The Tweet That Would Not Die

I wrote last week about my love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with Twitter, and how I found WordPress a much more homely and comfortable environment. I rejoined Twitter a few months back, after many years absence, in order to promote my writing. Apparently it’s all about building a multi platform online presence. Or something fancy like that. Anyway, I once again found myself twittering to the little blue bird.

Truth be told, I was more or less twittering to myself. While I shared all my blog posts on the Twitter account, they averaged around two likes per post. Hello Fionnuala and Hannah! No, that’s not fair. A handful of the WordPress regulars who have accounts provided their usual much appreciated support. Yet, to the huge #writingcommunity, I was just another wannabe writer trying, and failing, to catch their attention.

I tried everything. Witty tweets, serious tweets, interactive tweets. Nada. Zilch. Not an iota of interest. Then a funny thing happened. I tweeted that I had just signed a publishing contract and…..WHAM! My notifications went into orbit. 10, 100, 200 and higher. Everybody wanted a piece of the action. I was inundated with well wishers and congratulatory messages. I was a Twitter celebrity!

I woke up yesterday morning to find I was past the 500 mark. Surely, they would die down soon. But, no, the tweeting tsunami continued. So much so that Fionnuala, who is an account administrator, turned off her notifications, having been driven to the brink by the constant flashing of her phone screen. After the 536th ‘thank you’ my fingers were going numb. And as for my brain, it was turning to mental mush.

With the likes and messages, came followers. Over 100 in one day. This is how Katy Perry or Shaun Mendes must feel, I mused, as the total neared the big 1K. 997, 998, 999, 1000. I was tempted to take a screen shot but, before I could, I was at 1001 and galloping off into the distance. This was nuts. Even on my most glorious WordPress days, I’d come nowhere near these kinds of stats. 1002, 1003….

The old Stephen wouldn’t have been able to leave the room at this point, such would have been the size of his head. My ego would have been running amok, day dreaming of fame and fortune in the not too distant future. I would have cracked open a beer and reflected on what a splendid human being I was, oblivious to the many flaws staring back at me in dazzling technicolour.

I’m still far from perfect. So as I sit here, nearing the 1500th like (yes they are still coming, although the raging torrent has now eased to a steady trickle) I see my 15 minutes of Twitter fame for what it really is….15 minutes of Twitter fame. My most recent tweet is sitting at a whopping seven likes. Back to terra firma with a resounding thump. WordPress is still my online home so worry not.

1500 likes means nothing. That’s not why I do this. They cannot be compared to that one heartfelt message or comment from someone who my words truly resonate with, who I have comforted or inspired. They are the people who make it worthwhile, it is they who drag me to my keyboard every morning. To reach out, to connect. The diamonds in the rough, the wheat amongst the chaff. They are why I am here, and why I will continue to remain here.

It’s Not Online Stalking! It’s Research!!

Now that the book is written and nestling in my editors inbox, I’ve been twiddling my thumbs about what to do next. Well, that’s not strictly true as it appears writing the actual novel is only the tip of the iceberg. I’ve now entered the wonderful world of submissions to literary agents. Which brings me to the title of this post. I’ve started to follow a number of them on social media. Because, it appears, that is the ‘done thing’ to do.

In the New Year, I will start to submit the manuscript to a number of these agents. Between now and then, I need to draw up a shortlist, agents who are seeking the type of book I’m pitching. There’s no point singing the praises of my urban fantasy book blockbuster to someone who is only interested in period romances. It’s like trying to hammer a round peg into a square hole. With a lettuce leaf.

Most of these literary agents hang out on Twitter, so I’ve set up an account to study them in their natural environment. I want to learn what they’re looking for, who they already represent, what colour their underwear is, stuff like that. Ok, I made the last one up, but you never know when such information can come in handy. At the end of this process I should have a list of agents who I can approach.

In a past life, I had a Twitter account with 8500 followers. This was during a particularly bleak period of my life when I was more interested in likes and follows than I was in what was going on around me in the real world. So, it is with some trepidation that I am returning to the world of the little blue bird. It brings with it some memories I would rather not revisit. Yet, here I am.

Seems, not much has changed. A lot of tweeters still post religiously requesting retweets, follows and er…..little else. I’m giving such people a wide berth, seeking to focus on legitimate authors, agents and publishers who all share a love of the written word. I have a grand total of 102 followers! Not quite the dizzy heights of 8500, but I’m happy so far with the niche I’ve carved. I’m focusing on quality, as opposed to quantity this time around.

