Blogging as Therapy: A Talk with Erin Tyler of TheBunnyBlog.Com

A recent CNN.com article discusses the use of blogging as a form of therapy. Apparently this is true not only for the writers of the sites but the readers as well, as the piece talks about how people’s messages on blogs can be particularly affirming because the material is public. It’s essentially group therapy.

Writing as a therapeutic device is not a new development. Some therapists ask clients to simply journal their thoughts and share what they feel comfortable with in session. This can have a cathartic effect. I rarely ask my clients to write in a free-form style, but more often to jot down specific thoughts that are associated with negative shifts in mood. More often than not, patterns in thinking emerge, which we work together to alter. When that happens clients often see a vast improvement in their feelings.
Some people have written to me, asking if I use ShrinkTalk as a form of self-therapy. Generally speaking the answer is no, even though one individual wrote on another site that ShrinkTalk is simply a way for me to “therapute myself.” I laid out the goals for the site here and I still see the site as serving these purposes.


Because I don’t consider myself much of a self-healer I decided to turn to Erin Tyler, author of The Bunny Blog, to expand on the CNN.com article. Erin is a brutally honest writer who always struck me as trying to work through some painful past and present. I asked her a few questions about her site and what, if anything, comes from the writing:

Q) Your site is certainly one of the more honest on the web, especially given the fact that you don’t write anonymously. What, if any, therapeutic value does writing bring to you?

This is a difficult question to answer, I think, because it deals with the stuff we’re not good at discerning and describing as a people, the emotions. All that ephemeral stuff. It’s vital, of course, to pay attention to it, but it’s the immaterial stuff, so I think it’s easy to say its not there, shove it aside, or shove it down–that certainly has been my problem in life. So I think, to grant any sort of validity to therapeutic devices such as writing, you have to explain the before, and then explain the present, and if there’s value in the writing, then those two things will be very different, and the present will be the better of the two.

And so, here is my before: I started writing ten years ago in October. I’ll explain where and why and how in a bit. I should first tell you what I thought of my life at the time. I was graduating college in the upcoming spring, Rochester Institute of Technology. I came from a decent family; had two loving parents who’d been raised in stable homes. My family was good folk. Hardworking folk. German and Irish immigrants mostly, with a little bit of Iroquois. My parents had been married 30 years and I had an extremely close relationship with my mother. I probably hadn’t had an idyllic childhood, but that was my own fault, because there was something inherently wrong with me at my core, from birth, and that was the reason I was suffering. I was too stubborn, too sensitive, too selfish. Nothing particularly bad had ever happened to me; I was merely inferior to everyone on earth, and there really wasn’t anything good about me. Because of this, I was eating disordered, in and out of controlling and abusive relationships with jerks, addicted to a handful of different substances, alcohol, pills, sex – anything that would put me out of myself, to be honest. Not to mention, I was at war with a depression that had gripped me since before puberty, the source of which was just…fate, I guessed. I was in a lot of pain, and I had tried to commit suicide twice the previous winter. Because I was bad at everything, I failed at both attempts, but I was pretty certain I wouldn’t be alive much longer. I couldn’t take the hurt because I was weak.

So October of 1998, my family gathered to bury my uncle Mark, who at little over 40, had sold all his belongings, run a length of pipe from the tailpipe of his car through a hole he had drilled in the wall between the garage and his bedroom, filled his bedroom full of car exhaust and died. We were shocked. We had no idea why he did it. He left a note and in it was an explanation–something about him feeling inherently inferior to everyone.

There I was, hovering over my uncle’s corpse, disturbed, shocked and grief-stricken, thinking all sorts of things: he was a really good guy, how did this happen? What about my cousins? They’re alone now. How can I help? What can I do? All the things you worry about when something tragic happens–and I stopped for a second, and had, maybe, the first selfish thought of my life.

It came in an odd way: the image of Uncle Mark puking behind the garage at Christmas. It had happened, and everyone had seen it, but where did the thought go when I filed it away in my brain? Why was it suddenly back?

