Three years ago, in December of 2014, my life took an unexpected turn when a repurposed blog post from two years earlier suddenly went viral. What started as sharing a sweet story for a newish website that discusses disability turned into weeks and months of media coverage. I was totally unprepared for the impact “going viral” would have on my blog, my heart, and my writing. A week after the post took off I found myself googling what to do when you go viral. I found a lot of information about what it means to go viral or how to make a post go viral – but nothing I was actually looking for. I started emailing a few bloggers who had been through this and seemed to handle it well, but they’re sort of famous now so they didn’t respond because I was likely one of a hundred people emailing that day. I was looking for guidance and reassurance, but I had to figure it out myself.
With that in mind, and the settling perspective of time passed, I want to share some things I learned from my experience.
+ You don’t have to respond to every email, or answer personal questions. My inbox quickly filled with emails from reporters, producers, and others individuals. I was overwhelmed by the number of people trying to contact me and felt I needed to respond to everyone. Some readers who contacted me often asked very personal questions about our family or our children. One man sent me a private facebook message wondering if I was infertile, because what else would possess me to adopt? (His words not mine.) I wish I had known it was okay to press delete and not feel guilty about it.
+ Choose what your eyes see and your heart takes in. People got cruel quickly. What started out as a fun little whirlwind of a week (I still remember texting my mom, THE TODAY SHOW EMAILED!!) turned ugly and racist and mean. Large adoption facebook groups with thousands of members started discussions about my post – not realizing that I was a member and could see the comments written about me. My parenting was dissected and false assumptions about me and my children were spouted off as truth. It was deeply painful. I learned to disengage from those groups and to refuse to read any comments on other platforms. If the Huffington Post publishes an article of mine I don’t read the comments. Same for the Today Show and any other place my work appears. I only read comments on my Facebook page and Instagram account. After deleting and blocking a torrent of atrociously racists comments, I turned the comment option off on my website completely. I intended it to be temporary, but have been much happier with them off so it became permanent.
+ It’s okay to say no to “big” and “exciting” opportunities. There were so many crazy phone calls I fielded in the first month of our story going viral. One producer wanted us to consider a reality show about our family and day to day life. (We said no thanks.) Another wanted us to appear on the Rachael Ray Show. (We did!) Every day a new opportunity presented itself, but it quickly stopped being exciting and fun, and instead became exhausting and overwhelming. Everyone wanted a piece of us, but I was still mom first and had a four-year-old and a two-year-old to protect and love. Saying no became very freeing.
+ Step away from the screens. I worried that if I stepped away and shut off all my devices for a few days it wouldn’t be manageable when I came back. So, I didn’t take that break for months – I should have done it much sooner. It wasn’t good for my emotional well-being and I put way too much pressure on myself to keep churning out content and make the most of the experience. A healthier option would have been to take some space and not worry about the results.
+ Figure out what you want. My dream was to be a published author and as it turns out, this viral post did eventually grow my platform to the point that I was able to get an agent, and eventually a publisher, to notice my writing and take a leap of faith on me. When things got too overwhelming, it helped to have a goal in mind. I was passionate about writing a book, so I worked toward that. When filtered through that lens, it helped to say no to things that wouldn’t get me closer to publishing a book and yes to the things that would.
+ Decide now what you’re okay with the whole world seeing. The was a day when my post was the #3 trending topic online. I knew there were extra eyes on my blog and social media accounts. Thankfully I’d already taken steps to ensure our safety and privacy (I never shared our address or phone number or where my kids attended school, etc.), but I did eventually make a handful of blog posts private.
+ Spend a lot of time with your friends and family who know and love you. Remember this is temporary and the internet has a short attention span. Get out of the house and off the computer.
I’ve had several posts since the Trader Joe’s story go viral, though none have been quite as big as that first time. And it’s been helpful for me to remember the lessons I learned the first time around: This will pass and fade away, I don’t have to jump on every single opportunity presented, the delete button is there for a reason, I will protect myself by not reading the comments and instead going out for coffee with my friends and reading a book or building legos with my kids. And always, get back to writing as if only one person is reading – you.