Now, WordPress is an entirely different social media beast from Twitter. From my experiences to date. bloggers appear much more genuine, supportive and dare I say it….real. But the 8500 figure has always bothered me, increasingly so as Fractured Faith nears 8000 followers itself. I don’t want to get dragged into past mistakes I made on social media. Following people, just for the sake of it.

I care about my followers now, and I want to conduct myself online in a manner where I interact with fellow bloggers for genuine, as opposed to shallow, reasons. I see blogging and the book as a pathway to a better life, as opposed to the drain hole I was being sucked into in my Twitter heyday. I want to construct a future, where previously my destructive urges held sway.

I’m back stalking the Twittersphere but in an entirely different guise. I slip, I stumble, I get horribly lost, but I refuse to give up. I refuse to give in. When my son loses a rugby match, he comes back fitter and stronger for the next game. I’m aspiring to be the same, but with less mud and bruises. Look out literary agents, I’m coming to get you. And no restraining order is going to hold me back this time.

Why do you have a social media presence?

I’m On Twitter. I Think.

I’ve made the decision to open a personal Twitter account in order to promote my writing. It’s early days yet but I’ll be tweeting bite sized versions of the usual nonsense you find on the blog every day. If you’re on Twitter, pop over and say hello. Or follow me even. My username (is that even the right word?) is:

@stephenRB4

Just click on the hyper link to follow me there

Confessions Of A Recovering Catfish – Part Two

I never considered myself a catfish until it was recently pointed out to me. I mean, my profile picture was me. I told people the truth regarding where I lived, what I did for a living, the nuts and bolts of my everyday life. But it pretty much ended there. Beneath the veneer of respectability I created a version of myself who was cooler, wittier, more outrageous than the very plain person sitting tapping on their phone.

I escaped into a fantasy, online world where everybody loved me and thought I was the best thing since sliced bread. I became increasingly detached from reality and the people who really mattered. Harmless half truths snowballed to become whopping great lies. I became a master at mind games and manipulating situations to my advantage. I let my family down, I let myself down. I was spiralling out of control. Always down.

It all came to a head when I met someone online who was a bigger catfish than even I was. They, too, were who they said they were. They posted photographs and lived a life but, beneath the seemingly tranquil surface, was a twisted, unhinged mind. I fell for it hook, line and sinker. This catfish was hooked. I felt sorry for them as I was regaled with stories of how crappy their life was and how badly they had been treated by others.

I wasn’t prepared for the blizzard of emotions they blasted me with. They said I was the most incredible person they had ever met. They adored me, they worshipped me, they loved me like they had loved no other. To my eternal shame, I fell for their honey coated words. I was like a rabbit caught in the headlights. I knew it was very wrong but I craved the attention, the adulation, the incessant accolades and adulation.

They was a she of course; and she was very clever. She plucked at my heartstrings like a concert violinist. About her terrible marriage and abusive husband; her eating disorder and self harming; her suicidal thoughts and erratic mood swings. I was the only one who could save her. And if I didn’t do so then, well maybe, bad things would happen her. Maybe one day I would message her and she wouldn’t be there.

Looking back on it all now, I shake my head at my own naivety and gullible nature. I ended up hating her and part of me still does for the damage she caused me and my family. But not as much as I hated myself. For since it ended I have battled thoughts of revulsion and loathing towards myself. I have beaten myself up day after day after day. Even though I have been forgiven by my loved ones I still struggle to forgive myself.

My catfish days have also damaged my relationship with God. I walked away from the church and largely shun organised religion now. I avoid interaction with other Christians as so many of them let me down. I am also better placed now to see beneath the superficial friendships and faux concern of church life. I don’t read my Bible, I don’t talk to God, I don’t even know if I am a Christian anymore.

Most of all I let myself down. This blog is my attempt to put things right, to use my writing skills for good and seek to warn others of the pitfalls that I plunged blindly into; I want to help others and, by doing so, help myself. To put the past behind me and forge ahead with the people who matter. To cast aside the baggage of shame, guilt and despair. To rebuild and resow. To emerge out of the darkness and back into the light.

Confessions Of A Recovering Catfish – Part One

As a teenager I was chubby, shy and extremely quiet. Girls were a foreign species to me and my exploits on the sporting field left a lot to be desired. As a result, I was singled out for my fair share of bullying by both fellow students and, I’m sad to say, teachers whose supposed job was to protect me. Those years left their mark on me. I carry them still.

