Having a nemesis is awful. But it can also be very rewarding.

After I posted the video from my talk at Hot Art Wet City a few weeks ago, I had a great exchange with sewing designer Abby Glassenberg on Twitter about something I spoke about – my internet nemesis. Abby just wrote a great post about her experience with a nemesis and asked others to share theirs, so here’s mine:

If you’ve followed my work since the early days of CrochetMe.com, you may have been aware around eight years ago that I had a contentious relationship with someone online. You may have had to look closely if you weren’t also following her, because I very quickly discovered for myself the A-#1 rule of handling nemeses and trolls online: DO NOT ENGAGE. Because I didn’t engage her publicly more than once or twice, there’s no gaping crater in the early crafts internet to serve as a reminder of the battles fought. There may be some of her blog posts about me that remain. I haven’t looked.

So. Back in the day when I was still getting my feet wet with CrochetMe.com, I struck up a relationship with a new contributor to the magazine. Eventually, that relationship soured. I found it very challenging when that happened. I’m outgoing and opinionated but not terribly keen on confrontation, and she got confrontational real fast. She called me names, asserted things about me that were patently false, and picked apart my work with a passion and energy that eventually became quite flattering but that initially broke my heart.

The reason she got to me, after the initial shock wore off, was that she voiced many of the concerns I was very insecure about. She called me a fraud when I already knew I was making things up as I went along and hadn’t yet gotten comfortable with that being a valid way of doing things. She tore apart my every decision and honed in on the exact factors I’d struggled with. She accused me of possessing qualities I loathe in others but secretly fear I exhibit. She accused me of being things I’m simply not, in ways that transcended personal insult and entered the realm of flagrantly offensive.

The realization I had, though – that she was saying the things I feared myself (except for that last part about the offensive name-calling) – is what allowed me to get over her. I couldn’t say anything to her to change her mind or her behaviour, though I tried so very hard. But I could work through those fears myself. I could sit down with the voice in my head and force it to talk to me. In doing so, I did a lot of healing. I did a lot of accepting. I did a lot of growing. And as I accomplished those things, my nemesis faded in importance. Her words carried less sting. When I was hired to be editor of Interweave Crochet, she had a field day about it on her blog. I rolled my eyes.

Eventually, I found myself smiling when someone would tell me she was shooting daggers at me again. Clearly I’d gotten under her skin somehow. Clearly I was important to her in some way. But she was no longer important to me.

It’s been several years since I’ve cared at all about this woman or our relationship. I don’t check in on her, and I don’t have to stop myself from thinking about her. I’ve healed.

And I wouldn’t change a thing about this experience. Having a nemesis was tremendously rewarding. I don’t regret a single shed tear or sleepless night. It hurt like hell, but all important growing hurts like hell.

Before I had a nemesis, I cowered at criticism. I was afraid of going too far or getting it wrong or offending someone. Because of my nemesis, I have a very clear understanding of the difference between criticism and assholery; I welcome the former and roll my eyes at the latter. Because of my nemesis, I worked very hard to find my own voice and to accept the consequences of using it. Because of my nemesis I’m comfortable trusting my gut and I know that sometimes faking it till I make it is the best and most rewarding strategy to employ. Because of my nemesis I feel comfortable taking visible risks, since the ugliest of ugly things have already been said about me. And even when she said those things, I couldn’t help but notice that about six people agreed with her and everyone else didn’t.

In many ways, my nemesis keeps company in my mind with the two or three people who have most dramatically influenced my career. That the other people were supportive rather than antagonistic doesn’t make the strength of their influence any different.

So now I’ll reiterate Abby’s request: Tell me your nemesis story. How’re you coping? Have you healed?

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