Twenty Years, Little Progress

Well, today is that notorious day. Yes, April 20. Hitler’s birthday (he’d be 130), Weed Day (blaze it?), and the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

Since Columbine, we’ve had a number of school shootings, and I don’t think much has really changed. Mental health and its importance to overall health has been given greater due in the media and by medical professionals. I don’t follow the gun control debate,* but I don’t think much has improved there. Video games have gotten more graphic, violent, and all consuming. Social media has made it harder to be a teenager… and teenagers will always be fascinated with death, to some degree.

I was reading in the news about an 18-year-old female named Sol Pais who was obsessed with Columbine, even to the point of having a strange online journal that looks to be straight out of the early Internet days of the 90s and imitating the musical tastes, writing/art style, and nihilism of the Columbine killers. It seemed like she was about to travel to Columbine from Florida to make a bizarre pilgrimage to Columbine and do some kind of damage. But it turned out that the only damage she did was to herself: she committed suicide.

Back when I was 18, I was fascinated by Columbine, mostly because I was roughly the same age as the killers and many of the victims. I liked the same music and had a fascination with darkness that most teenagers end up growing out of. I would skulk around community college wearing my then-boyfriend’s trench coat and his hat (turned around backwards), but I would never have hurt a soul. I think I just wanted to look like a badass, but in reality, I was just a shy, awkward nerd. And I obviously grew out of my fake-badass stage and became a somewhat reasonable adult.

The trouble is that it is difficult to tell which teenagers will grow out of this obsession with death and which will end up committing heinous acts. Nobody foresaw Sol Pais’s destructive tendencies. She was just a quiet kid, intelligent and talented in art. People probably would have thought she was smart enough to know better than to do what she did. I don’t have any good ideas of how to prevent shootings or suicides, and although help is offered and mental illness is not as stigmatized as it was in the past, some kids still will not ask for help or realize that they need help or be recognized as someone who needs help.

I suppose mandatory mental health screenings at school or the doctor’s office would be a good first step, but the person being evaluated could always lie if he wanted to. Maybe it’s just the way the world is. There will never be perfect happiness or peace. No amount of preventive measures can stop a killer whose actions nobody foresaw or a suicidal person who kept everything inside.

*I have never owned a gun and never fired a gun (except a paintball gun, but that doesn’t count). My ignorant thought on guns is that hunting rifles and tiny guns for self-defense are fine, assuming that the purchaser is thoroughly checked out, but the trouble comes when automatic weapons (and their ammo) that are designed solely for killing can be easily obtained. I don’t see the point of anyone other than the military having access to weapons like that, and they all ought to be banned. If a collector wants to have guns, he should only be allowed to obtain guns and not ammo.

Naive, Scammed, Abused

Warning! Really long, rambly post ahead!

I mentioned Brittani Louise Taylor in two previous posts from 2012, which was about 800 years ago in blogging and social media years. She still remains one of my favorite YouTube personas because of her unflagging optimism.

For a few years, I took a break from YouTube but recently Googled the names of all the old personas I used to watch just to get caught back up. Kind of like stalking checking in on old friends.

A lot had happened to Brittani in the time I had ceased to watch YouTube. She got engaged, got pregnant, had the baby… But then her fiance Milos mysteriously disappeared from her videos. Brittani’s YouTube audience then waited about a year for her to reveal any information about the breakup, and she finally told the whole story in her book, A Sucky Love Story, which was published in December 2018. Because she wrote a book, one would think that this had been way more noteworthy than the typical breakup.

Indeed it was.

Turns out that Milos had lied about almost everything. He was already married, not actually a doctor, faking cancer, addicted to pornography, and quite possibly part of the Serbian mafia! He even scammed Brittani out of a lot of her money because he never actually worked at all, and she feared that he would kidnap her son and take him to Serbia, and she would never see him again. Almost sounds made up, right? Possibly a ploy to gain money via book sales and YouTube views? If the latter, it’s probably justified to some degree because she’d certainly want to regain some money after getting scammed.

This post is not a review of the book per se, but a cautionary tale about a cautionary tale. Brittani stated in a video that her primary goal in writing the book was to raise awareness of abuse and try to help others who are in similar situations—a noble cause. In reading reviews of the book, I somehow stumbled across a gossip forum whose members were saying that what Brittani experienced was not really abuse because almost no physical abuse happened (aside from a bent pinky finger).

That made my blood boil. Abuse is abuse. Emotional abuse is one of the most insidious kinds because it’s not immediately obvious that it’s happening. Before you know it, you end up ensnared in the web of a person who uses you and doesn’t care at all about your happiness or needs. This person proceeds to cut you down and make your life a living hell, while you are so intimidated that finding a way out of the situation can seem nearly impossible.

The members of the gossip forum even blamed Brittani for staying with Milos for so long and accused her of staying with him because (1) he looked good and (2) he supposedly had tons of money. Kind of a low blow to lay the blame on a victim of abuse. Maybe those factors were reasons she was initially attracted to him, but no one can help the reasons they are attracted to someone. Over time, the worse the abuse gets, no amount of justification and your original reasons for starting a relationship with someone cease to matter at all.