I retreated into a make believe world where the bullies could not reach me. I hid in books and wreaked revenge on my tormentors in the world of role playing where I could be anyone I wanted. What chance had my psychotic physics teacher against a 12th level berserker armed with the Warhammer of Doom? It was what I needed at that time of my life in order to survive.

And that’s how it continued. Oh, I dropped the dice throwing and axe wielding along the way but I still existed in a world of make believe. Alcohol took centre stage. I discovered my drug, my refuge from social awkwardness where I could be everybody’s friend and the life and soul of the party. People liked this new me, even though I didn’t particularly think much of him.

The downside was the following morning when the inevitable hangover would lumber over the horizon and I would wallow in my self inflicted bed of self pity and recriminations. Never again, I would swear. Until the next time that was when it would be all aboard the Ego Express again. I lived the lie and loved the lie. I could be whoever I wanted to be. It cost me about £40 a night but was a small price to pay.

Then along came social media. If Dungeons & Dragons was my first tentative joint and alcohol the first acid trip, then Twitter and Instagram became my crack cocaine and heroin. I became hopelessly hooked to the extent where I effectively lived online. At its height, or depth depending on how you wished to look at it, I had over 8000 followers! My witty, wry 160 character vignettes were the talk of the town.

I also dabbled in the darker domain of direct messaging. I could tell people whatever I pleased. It’s not that I outright lied but I certainly massaged the truth to paint myself in the best possible light. I realised I had a gift with words online that I could never hope to replicate back in the real world. There was no filter, no comeback. I could be as outrageous or inappropriate as I wanted. It was here that I first became aware of the term ‘catfish’.

Catfish – ‘someone who creates a false online identity. These are commonly found on social media and online dating sites. Often the sole purpose of a catfish is to create and exist in a fantasy reality.’

I encountered people who posted fake profile pictures, people who lied about their age, their job, their relationship status. Anything seemed to go. I was initially appalled but unable to resist the lure of online life. I kept coming back for more. It began to impact upon the people who truly mattered – my wife and children. Yet I allowed myself to be dragged in too deep. And before I realised, it was too late.

Fionnuala often says that my intelligence is only matched by my gullibility and naivety. I am a terrible judge of character and online was no exception. I fell in with some very ‘strange’ people and before I knew it was behaving in a manner which appalled me when I later journaled about it in the cold light of day. It was if I checked in my morals and values whenever I logged in online. I was becoming a catfish myself.

To be continued….

What are your views on catfish?

Have you encountered a catfish online?

Have you ever painted a false picture of yourself on social media?

Who Do You Trust?

Last year I made an unusual New Years Resolution. I decided to give up having friends. That’s right. I was going solo. All I needed were Fionnuala and the kids. The reason? Well largely it was forced upon me. I had self destructed in such spectacular fashion that some people no longer wanted anything to do with me. Others did but only if I adhered to a number of pre-conditions. After some consideration I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t. And others again I had to cut adrift myself as they simply were not good for me.

Within a relatively short period of time I went from having a reasonably busy social life to well….nothing. We left the church we had been actively involved in and are still struggling to find a new spiritual home. I cut off all my ties with various running groups I had been linked to. I left all formats of social media and deleted a swathe of contact numbers from my mobile phone. I don’t have a big family. I have one sister who I don’t see very often and I lost my father in 2010 to prostate cancer. Since then my mother has become something of a recluse and, although we talk every day on the phone, I maybe see her once every couple of months.

It was Fionnuala and the kids. I got up, went to work and came home. I run on my own. I go and watch my son play rugby but don’t really mix with all the other parents. I keep my head down wherever I go and usually wear a cap. People walk past as if I don’t exist and that’s just fine by me. I used to seek out the limelight whereas now I shun it. Plus I can no longer fall back on alcohol to combat my social awkwardness. I’m a weirdo, a geek, an oddball. As long as I have my Kindle Fire and Netflix then I’m as happy as a pig in you know what.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m anti-social. I’m shy and awkward but I would love to have friends. The written medium is my strongest communication format. I feel very at home when I am writing. Put me in a room full of strangers, however, and ask me to engage in small talk and I would crumple in an embarrassed heap. I’d be like the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz. ‘I’m mellllllttttiiiiiiinnngggggg!!!!’ Flying monkeys optional. They really freak me out by the way.

I want to have friends but I just can’t get my thang together on this front. I’m just me and not a lot of people get thar. I like hobbits and zombies and running 26.2 miles for ‘fun’. These icebreakers tend to be greeted by a lot of blank stares whenever I drop them into the conversation. I’ve been trying to explain my rationale regarding this situation for five paragraphs now but I guess the ever so eloquent Taylor Swift sums it up best.