This lead to a questioning of Grandma’s strange and invasive relationship with all of Uncle Mark’s girlfriends and wives. This is ordinarily that part where my brain involuntarily responds with a blocking of some sort, a stoppage, a wall, and then quickly changes subject. But there was my uncle’s dead body right in front of me, and the wall didn’t come up. I thought, who the fuck does she think she is? It was refreshing, freeing, and after that came an image of just one of the times I saw Uncle Eric be a brutally condescending prick to Uncle Mark.

And it was if somebody had turned on the light inside of me and my brain was full of roaches. Patterns emerged. Nasty ones. For generations on both sides of my family, the sensitive one with the unusually close relationship to his/her mother, the one everybody relentlessly “teases”…dead, usually while young, and by their own hand.

And I had a selfish thought: I am next.

I left the calling hours, and walked past the quarter mile long line of crying people who loved my uncle to a convenience store, where I bought a notebook and a pencil. I wrote a poem. It wasn’t good, but that didn’t matter. It felt amazing. I began writing stuff down all the time. The indecipherable, indescribable stuff. The haunting stuff. Whatever I could get out, really.

And so, now ten years have passed. I am not the same person. There really isn’t anything about the real me that resembles who I thought I was back then, and the real me is the truth.

I cling to the lowest rung of a deviant, hierarchal structure of power addicts who project their angst and self-loathing onto their nearest inferior. It’s a lot like growing up in a cult, only at the top of the cult, there’s Grandma instead of David Koresh. I am at the bottom, so I do not have anyone but myself to abuse, and I have done this faithfully since before puberty. My mind and identity have never belonged to me. I am just now gaining control over them. If I still had a relationship with my family, the family would decide who I am, implant false memories of a nice childhood during which I was not abused, but was an awful, selfish and spiteful child who was inherently evil and hopelessly incapable. My parents have never been happy with me. They have never been happy in their marriage. My mother is an extremely troubled woman, whose moods are so changeable, and at times violent, there are large parts of my childhood I don’t remember. My father watched my mother abuse me and said nothing. My parents watched me abuse myself and said nothing. My parents both ignored and publicly humiliated me, and I was little more to them than an inanimate substance. A drug.

I grew up a Catholic. I grew up a bisexual Catholic. I grew up in a low-income, Catholic neighborhood full of troubled Altar children, a neighborhood full of sexual predators. I was repeatedly sexually abused.

That’s different, no? Better? It doesn’t sound better, but it is. My, God, it is so much better. The pain, and the self doubt, and the self destructiveness is melting out of my life, more so with each passing day I sit down, write and commit to belief a little bit more of this person that I am and have always been, which is a good person from a sick family. A smart person who works really hard.

Its difficult for people to understand how you can think you are a bad person when there is no evidence supporting that fact–I got straight A’s and no detentions, and truly believed I was a bad kid. But you’re brainwashed. Your ability to self assess is taken from you, and feelings are not allowed. No one can feel. If they did, they walk the fuck out, so it’s declared selfishness to feel things. Moreover, the message is: you do not matter as a person, beyond the material, or your ability to sacrifice for the family, and so you further suppress feelings. Sit on them. That’s a dangerous way to move through life, particularly if you’re seeing things through as cracked a prism as mine. You gobble up all the booze, and drugs and sex you can get your hands on.

Writing gave me license to feel things. My journals were a private place I could spit anything I wanted. I laid down all these suspicions I had. I made them real, every day, and through the years, I pieced together an autonomous me that was off limits to anyone else. I wrote a real me.

I know, and not at all casually, that had I not found writing, I would be dead. You can call me overdramatic, but where is my uncle? Where is my cousin Jimmy?

Q) Does that fact that it’s a public forum, as opposed to a private diary, bring anything additional to the table, as the CNN.com article suggests? Do readers’ comments, emails and feedback, especially if they share similar experiences, contribute further value to your writing? In other words, do you feel any sense of community with your readers, especially when you discuss emotionally laden material?

I wrote about three different answers to this question, mostly because the reversion back to the party line of “You are inherently bad” is still so powerful in me. My first answer was something like, “I get bad feedback and everybody hates me and thinks I’m a histrionic attention seeker.” That’s not true, at all, but that’s what I had been holding in my mind.

