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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  • Wow. I love your honesty. And who would have thought that blogging would be so therapeutic. What an inspiration.

  • Thank you for a beautiful article. As an aside, HOW did you have such clear skin as a 15 year old! Gorgeous.

  • I love this post, and this series. I forwarded Grace’s post to a number of blogging friends, and will do the same with this one. Thank you, Max, for sharing your experience with OCD, blogging and HEALING! A brave and inspiring post.

  • Such a great post – and I’ve loved reading your stuff since you started at DesignSponge! Thanks for the inspiration :)

  • Thanks for this posting Max. I admire your resiliency, courage and humor. I love your teen-selfies—such beautiful eyebrows. I know those weren’t Photoshopped in!

  • Thanks for this Maxwell. As a fellow sufferer of OCD, it’s ALWAYS reassuring to hear how others cope with it. You’re also the first person I’ve seen to mention experiencing uncontrolled images of friends/family dying – one of the most painful symptoms of my OCD – it was both heartbreaking and heartening to hear that you’ve dealt with that too!

  • Thanks for writing this & sharing so much of yourself with your blog readers and this community too. I truly enjoy your writing, photos and your excellent style. Bask in that well-earned happiness!

  • Thank you for this. As the mom to an 11 year old boy who was diagnosed with acute OCD at 9 I appreciate your sharing. My sons OCD does not have the typical “clean/germ” aspects…although some… his life is about numbers & patterns. Im so glad you found your outlet and gift of expression. I keep hoping my son will find his. I look forward to sharing the blog with him!

    • Lisa—thanks for reaching out. It’s great that you diagnosed your son’s OCD so early—many people wait much longer to find out and suffer with it internally. Because OCD-sufferers (myself included) often know that their obsessions are irrational, I’ve always found that humor and being able to poke fun at myself is the best medicine. Like saying “Voldemort” in Harry Potter, being able to acknowledge the situation takes away a lot of its weight. Wishing your son all the best! :)

  • Yes! I’ve been pretty shy about my blog (I used to work in a church, so I felt like I couldn’t be really, really honest about most of my opinions), but it has become such therapy to me lately. Which is great, since I so cannot afford my own personal therapist.

    I loved this post. I think we should be friends. But not in a creepy-“I-will-not-be-igNORED,-Max” kind of way. In the most fun way. Ever.

  • Max, thank you so much for writing this. I currently write a blog and wish I was as savvy a teen as you (we’re the same age.) When I went through my *ahem* rough patch I had never heard of a blog. Now writing one as an “adult” I have learned so much about not only the subjects I write about and the techniques I use to record my experiences, but about myself as a person. Just putting it out there for my invisible audience makes me more comfortable and confident in the real world. It’s so great to hear someone else’s positive experience with blogging and not a loose commentary on the narcissistic masturbatory quality of it all. Thanks again.

  • Max, you should write a book about this. It’d be thoughtful, funny, AND stylish. Go for it!

  • What an incredible share. I cringed and laughed and smiled. You write beautifully; I’m so glad that you found your niche, and your passions, and a bit of yourself, through blogging. The Internet done right! :)

  • What an inspirational post.
    Your self-reflection is very helpful to others.
    I’ve enjoyed your recent posts about being true to yourself.
    I spoke with you on your first spree cast, I made you dizzy showing you my grey livingroom, and deciding on the right chair:)
    I bought the Palour Atomic Chair fromCB2, it is bright orange and makes me smile everytime I walk past it!
    Isn’t that the essence of decorating, not following a trend, but doing what makes you happy?
    All the best.

  • Thank you for such an honest, raw, and inspiring account of your beautiful journey. Your writing is so powerful. Cheers to you, max!

  • I think you are so brave to share this so openly. Reading your story was gut-wrenching as I had the exact same experience around the same age. It’s hard to worry about normal teenage things when you are stuck in an ongoing loop of obsessions and panicking about where/when you can wash your hands next. I think it’s even harder to explain it as eloquently as you did here. Wonderfully written!

  • What a beautiful, thoughtful article on blogging. Blogging can be a truly powerful tool. For me, it’s been a way to continue my artwork, explore my love of art history further, and get my kids involved in my work. Being a stay at home Mom has been harder than I thought and blogging has helped me have something of my own and force me to create again. Thank you for emphasizing the myriad ways blogging can help and entertain.

  • I have enjoyed your comments. I don’t blog because I don’t think I am very interesting and don’t have anything to say. The fact is, people are interesting, our curiosity about others had me reading all the way to the bottom. But then you are an interesting person.

  • You’re so much younger than I imagined! (I would have taken you, for your late-twenties. And I mean that as a compliment – that you have poise and wisdom that a lot of people don’t demonstrate while they’re still in their early/mid twenties.)

    Good for you, to find your outlet for self-expression and to figure out how to use it advantageously in other facets of your life.



  • I’ve never commented before, although I’ve followed both DS and MN for a long time now. This post resonates with me so much–I’m one year older than you, and the LJ/perdomain community definitely helped me through a supremely awkward adolescence as well as my mother’s stroke when I was 11. Thanks for sharing!

  • nice article. i would like to add the impact of these writings all over the world. people doing DIY expressing themselves artistically etc….something like a chain reaction making the world a better place. one POST AT AT TIME.i reckon you shoud frame a couple of these pictures …. the emo one & SO natural one and gift them to dan. better hang em over in the new house.
    good luck

  • Wish that I knew you in real life so I could buy you a coffee and tell you how funny, wise, honest and fab you are. I commented on your first D*S post to compliment you on your writing and ideas and- bam- I’m doing the same again. Always appreciate your posts! Thank you Max! I’m sure blog stalkers (blarkers?) always want to ply you with treats, but would love to meet you and Daniel someday in the great universe, maybe next time I go thrifting with pals in Beacon I’ll see ya and say howdy.