I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me….

The Social Media Wannabe Formerly Known as Stephen Black has inflicted and sustained considerable damage over the last few years. Thank God I’m now back on the straight and narrow. I have massive trust issues, however. I trust very few people. I’ll take that a step further. I don’t even trust myself most of the time. It can take years to establish trust but you can destroy it in a few seconds. Fionnuala dragged me very reluctantly back onto social media via this blog and I am slowly starting to find my feet again. I am learning to trust others and myself again. I hope others are learning to trust me as well.

It’s a constant battle though. I want to help people through this blog but I’m ever alert and wary. Am I coming across as too arrogant? Pretentious? Am I disclosing too much about myself? Too little? How do I come across? Am I doing enough? The questions keep coming. And it all boils down to one little word – trust. Trust rusts. It needs constant attention like one of those massive road bridges that are constantly being painted to combat corrosion. Once the painters get to the far end of the bridge they have to start all over because the near end has started to rust again.

I want to thank WordPress. For allowing me to be myself. For allowing me to lower my defences and display my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. For allowing me to trust people again. For allowing others to trust me. For allowing me to learn to trust myself again.

I am everything you are allowing me to become. I trust this community, this tribe. I think I’ve finally found my people. Thank you.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Where do you stand on the issue of trust?

What Do You Love Most About WordPress?

Fionnuala and the kids have been trying in recent weeks to drag me kicking and screaming into the 21st Century by adding me to the family’s Snapchat group. This appears to involve sending each other photos and/or videos of yourself with animal ears or speaking in squeaky voice. Or both! At the same time!!

It’s all a bit beyond me. Firstly the app couldn’t acknowledge my facial features when I tried to take a photograph. Now I realise I’m no Brad Pitt or George Clooney but at the same time this was a bit of a blow to my already fragile self-esteem as Fionnuala says I’m no Quasimodo either.

I’d never seem a photograph of him before today but I have to say the face rings a bell….

*tumbleweed drifts across screen*

Anyhoooooo….another app they’ve introduced me to is Bitmoji. You know the one where you can create a cartoon character of yourself which can then reflect your every mood. Say happy….

Or sad…..

Or I feel like rocking the Christmas elf look.

In hindsight I don’t think I have the legs for those tights….

That aside I’ve taken to Bitmoji like a duck to water. Fionnuala is already bitterly regretting showing me how it works as I now bombard her and other friends with Bitmoji images as opposed to texting them ‘words’ or, heaven forbid, having an actual conversation. With words, eye contact and adulting stuff like that.

Isn’t it amazing how lazy we have become at communicating with each other. Why bother expending all that energy expressing yourself when a 😊 or a 👍🏻 will suffice. We love creating layers and barriers in order to hide our true selves. Being honest and open is almost regarded as a sign of weakness in this day and age.

We have become an emoji culture.

We are in fact an emotionless culture.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all the same. So many people offering up entirely inaccurate and misleading caricatures of who they really are. We are the happy selfie generation while inside there is despair and selfishness. Nobody sees the real person anymore. They are buried beneath fake smiles and glazed eyes.

That’s what I love about you guys. The WordPress community. Realism. Warts and all. So real it cuts me to the bone at times. You wear your hearts on your sleeves every day. You inspire and motivate me. You tell stories of brokenness. You speak the truth even if it is a painful truth. You desire healing and growth. You want to move forward, to leave behind the zombie generation.

You want to help others but realise, before that, you have to help yourself.

We are the refugees of social media. The online outcasts. We have fled the coming storm and sought sanctuary within WordPress. It is our fortress, our stronghold. We have pulled up the drawbridge and now sit around the fire telling stories of struggle and recovery. We are a family, a community. We are one.

We don’t need selfies. We don’t pout or preen for the camera. We are what we are. Fragile, weak, yet real. Words are our weapons and tools. Together we are strong. There are multiple beliefs and faiths on the blogs I read here every day. But they are bound together by love, empathy and wisdom.

Physician heal thyself. But you are. One day at a time. One blog post at a time.

Why do you love most about WordPress?

The Twirly Chair – Part Two

Yesterday I wrote about the aftermath of my father’s death seven years  https://afracturedfaithblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/the-twirly-chair-part-one/ ago when I allowed myself to slip slowly into a self perpetuating cycle of depression and destructive behaviour. This was no rock n roll mid life crisis involving high living and fast cars. Instead it was the tale of a sad middle aged man drinking himself into oblivion every weekend as he drifted further and further away from his loving family. All the while sitting on his throne of misery, the ‘Twirly Chair’.