Yesterday, I did a little exercise. I went through the email I’ve gotten as feedback from my site since August and collected it (half of it I hadn’t even allowed myself to read). I pasted the feedback into a word document that ended up being twenty-eight pages long, and there wasn’t a single negative email. I was shocked. How was I shocked? It’s my email. I check it every day. How do I not know people read my site and like it?

My point is: I don’t write publicly to connect with others. Its pretty humiliating to think even one soul is reading my archives. Have you read them? They’re a bit nuts, and really drunken. In fact, I don’t see myself in them at all any more. I see an alcoholic, crazy person who sees dead people and thinks her BFF is a narcissist who calls her “psycho bitch.” Someone who is not winning at life and desperate to think one good thought about herself. I can’t help but be embarrassed it was me, but it was.

People tell me I should take those stories down, but I never will. The symbolic gesture means too much to me. I was wrestling with an identity crisis, and my mind was not mine. I had no idea who I was, so I bared my soul to the whole world, and if they wanted, they could come inside and read my every ugly, humiliating private thought. Out of that gesture, I ridded myself of the false history I’d inherited from my family. If I had just let it be, it would’ve killed me, but I didn’t. I screamed about as loudly as one can “This is the real me, nakedly, and I’m hurting, and I’m vulnerable. And these are the things I think, unabashedly, without edit, without censor.” I publicly admitted things people aren’t brave enough to admit to themselves at night, alone, under the covers, in their PJ’s with their Teddy. That took balls, and its something I’m proud of.

I’m writing a book about all this, of course. It’s taking forever. I’m still in that angry victim phase, which means I haven’t fully processed the situation, and the anger is making things difficult to see and understand. There’s no vantage point in the middle, you know? More a glob of gory details, making writing all the more important. Not to mention, cobbling together a true sense of self out of a thirty-year long identity crisis is a slow endeavor. To write about it eight tenths of the way through the process is to rob the story of its potential authenticity, and certainly its humor.

I think people expect I’ve given up because I’ve kept the majority of my revelations and breakdowns to myself these past few years. Not true. I’ve really done nothing but write for ten years, and I mean nothing. I’ve lived like a monk. I write everywhere, at all times, and when I sleep, I write, because I get up every morning and write down my dreams. I’m obsessed with writing. I don’t stop. I am going to figure out why I got so sick, exactly what happened and why it worked, and I’m going to make sure it never happens again. In fact, the only part of the false history of me that remains is stubbornness. I am one stubborn motherfucker, and I’m starting to realize that’s a good thing.

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30 Responses to “Blogging as Therapy: A Talk with Erin Tyler of TheBunnyBlog.Com”

  1. Cassandra says:

    Wow. I really dig Erin Tyler’s brutal honesty and self awareness. Coming from an incredibly wack family myself, there’s something about her writing that really speaks to me. Thank you for introducing Erin. I’ve started reading her archives and I think I have a new favorite blogger (you’re my first favorite, Dr. Rob!)

  2. s says:

    Some therapists ask clients to simply journal their thoughts and share what they feel comfortable with in session. This can have a cathartic effect. I rarely ask my clients to write in a free-form style, but more often to jot down specific thoughts…
    I know this is a totally self-centered comment given the content of the post, but god my shrink sucks. I write, it is terribly personal, I suck at talking, and every time (a couple) I’ve been brave enough to show him something (always emotionally laden, never long), he hardly even reads it.

  3. rien says:

    I really miss reading your stuff, Bunny. I know I’m not alone when I say that reading what you’ve written has helped me come to terms with a lot of things myself, if only because you put into words what I’ve never been able to.
    Thanks, Rob!

  4. Journaling can be an effective tool in therapy, though I think blogging is a different animal. While both may be a place people dump their thoughts and/or sort things out, I think a blog has a different dynamic because of the inherent opportunity for feedback.
    I blog for 2 reasons: 1. A way to keep friends updated in my day to day life. 2. A way to dump (some) stuff from my brain…not so much for catharsis, but it forces me to settle in and actually think, as our lives are often on auto-pilot.

