My Year of Reddit and Relaxation

Trigger warning: This episode talks about suicide. If you are having thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or go to for a list of additional resources. 

Last July, my therapist told me that I sounded exhausted. I needed not just a few good nights’ sleep but an old-fashioned rest cure—without the toxic William Morris wallpaper. Also, it was high summer, which meant that I had to sequester myself in dusky rooms thanks to lupus and my vampiric photosensitivity. So I ended up spending time on Reddit.

For about a decade, LinkedIn had been the only social media site I frequented; anything owned by Mark Zuckerberg, I figured, was bound to induce nightmares. I’d signed up for a Reddit account but had never really used it. Yet a few days after my therapist’s prescription, it hit me: Reddit was cluttered with cats, along with bottomless discussions about books and fashion and cooking and Twin Peaks, some of my favorite things. I dove down the r/abbit hole.

Within the protective cloak of anonymity, I found that what was valued most by most people was wit, good sense, and kindness. In a highly partisan visual culture peopled by would-be influencers, that discovery was refreshing.

As I lived with the world’s most photogenic cat, he quickly found favor on r/cats. My photo of him in a cardboard psychiatrist’s office à la Lucy van Pelt garnered 7000 likes in 24 hours, and Kuma acquired a few followers. R/cats and r/catswithjobs offered plenty of opportunities for puns, and punning soon became addictive. During a superbloom of “Is my cat gay?” posts, featuring photos of male kitties cuddling together, I’m still proud of posting “Looks like a cat-amite.” On r/TwinPeaks, I wedded two of my great passions to comment on a photo of a leashed dog named BOB, “Fire take a walk with me.”

R/suggestmeabook was also habit-forming because it was like a memory game due to the staggeringly specific requests. “Can you suggest a book with an Asian female protagonist who gets turned on by flowers?” Sure! Han Kang’s The Vegetarian. And I still smile when I think about the r/literature OP who was initially scorned for asking if the plays of Jon Fosse, the newly-minted Nobel Prize winner from Norway, were available in Norwegian. He was vindicated when someone pointed out that Fosse writes in Nynorsk.

The friendly and knowledgeable folks on r/tango convinced me to splurge on private lessons for my spouse and me, newcomers to the dance, lest we form hard-to-break bad habits early on. The r/fairygarden devotees were lovely, and a niche sub seems fitting for celebrants of pocket worlds. I encountered some of the wittiest comments on r/whatthefrock in threads for viciously astute critics of red-carpet fashion.

I saw as much suicidality on r/menopause as I did on the BPD subreddits—and we need to talk about that.

R/lupus frustrated me because its moderators disapproved of overt criticism of doctors, which is in tension with the fact that it takes women with the disorder around five years on average to receive a diagnosis; this delay is due, at least in part, to gendered biases among clinicians about women and pain. I was once scolded by a stranger for saying that women with lupus need to advocate for themselves with doctors: “Your doctors know more than you.” Regardless of whether or not that’s always true—and reports on r/menopause by women who were told by their gynecologists that they couldn’t possibly be experiencing perimenopause in their late 40s suggest it’s not—that doesn’t mean I was wrong about the importance of self-advocacy.

I steered clear of most of the high-trafficked subs. I could have culled a lurid escapade or two from my past for AITA, but when it came to those stories, I already knew the answer.

I was catapulted into r/lounge time and time again by Redditors gilding my comments, and I still have a spot in the r/megalounge, “the lounge for Exquisite Redditors,” which I suppose should feel like being admitted to Jackie 60 in ‘90s Manhattan.

But a woman whom I call Kafka’s mom proved that benevolence has severe limitations on the anonymous scroll of Reddit. Last fall, I responded to her post on r/cats asking if someone would adopt her disabled cat Kafka if she killed herself. I wrote that I was crying because of her pain and her love for Kafka. She DMed me to apologize for making me cry. We messaged back and forth. She lived on the streets in Turkey, she said. I offered to help her find local animal shelters and charities that support mental health. She said there was nothing and wouldn’t even tell me her name. But I told her that I cared about her so much, and it was true.

After about an hour, she wrote, “You’re probably the last person I spoke to, and you made me very happy.” She wrote nothing more. I messaged her and checked Reddit compulsively for days, but I never heard from her or saw her active on Reddit again.

Three months ago, my partner and I lost our beloved Kuma to terminal illness. After that, r/cats became too painful to purr-use. (Even amid tragedy, I can’t help myself.) Gradually, I stopped visiting most of my pinned subreddits. Today—around eleven months after the start of this journey—I declare my year of Reddit and relaxation over. Although truth be told, this past year wasn’t really relaxing at all.

Yet over the course of this year, I learned to trust that I could find kindness and reason among strangers. And that is something significant in these times. I also learned from Kafka’s mom that in addition to my work as a university instructor, I needed to provide more concrete help to others, which factored into my decisions to start volunteering again and launch my interview podcast, A Real Affliction: BPD, Culture, and Stigma.

TLDR: You can find good, intelligent people everywhere, even on social media. And they can move you to become a better person.