While yesterday I wrote about my battle with alcohol today I want to focus on another facet of the multi headed dragon that was my addictive, needy, fragile personality. And it’s a topic that might be close to your own hearts. Ladies and gentlemen of WordPress I give you……social media.

I was a reluctant recruit to this world. I was dragged kicking and screaming by Fionnuala into the 21st Century when she set up my first Facebook account. I was a total technophobe at that point and viewed it with a mixture of fear and mistrust. It was harmless enough, however, as it still clung to the real world in that all my Facebook friends were ‘real people’. This allowed me to interact online but at the end of the day I knew them and they knew me. There were boundaries. And all was well.

I was aware, however, that I was spending more and more time on it. Mostly at the weekends and rarely without a cold tin of beer in my hand. This worsened when I acquired my first smart phone (I told you I was a Luddite). Suddenly the online world was at my fingertips – morning, noon and night. I discovered apps. They were a revelation to me. I was fascinated by the choice, the colours, the accessibility. I was becoming hooked.

Tbe thrill of Facebook began to dull. I was becoming sick of real people bemoaning their real life problems online. I wanted to escape from them, hence the reason I was on there. Invariably drunk. I hated the real me and I hated that they knew the real me. I was still fastened to the ground by a rope. I needed to be cut loose and allowed to float away – from them and, more importantly, from myself.

It was then that I discovered Twitter. It was like a marijuana user taking heroin for the first time. That first rush was magical. I was free. I could be whoever I wanted to be because 99% of the people on there were not known to me in real life. I could create a whole new personality for myself. With a dry wit and a way with words I was no longer the shy, socially awkward loser that I despised. Instead I was carefree, eloquent and dare I say it cool. In tweets of 160 characters or less I waxed lyrical on anything that took my fancy. 

Before I knew it I was hopelessly hooked, constantly updating my notifications screen to see how many likes, retweets and new followers I had. I found myself carefully drafting and editing my tweets and then strategically posting them at key moments during football matches and TV shows to ensure they made the maximum impact. Celebrity replies to tweeted questions earned extra points and I honestly thought I had died and gone to Twitter heaven the day Sophie Turner from Game Of Thrones retweeted a photograph of me and her taken in Belfast. I thrived in my fifteen minutes of fame as her army of admirers asked me ‘what was she like?’ and gushed over how lucky I was. I was in #HashtagHeaven.

It was then that I entered the murky underworld of Direct Messaging; that is, talking to people privately online as opposed to publicly on my timeline. I have often wondered why I took this next step. I was fully aware of the risks and connotations associated with this decision. I knew it was potentially dangerous but I stumbled on anyway, convincing myself that I knew where to draw the line. It was another step down into the pit, another step nearer the edge of the cliff, another step nearer the grave.

But I craved it. I needed it. That next thrill, that craving for the rush. To escape reality and responsibility. My inhibitions loosened by alcohol I forged ahead into the unknown. I needed to fill the gaping wound inside me, to dull the depression that frequently swamped me; to make my mind off the excessive OCD thoughts which blighted every waking hour. My father referred to this negativity as ‘stinking thinking’. I sought escape and release but instead my conscience became more weighed down and trapped.

I want to be as open and honest as I can be about my direct messaging days. But there are some topics I still cannot bring myself to talk about. The shame is too much, the wounds still too raw. Needless to say I got involved with people I should have steered well clear of and engaged in inappropriate and sinful behaviour. I knew it was wrong and I knew I would be exposed. But just as I could not put down the beer I also could not put down the phone. Chug Chug Tweet Tweet. I continued my downward dance with my devil.

I became increasingly secretive and paranoid. The more I tweeted the more guilty I felt; so I would drink to alleviate this. The more I drank the less inhibitive I was; so I chased the DM dragon. And on it went in ever decreasing circles. It was only a matter of time before Fionnuala, her suspicions already raised, picked up my jealously guarded phone as I lay in a drunken stupor.

I broke her heart and I killed the trust we had. I was adrift. The ‘Twirly Chair’ had spun for the last time. One bullet. Six chambers. The game was over and I had lost. And there I was. Drunk. Ashamed. Dirty. Despairing. Suicidal.

And there it was. The word I never thought I would utter. The mirror I never thought I would look into. But as I took the last step onto the floor of the pit there it was staring me in the face. The solution. An end to the pain. 

Tomorrow I will be talking about my first tentative steps out of the pit. A long but worthy journey. Thank you for sticking with me this far.

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