  5. Tracie says:

    I agree with Therapeutic. Blogging is inherently different than journaling for the reason that is intentionally public. One could use the medium of an e-journal (and I’m just making up words here) and locking it totally from the public, and I wouldn’t consider that a blog.
    I’ve blogged publicly and semi-publicly (to a locked group of friends and invisible to everyone else) for almost four years. I stopped writing for the public when I realized that I was self-editing based on the fact that I knew it would be read by people who didn’t know me. I wish I could say that I exhibited a strong sense of self, said “Fuck ’em and whatever they think” and written whatever I wanted, but I didn’t. I censored the most painful or shameful parts of my experiences, and in doing so I think I lost out on some of the benefits of the medium. The idea of inviting observations from stranger when discussing, say, my recovery from a rape was not something that sat well for me. In severely limiting who is welcome to read my posts now, I feel much freer and thus the practice became more beneficial to me.

  6. Rob says:

    Awesome collaboration. Really starting to like these Dr. Rob-centric get-togethers of Rudius writers. Makes for some interesting stuff.
    Waiting on that book, Bunny. I know just from what you’ve told me that it’s going to be fucking huge.

  7. Nadia says:

    Not to slight Dr. Rob — he’s good with what he does — but I was so excited to see Bunny activity and over here; it was powerful, as always. It’s easier to explain the effect blogging has on Bunny than it is to explain the effect her blogging has on her readers. It’s like trying to trace all the flowers pollinated by a single honest, ballsy bee — all the silent fans might never say anything, but without her insight, they’d never get to drop their seeds.
    Ah, I’m going all gooey and bio lab-y here — I’ve been reading Bunny since I was 15, and I think she (and her blogging) is inspiring!

  8. kate says:

    hi bunny. i’ve always been your fan. i’m happy that the real and good you is emerging from the obscurity of smoke and mirrors and family sickness. at the same time i’d caution you to not completely disown the bad parts of yourself. the bad parts of you–the alcoholic, feeling-suppressing sex-friend–she is you too, albeit a part that no longer serves its original purpose. if you completely disown the bad bunny then you negate the validity of your hurt. as bad as you were it wasn’t your fault and i think you’ll feel better if you can find some compassion for that “bad” person, who was really just hurt. justifiably so.
    i would also like to say that to me, this line seems inaccurate:
    “I couldn’t take the hurt because I was weak.”
    i don’t like the word weak because it’s too pejorative for what you were. granted, you’re strong now and that’s something you deserve to be proud of, but i would rather say that you couldn’t take the hurt because you had no objective platform from which to understand it. you lacked self-awareness because you’d been denied the possibility of developing a true self. your perception of “self” was based on a sick fiction, and if you were weak you can’t take the blame for being that way.
    if it seems like i’m assuming too much about you it’s because i’m projecting. i hope you don’t mind..

  9. Maggy says:

    Am I the only one who doesn’t like Bunny’s writing style? This whole post bugged me because I couldn’t really get into her writing. =/

  10. Joe says:

    I have to wonder if, in a more general sense, Dr. Rob believes it is generally healthy for people to get away from their families as young adults? Even for people without mean, spiteful families. As a learning experience, few things can top being thrown into a completely new environment as an adult.
    Dr. Rob Note: This is a lame answer, but it completely depends on the person. Diving head first into a new environment is probably the best thing for certain young adults. But there’s no doubt that certain people simply can’t handle it and would buckle under the pressure. Whether that be due to biological or environment factors isn’t as important as the fact that when you engage the ‘sink or swim’ philosophy there is always some level of doubt. This is simply because there are just too many variables to perfectly predict the human response.

  11. Joe says:

    That’s interesting. I actually left out the last part of my comment in the interest of brevity, but it seems more relevant now. I drove to college with my dad and got there a few days early. Right after I had dropped my dad off at the airport and drove myself back to the hotel, I was in the elevator with another freshman and her mom. The girl was crying and her mom was giving her booze. One of those odd little things that stands out in your mind. It seemed to represent the polar opposites of the experience.
    I vaguely remember her because she was hot. She transferred after that year.

  12. Jolene says:

    “Am I the only one who doesn’t like Bunny’s writing style? This whole post bugged me because I couldn’t really get into her writing. =/”
    That must be why you took the time to comment on her writing; because you didn’t read it.

