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‘Online, I remain behind anonymity with secrets’

One of the outcomes of being in this milieu is that we’re all building walls around us; I certainly see that in myself and sometimes I see that in others.

By Ahona Bhowmick

Published: Sat 27 Mar 2021, 7:37 PM

Do I spend time on social networks? Indeed, I do — about five-odd hours every day, on WhatsApp, YouTube, and Instagram, mainly. That’s a lot of interaction with friends, acquaintances, and like-minded strangers. But does that mean I can really put myself out there, really reveal who I am, and share the things that really move me at a personal level? I absolutely can’t. I am in college, and for people of my generation, it’s a scary prospect to openly share the things that really matter — those have to remain our secrets — because all around us, we see a lot of jealousy and judgemental attitudes… in our peer group and also in social media circles. So, I’d never know how people would react if I reveal something that’s extremely important to me; if there’s a backlash, it could really hurt me. If you want to talk about important things, it’s like walking on eggshells, not knowing who’s going to leak what, either to others or even on social media.

One of the outcomes of being in this milieu is that we’re all building walls around us; I certainly see that in myself and sometimes I see that in others. This is a defensive wall; it says that I’d let others see this far into my mind and into my life, and no further.

There are times when one wants to unburden oneself, when there are feelings and thoughts that need sharing, but the response may leave one feeling worse than they did before. I experienced that through a great personal loss. It’s never easy losing a parent, but, for me, it was so much harder when my father died three years ago, because I was in high school and in a transitional phase of my life. I wasn’t a child and yet not old enough to be able to take the full blow of what happened. But then again, I couldn’t show how I was feeling inside, because I had to be strong for my mother, who was shattered. At this time, on the few occasions when I did articulate how I felt, people around me — several of them family members — said things like “you have to deal with it” or “worse things happen to people”. Well, worse things do happen to others, but at that point, having exposed my sorrow and emotional vulnerability, those weren’t the responses I needed.

How do you deal with a life-changing event on your own, and seek help with other matters about which you are sensitive? I did what most people do when they need advice and words of comfort but can’t find it around them; I went online and had to remain behind anonymity when sharing my thoughts and questions, which were my secrets in the offline world. Platforms such as Google Answers and Yahoo Answers let you interact with an Internet community without revealing your identity. I posted my questions there and the replies that I got really helped.

I consider myself a good secret-keeper. If someone entrusts me with their secret, I would honour that trust, unless I feel that the person is inclined towards self-harm or that the secret is dangerous for that person in some other way and needs to be made public. I wouldn’t reveal it without their consent, but I might persuade them to reveal it.

There is someone in whom I confide from time to time — he’s a friend who lives far away from my city and doesn’t know anyone in my circle, in my hometown. That gives me the confidence to tell him things that I can’t tell others. And I made some friends in college, and I feel that we may remain friends for a long time to come. Can I let them in on my secrets? Only time will tell.

(Ahona is a graduate student based in India)

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