Living Online (Or, Ask Your Doctor if Blogging Is Right For You)

by Maxwell Tielman


In April 2003, at the age of fourteen, I found myself sitting in a fluorescently-lit therapist’s office, being diagnosed with a disease I had known I’d had since childhood: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder—more commonly known as OCD. While OCD has become a bit of a comedic punchline in recent years and a personality trait adopted by those seeking a little extra quirk (“I’m so OCD about my lipgloss application,” etc), the particular brand of obsessive compulsion that I was afflicted with was decidedly un-cute. As I sat in that therapist’s office, the doctor peering his bearded visage at me over the back of a clipboard, I could feel his eyes linger on my hands. Wrapped in bandages and laced with the bitter, astringent scent of hand sanitizer, they had been reduced to cracked, bloody pulps—a side effect of the constant washing I subjected them to practically every ten minutes. To any therapist (or human being with a working set of eyes), it was clear that I had some of the more common attributes of OCD—chronic hand-washing, a crippling preoccupation with germs, and an inability to sit still without instinctively reaching for my bottle of Purell. What wasn’t readily apparent, however, was the extent to which the disease had saturated pretty much every aspect of my life—how I covered my entire bedroom with toxic levels of disinfectant, how I wiped down my school desk before and after use, and how I sprayed my entire body with mosquito repellent (even in the winter) to avoid catching or spreading blood-bourne communicable diseases. Throw in a new high school, debilitating social anxiety, and a whole slew of repetitive mental obsessions—endless loops of psuedo-religious thoughts, images of my friends and family dying, an overwhelming urge to repeat nonsensical phrases in my head, an incessant need to reread pages of text for fear that not doing so would condemn me to an eternity of fiery torment—and you had a recipe for pure personal dysfunction. This time, from roughly the ages of fourteen to sixteen was, without exaggeration, the darkest period of my life. Ever. My parents were terrified that they would have to take me out of school. I hardly talked to anybody (doing so drove me into a near state of panic), my report cards were filled with Fs, and I found myself hiding in the bathroom during class, staring into the mirror and crying. Shiz was hard-core, no-joke D-A-R-K. So. How did I pull myself out of this abysmal hole of neurosis and despair? Not through talk therapy. Not through medication (although that certainly helped). I did it—get ready for it—through blogging.

In 2003, the year that I began my personal blog, Maxigumee.com, blogging was not really the thing it is today. When I mentioned my “blog” in everyday conversation, the response was usually something along the lines of “WHAT LANGUAGE DO YOU SPEAK, MARTIAN??” The majority of the pre-Facebook, pre-Pinterest world of 2003 had no idea what blogs were and those who did considered the “blogosphere” to be full of narcissistic mothers writing about their problems online. It was, to them, a place for self-indulgent naval-gazing and frivolous, hedonistic escapism. And maybe it was a little bit. But for me, my little ol’ TypePad blog (and the blogging world in general) acted as something of a savior to me in this period of my life. It was a community where I could go to get away from my thoughts and the humdrum of high school—a place where I could encounter people who shared common interests, experiences, and goals. My own blog, in particular, acted as the awesome therapist I never had. With it, I was able to find the voice that was so difficult for me to conjure in everyday life. I was able to formulate my thoughts, vent my frustrations, and share my artistic endeavors, all in a relatively public forum. I was able to say things that I either couldn’t muster or couldn’t adequately articulate in “real life.” The openness of it all, and the inherent audience in blogging, was key—I think that knowing that people were watching, listening, and reading helped me to feel less alone, to feel like my words meant something.