  13. marcia says:

    I think Bunny writes well, but I found her answers painful to read because I could relate to the type of family she’s from (so I probably won’t be delving into the archives, Bunny). Imo, she’s courageous to share such powerful and intensely personal insights.
    I also find it interesting that someone felt compelled to post a negative comment about writing style, without addressing the substance of Bunny’s remarks.

  14. Dyson says:

    My two favorite Rudius writers together in one post.

  15. CumDumpster says:

    :sigh: I miss bunny.

  16. Julie says:

    I am probably one of the few who views Erin with a slightly less than admiring eye. I vehemently disagree with the blind faith that is placed in her writing as therapy. I think it can be dangerous because people can use it as an excuse to wallow in their mental illnesses and instabilities and say, “Hey, I’m just like Bunny!” because they think she’s cool. I feel that it’s easy to read a writer who says “I was abused, that’s why I act this way”, have the reader say “Oh, I so identify!”, and then the reader feels excused for their behaviors and doesn’t feel the need to change them in any way.
    I rarely see where Erin offers up any hope, shares any times where she shows us she’s getting healthy, though she does share with us her current instances of self-abuse, low self-esteem, inappropriate behaviors, etc. I dare say that is what makes for good writing and that’s where the danger lies in these types of blogs. I think the healthier a person gets, the more boring the writing.

  17. Trevor says:

    Julie, you think a woman who went through all of that and has managed to put together some stability in her life by making art offers no hope because other people think “its cool” to read her stuff? I don’t follow your argument, and I’m pretty sure you’re not paying attention or jealous.

  18. Tracie says:

    Trevor, if I’m following Julie correctly (and please correct me if I’m wrong), what I took from what she said is that people who are going through very painful, destructive behavior might read Erin’s record of it and validate their own behavior based on the fact that someone else went through a similar experience. It might make it harder for some people to identify their behavior as aberrant or unhealthy if they are desperately looking for some proof that it is neither of those things. By showing someone who is successful and/or interesting, who also happens to engage in less than healthy behaviors, it wouldn’t be difficult for someone to reason that their behavior was acceptable because someone else was able to function under similar circumstances.
    I disagree wholeheartedly that such is the case; if you’re bent on self-destruction you can find reassurance and validation anywhere if you look hard enough. I don’t feel that it’s a blogger’s responsibility to preface every entry with a PSA that their behavior was damaging and don’t try this at home, kids.

  19. LittleStar says:

    Wow, Julie, you’re dumb. A deviant hierarchical family is like a cult. I should know, I grew up in one, and maintaining a stable life outside my family is unbelievably difficult and always will be. Do you know what happens when people grow up in a cult and then try to leave? They almost never make it, and the fact that you think this person offers no hope shows you’re ignorant. You should do some research into the type of problem she has before you spout off. She’s not “wallowing.” She’s out there trying and sharing her process with us, instead of talking crap about people on the internet she doesn’t even know like some other people with far less character and class. Not to mention, you haven’t read about her recent progress because she’s saving it for her book. Perhaps she’s totally stable. You don’t know, and yet you go “blah blah blah” because you’re jealous of the attention she gets.

  20. Peng says:

    I love these interviews with the other Rudius writers and really hope you continue.I would really like to read about one with Kung-fu Mike. Keep up the good work with the site.

  21. Nadia says:

    I’d like to throw in my two cents on Julie’s argument, mostly because hers is a common way to misinterpret someone like Bunny.
    To say that Bunny shows “no hope” and actually drags her readers onto the bandwagon of refusing to change is littered with assumptions. For a reader to go from “I identify with this problem” to “so I will do nothing to change it” is a big leap. A lot of the time, it’s enough for the reader to know they’re not alone; there’s someone else out there who sees how messed up something is and is also dealing with it.
    That seems a fantastic bit of therapy for the readers. Now to say that Bunny wallows in self-pity is silly; her blog doesn’t read like a high school poetry club’s anthology. Her writing shows definite growth and progress of her thinking through and reasoning her past, another impressive self-therapy.
    And to say that the more healthy a person, the more boring the writing! I’d like to listen to my 80 year old grandparents more than a college student — what do you think all the hardship brings a person? Humility and a lot of great stories.

