Pain scrolling was a term I had never heard before January. It loosely means to scroll through painful posts and blogs and forums, searching for doom and gloom. Reddit, TikTok and a million support forums are filled with advice from deeply negative people.
I became a victim of doom scrolling when my 12-year marriage suddenly blew up in my face. I couldn’t make sense of what was going on, and the loss was crushing me. I couldn’t afford counseling as a student, and the counselor assigned to me by the college ghosted me after one session. I turned to the one place readily available for anyone – the internet.
There is a deep and dangerous rabbit hole waiting to swallow hurting people. The first place I wound up was a series of articles that surfaced at the top of a Google search for my particular problem. It turns out my problem was not unique to me. Lots of others were going through it, as well. So many, in fact, entire websites are devoted to it.
Or so I was led to believe. The articles began to expound on how awful my spouse must surely be, and how I was an innocent victim, and for handing over my email address, the authors of these articles would send me ebooks about how to get revenge or get my wife back, or spy on her, or any number of creepy and manipulative tactics to achieve some weird end.
I’m not in the habit of handing out email addresses or creeping on people, so after doom-scrolling these fake blogs, I hit up forums, specifically one called Talk About Marriage. This must surely be the place for me, right?
TAM (as they call themselves) is a Toronto-based forum founded in the mid-2000s. It boasts more than 102,000 members who post in a variety of marriage-related sub-forums. There’s everything from parenting advice to sexual issues to infidelity and just general marriage discussions.
The problem, I found, was everyone on this site was bitter. The most vehement posters were found on the Divorce and Infidelity sub-forums. There were a lot of heartbreaking stories from desperate men and women looking for some support, and they ended up getting some of the most hard-edged advice I have seen.
There was no room for compromise with these people. Every piece of advice was “Lawyer up! Divorce him! Divorce her!” Husband didn’t take out the garbage last night? Divorce him! Wife didn’t answer your text quickly enough? She’s cheating, divorce her!
For people hurting and looking for some sage advice and calm seas, Talk About Marriage was toxic. I knew I didn’t want to divorce my spouse and was hoping for reconciliation. So, I moved on from TAM.
In fact, I landed on Reddit.
Reddit has a reputation as the cesspool of the internet and much of that is deserved. But as an avid Redditor, I knew the site can also be a place of community. There, on the r/marriage and r/divorce subreddits, I found other men and women with a similar story to mine.
Unfortunately, I also found many of the same kinds of voices I had just escaped on Talk About Marriage. Bitter, uncompromising and angry people spewing their venomous advice abounded. Hurting people get more confused, more bitter and eventually hurt more when hit with this kind of advice. I was one of them. I posted my story and was told again and again how I was doomed and all hope was lost and anything I wanted was stupid.
But then someone sent me a private message. He was an American soldier going through a painful divorce he never wanted. He reached out to see if I was okay. We struck up a conversation and ended up helping each other. Then another person reached out to me via private message. A couples’ therapist, who gave me calm and measured advice, some of which was “Get off the internet, it’s no good for your mental health right now.”
I took his advice, bid my new American friend adieu, and shut down my life on the internet. I figured at least for a little while.
Within days I began to feel calmer. Better. I was able to journal with pen and paper and get my thoughts in order. I was able to parent my two little children. Most importantly, I was able to talk calmly with my wife, who had left a week earlier. And she was able to come back to me.
Today, we’re together again, working on fixing the damage our marriage suffered. And aside from some Facebook posts for my family, I’m still broken up with the internet.