  • Max, it was wonderful for you to share your story about this part of your life. Can you just imagine how many young people found a refuge in your blog?
    As to blogging destroying civilization as we know it–bah. The world has opened up for us through this medium. Maybe we don’t know people face to face, but we do get to know people thousands of miles away, and through this medium, we might come face to face with our own biases, and unlearn them, as we join and understand others. It reminds me of the old Coca Cola Christmas commercials, with all the polar bears, the lights lighting, and the song, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony….” Maybe this is another step in that process!

  • First, woohoo! Adolescent sufferers of OCD unite! Mine was worst when I was 11-12. I commiserate with your misery. It sucked.

    Second, having just clicked over to your wonderful time capsule of a blog, I wanted to tell you that you are a wonderful story teller. Have you written a book? A memoir? If not. Please do. I would love to read it.

    Finally. Thank you for this post, and for summing up what is – ironically – kind of hard to put into words: Blogging is pretty cool.

  • It’s your absolute honesty and brave words that make some blogs, like DS such great catalysts for conversation, discovery and personal growth. People have been journaling forever, and I see blogs as just a prettier, public variation on the theme.

    I’ve noticed some bloggers lately expressing concern over the lack of dialog they are getting out of their posts. Perhaps we are tiring of the plethora of “perfect world” portrayals, and leaving room only for meaningful voices.

  • Max, Thanks for sharing yourself with the world. I was really touched by your post. Yay for you! And I love your fiancée’s blog. So glad you two found each other and have such a wonderful life together!

  • Max, Thanks for sharing such a personal story. One of my dreams (goals) for 2014 is to cultivate deeper relationships and I think part of that is being more vulnerable in life. That transfers to my own work and blog as I start to think about how to share more of myself with my readers. I have always been a private person and I think sometimes that being too private doesn’t allow others to connect with our stories and life. I really appreciate the more personal posts a DS and they are inspiring me in my own journey.

  • Thank you so much Max! What a fantastic story! I’m a little older than you, plus didn’t have a family computer till I was older, but I always felt I would feel better if I was writing for an audience rather than just in a journal. There didn’t seem to be a point to just writing it for myself, although I’m pretty sure every therapist would disagree with me.
    I’m only mildly OCD, but I have a friend who has it pretty bad and I will definitely be forwarding this on. I also read all three of your Ball Saga posts and laughed till I cried. You had me on the edge of my seat!! But none of the pictures would display… Still, thank you for sharing!

  • That was really beautiful. Thank you for sharing such a personal post! I’m glad things got better. Blogging/social networking definitely helps some of us :)

  • Thanks for writing this. I’ve been blogging off and on since back in the day with text based message boards (1995). I go through periods in my life where I remember the amazing connections I can have with faraway people with like minded thoughts. And then I back away when the naysayers take over. More recently, I’ve found the naysayers to be online, either through “your blog has to be brand perfect” sentiment or fear of critical mean spirited commenters.
    Have you ever had a problem dealing with the ugly of the blogging world?

  • Wow how and where are you able to blog on the internet and where can I start? This would be a great outlet for me to get over PTSD.

  • Oh it’s such an overused phrase – but thank you for sharing this wonderful story about your bravery and the power of a blog (of all things)!

  • This is fantastic, and the best ‘pro-blog’ argument I’ve ever read. I kinda wish this option had been available to me during my angsty and awkward years, but alas… They were pre- internet.

  • Max, thank you for sharing your story. Have you seen/heard Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability? It is great, and I immediately thought of it when I read your post.

  • Really good, Max – very honest and insightful. I don’t have a blog but I started reading home decor/design blogs many years ago. I have it narrowed down to about 12 blogs or so that I read regularly. Every once in awhile I get hooked on a new one – not too often. I don’t need to know every facet of the bloggers life but I do have to “like” the blogger, their writing style and it seems I’m always learning something, discovering something and that is fun. A big turn off (for me) is a bossy, sarcastic, know it all blogger -I have come across a couple – blogging can make some people feel like little celebrities and now with all the paid ads, freebies, well, its getting weird. I just don’t go back when it gets false and a reader can tell when the blogger is just going through the motions. Thanks! Oh, sorry for going off on a “diatribe” as one blogger called it/me – I don’t knock on that “Door” anymore.

  • I was in 4th grade on the play ground with a few of my friends talking to one of our favorite teachers, when suddenly my teacher gasped and ask what had happened to my hands. They were all dried out and covered in bloody splits. I didn’t use Purell… I used an antibacterial lotion. My parents had given it to me in hopes it would calm my symptoms. But I didn’t just put it on my hands, I put it on EVERYTHING. I would even rub it into my clothes. Like you, I was ‘saved’ through artistic pursuits. I had always been an artist (I especially loved drawing) and in the 6th grade I had an amazing teacher who saw my potential and started helping me enter my work into competitions. Thank you for sharing your story and I am just so happy you found something that spoke to you…

  • oh, max. in 2003 the same happened to me. being an outcast with blue hair and no friends made me turn into blogging too. it changed my life completely. my four best friends (no kidding, from 0 friends to 4 best friends!) were bloggers like us, we all met in the middle of this “dangerous internet thing”. (my mum used to think they were kidnappers, but i told her it would be very difficult for a kidnapper to pretend he was a teenager girl for too long). great post man.

  • Max,
    Thank you for such a well written post. I appreciate your honesty and openness. Kudos to you for finding a way to manage the OCD. I am sure you will inspire others. I love reading all of your posts!

  • 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?” ;)