  22. Nate Fisher says:

    Bunny writes Six Feet Under wank. Sure, I like the show, but you don’t have to dramatize your life so much.

  23. The Bunny says:

    Hi peeps. How’s it goin?
    Dr. Rob invited me over. I read all these comments and while I agree, there are some erroneous judgments and misconceptions that are pretty par for the course, I think if you write something like that publicly, so nakedly without edit and net criticism such as this–on the internet, no less–you’re pretty damn lucky. This is some pretty intelligent discourse, I’d say.
    I just found out, recently, that my fans are 4-1 high IQ grad students. Makes me feel pretty blessed to have the archive of awesomely positive feedback they’ve written me over the years, in comments on sites and in email. Thanks guys. You’re the shit, and I have serious love for you.
    Can we lay off Julie? That’s her opinion. She’s totally entitled to it. I don’t drink, do drugs, cut myself or fuck around anymore, and I wake up happy every day, but how is she supposed to know that? From reading the extensive block of articles I’ve written about my recent life? They don’t exist. They go in the book. BTW, Julie–Don’t ever consider recovery boring. It is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever experienced, and I expect it to be the best part of my writing, past, present and future.
    To “Peng”: KungfuMike is fabulous, and one of the best young men I’ve ever met. I hope Dr. Rob profiles him too. He’s a treasure trove of yo-yo Catholic mindfuck humor. Irish are funny, but KFM is on another level.
    At any rate, I’d be lying if I said my life has been easy. I’m sorry if you think that’s whiny, but one of the universal truths in life is that you cannot move forward without addressing your past, figuring out why you do what you do and editing your behavior so that you can move forward with a strategy that works for you and manifests positivity in your life. If you don’t like that, don’t agree with it, or think its an emotionally indulgent approach to reality, you’re in a shitload of trouble. Sorry. Read my archives. They are what happens when you ignore the immaterial.
    Peace,
    Bunny

  24. Kvisling says:

    You should put your mind at ease by turning to the dark side. Get drunk, torment animals and people, worship Hitler, and commit suicide for lord Sathanas! Evil is hip; chaos is cool. Put the DISCO back in DISCORD and decapitate a weakling with a butter knife while watching “Triumph of the Will” set to a techno beat!

  25. Anonymous says:

    I read some of The Bunny’s stuff and they struck me as self-absorbed and melodramatic.
    Also strikes me as odd that despite 10 years of journal writing, her thoughts on her past are still very simple, where her parents are either hard-working loving people from stable homes, or abusive violent people who would publicly humiliate her. Both versions are too extreme to be true.
    Also, despite years of writing she still cannot bring herself to say that she made her own choices. First, she was born that way, and now, her childhood made her that way.
    And yes, I do agree with Julie in that it encourages people to do bad stuff because it’s cool.
    Your blog is much better Rob. It’s the only memoir-like thing I know of that isn’t like The Bunny- self-absorbed and melodramatic.
    Keep up the good work. 😀

  26. Caitlin says:

    Bunny,
    I miss your writing terribly. I will most defiantly be first in line to buy your book.

    To the anonymous person before me,
    While I don’t exactly agree that Bunny is self-absorbed and melodramatic, I can see where you might get that. What you need to understand is that blogging as therapy (and I suppose therapy itself from time to time) is kind of self-absorbed and melodramatic. You’re talking about yourself and something in your past that was quite dramatic. I’ve been in therapy since I was 14 years old, and I know for a fact that it’s a long and difficult process. It seems to me that Bunny is posting as she makes progress. As you said “her parents are either hard-working loving people from stable homes, or abusive violent people who would publicly humiliate her.” The article clearly states that she had to break away from the fairy-book childhood her parents made her believe she had, and think back to how it actually was. That’s where the difference in narrative comes from. I’m not trying to undermine your opinion, I’m simply attempting to explain to you something you may not have realized.

  27. Jen says:

    I’m often into blogging and appreciate your posts. This is great content.

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  30. Paul says:

    Never related to something so much. You are the best bunny

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