In a past relationship, I was in an emotionally abusive situation, and that’s why I sympathize so much with Brittani’s story. You do hesitate to call what you have experienced “abuse” because you are not being physically hurt, but it is abuse all the same. You wake up one day and realize that you’re not the same as you were before, and the reason is that the person you are with—someone who supposedly loves you—has brainwashed you into believing that you are unworthy.

You do a lot of backtracking and looking into the past, trying to figure out if it was your fault for winding up in such a situation. You wonder what will happen if you try to escape. You might make a plan for such an escape, and the plan may fall through, or you may actually go through with it. When you do break free, it is like an immense weight being lifted from your shoulders, and the full realization of what happened to you—to your mind, your emotions, and your self-worth—hits you. You can have your life back again. But you blame yourself. You feel the need to tell everyone you know about what happened, just so they understand why you have been so different. You feel the need to justify your relationship with the abusive person. “I was stupid.” or “He tricked me.” or “He wasn’t who I thought he was.”

To make a long post even longer, I was “triggered” (I hate using the word, but it’s the only one that fits.) by listening to Brittani’s story, and I was “triggered” again by the gossip forum. Even if the details of a relationship and its demise are laid out in a book, you can never accurately judge a relationship unless you are one of the two people in it.

However, judging solely from what the book says, it seems to me that Brittani wanted love over all (and who doesn’t?). She was tired of working and making a life but not having anyone to share it with. She turned to the Internet to find someone because it is incredibly difficult to meet a person “organically” in real life these days, especially if you’re an introvert or are very busy. She found someone who checked all the boxes and treated her right. Everything seemed to be moving along fine… until it gradually became undeniable that she had to get out.

In the book, Brittani acknowledges that hindsight is 20/20. There are always red flags. You may dimly recognize them when they present themselves, and you’ll probably hear that little voice in the back of your head warning you, but you dismiss all the warnings because you just want to be loved, damn it. You set your sights on a person, you tell yourself that you will weather every storm, you will make whatever sacrifice you have to, and you will change yourself to become “better” or “perfect” for this person. But they will not do the same for you.

I find that it is pretty much useless to tell someone to watch for warning signs and red flags because a person may recognize them as such but dismiss them anyway. (“But I love him!” or “He will change someday.”) Escape strategies are probably the better thing to teach teenage girls or anyone who is in a new relationship. Always Google a person and do whatever you can to find out if they are who they say they are. Do a background check and don’t feel guilty about doing it. You’re looking out for your own safety. Internet dating is not to blame.* You can just as easily meet a creep in real life.

By her own account, Brittani was naive and didn’t have a great track record with relationships in the past. Her naive, bubbly, sweet personality portrayed an innocence that was very easily taken advantage of. It is sad that innocence, a good quality, is almost a negative quality in the dating world. You don’t want to be too innocent, but you don’t want to assume the worst of a person either. It is a fine line to tread.

The bottom line… learn how to escape from a relationship with a toxic person. Once you have a plan, enact it as soon as possible. Do. Not. Feel. Guilty. For. Getting. Out.

Turning back to the content of the book itself, I found it to be an easy read (because of the writing style, not the subject matter). Brittani’s sunshiny persona is obvious throughout the book and even on the front cover. The members of the gossip forum had issues with that, too (“How can an abuse victim be so happy?), and all I can say about that is… it is probably just her schtick as a YouTube personality. If she were to write a dark, dismal tale, it wouldn’t fit with the rest of her content, so she attempted to find humor in the situation. And once you are out of such a situation, you actually can see the humor, if there was any there at all. It certainly doesn’t mean that abuse is a laughing matter, just that a tale can be told from any number of perspectives. If Brittani wanted to cast it in a darker light, she definitely could have.

*But I may be biased toward the good side of Internet dating because if not for the Internet, I would never have met my husband. I mean, come on… how are two socially awkward nerds supposed to meet in real life?

Head Above Water

You typically can’t expect much depth from pop stars, but one would hope that Avril Lavigne has matured from her days as a tomboy back in 2002, and judging by her new song, “Head Above Water,” it seems that she has. Or maybe it was the near-death experience that finally did the trick. Miss Lavigne had been greatly suffering from Lyme disease, and in the midst of her deepest pain, she composed the song, in which she cries to God to “keep her head above water.”

The old saying “there are no atheists in foxholes” came to mind when I first heard the song. In the midst of great pain or anguish, many turn to God even when they had previously forsaken him or had never believed in him in the first place. I suppose Avril Lavigne is one of these. I don’t expect her to return to the Christian faith of her roots, but you never know (and you can always hope).

I find it amusing that the news outlets are calling “Head Above Water” a worship song, and to me, it is. If this was Lavigne’s very first single, everyone would be calling her a Christian artist and they’d sell her album in Christian bookstores, like they did with Evanescence’s first album.

But Avril Lavigne herself may not see the song that way—but rather as a pop ballad or an anthem to show strength in a difficult time. At the very end of the music video is a message about Lyme disease and the URL of Lavigne’s anti-Lyme foundation website. So it appears to be the song used to market her cause.

Either way, I really like the song, and it’s a nice departure from the junk on Top 40, which reminds me, now that I think of it, that I haven’t heard Lavigne’s song on the radio at all. I wonder why. Perhaps it’s because the teenagers who listen to Top 40 were very young or not even born when she was most popular, so they might not know who she is. That’s a scary thought.