are already inside you. ❤️
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Thanks, AG. We have definitely come a long way, you and I! I so appreciate the many times you have accompanied me through hard times.
And I just loved your last sentence: the answers are already inside me. I suspect you are right. I just need to get very quiet and listen.
Hi Em, and congratulations on commenting! I’m glad you did. It makes me feel great that my posts are helpful to others. I certainly benefit a lot from other people’s posts too.
It’s fine with me if you show my posts to your therapist–I change names anyway. I thought my blog was pretty anonymous. Just hadn’t given enough thought to metadata in photos and/or the possibility of matching with photos that might be posted elsewhere. I won’t make that mistake again.
Thank you for reading, and many, many good wishes for your own healing journey.
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Oh no, what a mess! I’m sorry that you’ve been put in this position, it must feel terrible.
I didn’t realise myself how much cross-referencing was possible from photos until I read an article about internet dating site safety a few years ago which talked about the need to use profile photos that had never been put online anywhere else. Even if you change the file name of the image, there are other ways of matching e.g. metadata matching, FB tags, facial recognition. There are commercial programs which can remove the metadata from photos, and using a screen shot instead of the original image creates different metadata, but none of this is foolproof – all it takes is for someone to inadvertently create any sort of digital link between two images or between an image and other identifying information, and that link stays on the internet forever, ready and waiting for a data-matching algorithm to find it. The same privacy concern applies to matching blocks of text within things you’ve posted elsewhere in your real identity. All because there’s big money in data mining.
I hope you will continue blogging if you can find a way to do this safely. And don’t delete anything without saving it for yourself first. It would be sad to see all of that emotional effort be lost.
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Hi DV, this has been a painful way for me to come to understand just how powerful the algorithms and AI truly are.
As I’ll write about later, my son continues to feel happy that he “understands me better now.” I’m not as freaked out as I originally was but I still feel strongly that it’s MY story, and he doesn’t have a right to it just because he likes to know it. I also feel that blogging has enriched my life and helped my healing, and I’m reluctant to give it up (or even to start over) so I’m not sure what comes next. You are right though, I won’t delete everything without saving a copy.
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Oh my God, Q, this is my worst nightmare. You must feel so completely and utterly exposed (even though you have nothing to be ashamed of, you didn’t choose to share your story with him, and that feels terrible beyond belief). I am so sorry. The internet is a crazy place. I hope that you will continue to move forward in whatever way feels safest to you (and that selfishly, if that doesn’t include WP, we can still stay in touch by email – but again, whatever is right for you!) I’m holding you in my heart as always! xoxo
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I never, ever, thought this would happen. The first day or so, I was quite freaked out (I found out on Wednesday; today is Sunday). While I still don’t know exactly how I will deal with this, I do feel calmer now. I am almost wondering if this will start to bring me to yet another level of being able accept that people can know things about me, and I don’t have to die of shame.
I mean, I still don’t really want my son reading all these intimate details about both my experiences and my thoughts. But the earth has not opened up and swallowed me. Perhaps that means something.
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It sounds like it was the perfect storm of unlikely chances that led him here…I’m so sorry about that! Even worse, to have to wonder if he will really be able to keep those things in confidence for you must be constantly difficult. It’s awful that your very personal thoughts were shared without your consent with someone in your real life. I shudder thinking about that happening with my family…so I feel for you! I hope you can come to a solution that you’ll feel satisfied. If it’s not here on WP, then let me thank you now for the privilege of being a part of your world. I’ve got a few of your posts saved and have shared pieces with my therapist; your words spoke my thoughts in times where I couldn’t articulate them myself. I find myself continuously in awe of your strength and progress. Sending you love and good vibes; I’ll be keeping you in my thoughts x
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Yes, it’s the loss of control over my own story that I think bothers me the most. I didn’t mean for him to read it, and I don’t want even pieces of it to go out from him to others. But now I have to come to terms with knowing that I have lost some of that control. He’s not going to forget what he read, and who knows when, it could be two years from now, in a conversation with my sister or his brother or someone, but he could feel like “oh, I know this thing about mom…” and it will slip out to someone else.
But on the other hand, it doesn’t do me any good to be worrying about that all the time, does it? So the question is how to be aware and self-protective but not anxious and paranoid.
Thank you for your very kind comments about my blog. It warms my heart, truly, to know it’s been useful to others. I’ve often told E that WP is like asynchronous group therapy, and we all learn so much from one another’s experience. Thank you for being part of that.
I am another who has found this your blog hugely helpful and validating and it has helped me put things into words before I even knew words were needed for them. I would be very sad to see you go and hope you can find a safe way to continue blogging, if that is right for you.
This is my worst nightmare. I live in fear my daughter will find my blog or things I’ve read online that will tell her too much. I’m scared one day I’ll forget to clear my history and she’ll work out something is me. It sometimes makes me feel I’ve done something wrong when I haven’t.
I’m sorry for this unexpected turn of events. I am grateful that your son managed to overcome his initial feelings of hurt though. I think to some degree all kids are curious about their parents’ lives, but I definitely understand your feelings as well. After all, it feels somewhat like a violation. I’d be sad to see you go from the blogosphere because you write very well, but I’m not one to talk since I have been pretty intermittent with my own posting. However, whatever you decide, know that I’m so grateful to know you, and to have the privilege of reading your blog!
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[…] I have two sons who are now in their 20s. The older one, Andres, lives with the three As: anxiety, attention deficit disorder, and autism. Long-time readers may recall that he was the reason I changed the name of my blog, after he accidentally discovered my previous blog. […]
[…] older son, Andres, he sort of knows,” I told her. I explained that a few years ago, he discovered my blog by accident and read most or all of it. I ended up changing the name of my blog and importing them into this […]