It melts gradually, and then less gradually, and by the end of October, I hit an annual low point of mental exhaustion from anxiety and seasonal depression that I seldom recover from until spring, ensuring my perception of the world grays as the sky does. I get restless and insular as the leaves change, and I slowly implode until I settle into my room for the winter.
Last fall, I spent the autumn months going through a break up, traveling to Hillary Clinton rallies and being a drunk nuisance to cope with everything going on around me. I split time between consuming as much political news as I could, reading self-help books and trying not to climb under my bed and stay there until at least the middle of November, when I could at least take solace in watching the loud-mouthed, tiny-handed racist slink back to New York and return to a (slightly) more normal national discourse.
By the time election day rolled around, I had very little left in the tank. Like most of us, I hadn’t properly prepared myself of any outcome but one, and the election itself became more brown icing on the already shitty fall cake. My brain had rotted like it was supposed to, from the drop in temperature and the increase in anxiety, but not as temporarily as normal.
For the first time, there was another rot that became slow and exhausting; a rot never-ending and constantly lurking. It became universal and inescapable, and it didn’t go away in the spring, nor was it confined to just being written about by students in creative writing classes. Instead, the rot started to manifest itself as structural and existential; not just within those predisposed to seasonal depression, but to anyone with a phone and a social media handle.
Twitter had less than half the amount of users it currently does in 2011, and only about 50% in 2012, when some norms still applied. ⅔ of voters got their news primarily from television in the run-up to President Obama’s reelection, compared to only ½ of voters this past election, which saw the split also become much more dependent on voter age. Social media was beat out during last year’s election as a primary news source only by cable news, the once insurmountable, now steadily declining boogeyman of sensationalization feeding your racist grandparents (and my racist grandparents) their trash meals 24 hours a day.
When I joined America’s Worst Invention Of The 2000s in early 2009 (three years after it was founded, seven years before it died the symbolic the death it deserved), it was to talk about sports trading cards with strangers I knew only through traditional online message boards because I was an unpopular 13-year old who didn’t have anything else to do on the weekends. I’ve been on Twitter since before I entered high school or graduated college; since before I had my first kiss or my first car. This isn’t some sort of authority-establishing brag, but rather a tired badge of dishonor that has permanently made me a worse person. I never meant to stay this long.
As a whole, the platform was a simpler place when I first joined than it is now. It was a weird, fresh “microblogging” internet forum for a new era that felt pointedly different from the increasingly my-parents-occupied Facebook. Tweets themselves were a different form of expression; a futuristic version of Hemingway’s six-word stories that gave users a newfound, if confounding, ability to express themselves in brief 140-character spit-takes that could say so much and so little at the same time.
Twitter felt like the counterculture (as counterculture as tech can be) corner of social media; finally, an exclusively millennial entity, yet to be sullied with angry dads or gullible grandmothers. Before Vine stars were born and then displaced, the stars were drunk celebrities and horny politicians and Stephen A. Smith that one time. At least 80% of the rest of the content was absurdist performance art from normal idiots just trying to Have Fun Online.
The hoards of fake Eastern European accounts that we’re used to today were then being used to pad follower numbers, For The Joke, not to shift the news of the day on a whim or change the entire outcome of an election. My habitually bad-smelling, offensively try-hard, Ted Cruz-esque freshman roommate even bought fake followers and showed off his inflated fake news follower count to all the girls in our dorm. Unfortunately, his bot buy was not as successful as Vlad’s was.
Somehow, the Twitter experience, and internet experience as a whole, at literally anytime before the 2016 primaries was better than it is now. Tyler, The Creator solved all of our simple 2012 problems with just one tweet. White supremacists were still thought to be on the fringes of society, because they were, not even knowing they could start dreaming of the day they could walk through a college campus with tiki torches and frumpy red hats to express their bad ideas.
In the pre-Trump era, following journalists and news sources wasn’t necessary like it is today. Grantland still existed and I didn’t know what Breitbart was. Nobody needed the “real” news when we could just follow along as CNN tried to find that Malaysian airliner every day for six months, or visit Shia Labeouf’s performance art installation. News feeds were free of pull-quotes from presidential transcripts and could just be rap music or jokes or jokes about rap music, but our timelines didn’t have to be underwritten with a stream of garbage that constantly flows from everywhere all the time like they are today.
In this post-Trump era, however, the internet has become real life, and the only cure is to, well, not be on the internet. The trade-off has become either know what’s going on at all times everywhere (be on Twitter) or step back, delete the Hell App, consume news less frequently, and more locally, and focus on the physical rather than the virtual (be happy). The search for safe spaces, matched only by the search for how to destroy safe spaces, has successfully made it more difficult to find either. Everywhere is unsafe if you’re paying attention to what’s going on around you.
Every day online has become my 22-year old version of “get off my lawn,” except instead of being upset with the youth, I’m upset with the discourse. Upset with the tiny hands dumbass in charge of the country. Upset with the constant, jabbing, nagging pull of the wobbly news cycle carnival ride spinning ever faster, as more and more lunatics jump on to spout off racial epithets and insist that everyone Respect The Damn Flag So I Can Enjoy This Truly Damaging Sport Without Thinking About It.
That’s how I feel about Twitter now. How I feel about the website I’ve wasted so much of my time scrolling through, killing more of my braincells than drugs or Miller High Life (The Champaign of Beers™) ever will. I mean, come on. Respect my damn irreverent, truly damaging social media platform so I don’t have to think about everything.
Parody accounts aren’t as funny when one wins a presidential election. Satirist newmakers gain a little more sting and a little less whimsy when real news networks are no longer discernible from their fake news counterparts. Clickhole is a saving grace, but The Onion is a little bit Too Real. Dril couldn’t fuck the flag, but an entire third of the country, half of Congress and the entire executive branch would if it meant living one more day in their angry white echo chamber.
Thankfully, I’m in a much better place than I was a year ago. I’ve made a conscious effort in this latter part of the year to practice some semblance of self-care. I started eating breakfast every day and going to the gym. I stopped drinking energy drinks and started drinking coffee, so my friends would stop warning me that my heart was going to eventually give out. I unfollowed my ex on social media and found myself again in a healthier way than self-help books and partying. Baby steps in an admittedly privileged life, but I’m trying here.
But, man, I’m tired. Not physically or emotionally tired, but consistently, hopelessly, mentally worn out from the hourly New York Times push notifications reminding me, once again, that everything is Still Bad, that our society is collectively broken and that nobody seems to know how to repair it. A mass shooting happens at least once a day, just about every powerful man in Hollywood seems to also be an assaulter and pizza is no longer apolitical. Cable news has become, or has finally apexed as, an intellectual wasteland mostly driven by screenshots of tweets being read aloud and discussed for hours on end. Dan Rather must be rolling over in his grave.
This year has become one that requires the prioritization of what really does and does not matter. There are simply too many things, too many bad things, happening every hour, every day, every week to be able to give all of them equal brain weight. 2017 isn’t the worst year on record, but it might be the most tiring. I still haven’t found the right balance between self-care and staying informed, and I’m not sure it will be possible to even find that balance for at least the next three years.
Our brains are melting. We lose them a little bit more each morning when we wake up and check our apps and open our notifications, only to be immediately reminded that things are very not ok, and that they will probably continue being very not ok for the foreseeable future. Everyday when I log on, I feel a little bit dumber, and I feel a little bit dumb for continuing to log on.