Over the years, blogging has taught me so many things. Without my blog, I don’t think I ever would have discovered my love for photography. I never would have been pushed to explore or hone my abilities in graphic design and writing. Most of all, though, blogging taught me to find the humor in everyday life—even the darker, less palatable aspects of it. By putting my words down in writing (and intentionally crafting that writing for an audience), I was able to think and write more empathically—to find the relatability, truth, and yes, humor in my own situations. By being able to laugh at myself (and what wasn’t there to laugh at—OCD is a crock of hilarious misery), I was able to take the weight out of my predicament and the weight off of my shoulders. (Yes—I was transferring that weight to The Internet through my incessant blog-kvetching, but I’d like to think that it was at least funny weight.) Over time, I found that living publicly, by sharing the minutia of my daily life on my blog, became almost second-nature, almost as if it was my natural state. I became comfortable with sharing everything from embarrassing high school anecdotes, to photos of my bedroom, to blow-by-blow accounts of testicular surgery (yeah, that happened). The funny thing about this internet comfort, though, was that by learning to be comfortable online, I eventually learned to be comfortable in my own skin. By learning to be open, honest, and self-depricating online, I was able to be all of those things in real life. Today, my blog functions as much as a time capsule as it does a mode of self expression—I can use it to look back on earlier periods of my life (in all of their uncensored, cringe-inducing glory) to learn more about myself and see how far I’ve come. This is going to sound unbelievably stupid, but I’m going to say it anyway: blogging pretty much saved my life.

All of my own blogging adventures aside, the blogosphere has also been the source of some of my greatest personal relationships. I’ve met some of my best friends and favorite people through their personal blogs. I met my boyfriend (now fiancé) through his own blog. Now, working at a blog, I have met so many wonderful and fabulously talented people—many of whom are, you guessed it, bloggers.

There are, as in 2003, still blogging naysayers—those that see blogging (and social media in general) as a deleterious, civilization-destroying menace, insidiously stripping us of our ability to emote and communicate in the flesh. I have days where I fall victim to this mentality, too (and really, who doesn’t, what with the way that social media controls every aspect of our lives). More often than ever, though, I find myself in the opposite camp—the one that firmly believes that all of this blogging garbage, all of this social media mumbo-jumbo, is just one other facet of humanity’s ability to love, laugh, share, and communicate. So, with that, all I have to say is: Keep on sharing, keep on communicating, keep on laughing! Blog on world, blog on!

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  • Okay, I had to go and read about your surgery. Dude. Brutal! No pictures, though. :( are they on Flickr somewhere? Given the part they played in your saga, I wanna see.

    Super glad you were okay. :)

  • What a wonderful, honest post. I have always suspected that blogging has saved many a soul, myself included. And I, too, have met some of my best friends online. There’s a certain magic to it that is undeniable, even if the naysayers think we’re silly.

  • Thank you for talking about your OCD. I am mother to a 9 year old who has just been diagnosed with OCD and we are all struggling to find our way through it. It is encouraging to hear your story of recovery, though it is scares me to think about what you went through and what could be ahead for us. I hope we have caught it early and that the help we are giving her will help to keep the worst of this from happening. Thanks again for sharing, I don’t feel like OCD is much talked about, except as a reference in jokes. And clearly OCD is not a joking matter. I hope you continue to do well with managing yours.

  • What a beautiful post! Max I am so impressed at what you’ve overcome! I LOVE blogs – sometimes I find myself starting more sentences than not with “this girl whose blog I read . . . ” but I think that blog haters are missing the point – it is a medium for creativity, communication, and sharing the human experience. My blog roll is like a custom-designed magazine of all of my unique interests and desires.

    I am so glad you joined Design*Sponge – your writing style is so intelligent, truthful, fun, and hilarious! Blog on brother!

  • Personally, I never felt like I had anything to add (like in a blog) online. I’m not a writer. But maybe you’re right, you do it for you, and everybody else out there, if they’re listening. Your story is a great example of what it’s like for the blogger, to grow up, find your voice, err, succeed. Very inspiring, even for this non-writer.

  • What a wonderful post. I wholeheartedly agree with the author’s sentiments on blogging. I find the online community a place of friendship and support. You know what they say: “I’m a blogger, what’s your super power?” ;)

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