In July, I called Marianne Williamson a “heinous wind chime” on Twitter, and boy, is she still angry.
Before I get started, here are a few fun facts you should know about me, just in case you’re new around here. I’m a 27-year-old writer who tackles topics like feminism, sexual health, mental illness and online harassment. I live with anxiety and depression, and I take an SNRI called Effexor to treat both.
I’m no stranger to weird political beefs, though this is my first with an actual candidate. In the 2016 election, I wrote a personal essay about the alt-right and how they’d attacked me for my sexual health activism. That essay that went viral and attracted even more digital hatred from folks like Milo Yiannopoulos and Paul Joseph Watson. InfoWars ran the headline, “HILLARY CLINTON SENDS THANK YOU LETTER TO “SLUT” WHO IS PROUD OF HER SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASE.” The harassment sucked, but the letter from Hillary was pretty badass.
I am no stranger to how social media platforms can be weaponized by bad actors to harass and intimidate dissenters, as well as how the internet gives a voice to the everyday concerned citizen. All of the sludge I’ve encountered as a writer, and as the former Senior Social Media Editor for a prominent media organization, taught me how Twitter’s bad design and failure to protect users, not to mention the collapsing divide between public figures and private citizens, have created a dangerous digital landscape for the most vulnerable among us.
I am, if it isn’t already obvious, a huge Democrat. I say huge to communicate my enthusiasm, not my stature — though I have a small following on Twitter and a cult following among the STI+ community (long story), I am not an operative or a prominent commentator. I am verified on Twitter only because for a few years I was internet famous as the “face of herpes,” which, again, is a long story. Thus far into the primary, I support Senator Elizabeth Warren, but I tune into every debate and devour political news on the daily.
Which brings me to Marianne Williamson. What is there to say that hasn’t been said about her already? The author, spiritual leader and newfound politician is running for the highest office in the United States on a platform of healing and love. Her campaign, light on policy but long on inspiration, has inspired countless memes and real supporters, although not enough to pass the most recent debate threshold.
While her message appeals to a country starved of moral certainty and drowning in dread, she has an anti-science streak. In June, she called mandatory vaccines “draconian” and “Orwellian,” only to apologize later on. A few weeks ago, she suggested that Hurricane Dorian was in part turned away from the U.S. coast by “power of the mind,” a tweet that she later deleted. Quotes from her 2010 weight loss book, A Course in Weight Loss: Spiritual Lessons for Surrendering Your Weight have emerged and are frankly bananas and fat-phobic as hell. Her legacy on the AIDS crisis is worth diving into in context here, and this Twitter thread of quotes from her books is absolutely stunning.
What really set my teeth on edge were her comments about depression and medication. Williamson has backtracked ad nauseam, but here’s an overview: She called clinical depression “such a scam” on Russell Brand’s podcast. She suggested anti-depressants were harmful when Robin Williams died by suicide in 2014, and again when Kate Spade passed in 2018 (bonus yikes: the article Williamson shared about Robin Williams was from a Scientology website). In 2013, she tweeted that “Feds say 1 in 10 Americans on anti-depressants. Not a good sign. This is not a time in American history for any of us to be numbing our pain” (source). She’s even pushed back on depression screenings for new moms at risk of postpartum depression, saying “follow the money on this one.”
I am not a journalist. I am a writer, and many journalists have taken a look at Williamson’s wavering views on the validity of depression as a medical condition and on anti-depressants as treatment. You should read them here and here and here. Even Anderson Cooper got in on the action, pressing Williamson on her suggestion that anti-depressants “numb” and “mask” emotional pain. You should read these pieces because they dig into the nuances and evolution of her views. They’ll be fair and balanced.
I can’t be fair and balanced about this because I’m exhausted. A few weeks ago, I quit my job at TED to recover from years of professional burnout. There were other reasons, but my mental health was a huge slice of the decision to move on; after months of stability on a good medication, I felt myself begin to waver on the edge of sanity again. My hair has a shock of gray coming in, and my brain pulsed at my desk every day with anger, numbness, and the feeling of total overwhelm that descends when life throws too much shit at you. I’ve written in the past about anxiety, suicidal ideation and the psychological toll of activism. What I’m not sure if I’ve stated plainly here is that I think I’d be dead if it weren’t for anti-depressants, my therapist and my family.
Suffice to say, Marianne Williamson was never going to be my favorite Presidential candidate. The more I learned about her career before her unlikely campaign in 2018, the more irritated I was. I want a President who believes in comprehensive mental health treatment, specifically universal healthcare that includes therapy and full coverage of anti-depressants and other medications. I want a President who takes the details seriously, who doesn’t steer debate conversation away from healthcare to make fun of “plans.” I want a President who does her darn homework.
When I began to see activists I respected praising Williamson on Twitter during the July debates, I got even madder. I tweeted, “Marianne Williamson has implied that people who take antidepressants are weak, that you can cure cancer and HIV with love, and that fat people need to pray more. She’s a heinous wind chime of a human and I’m losing a lot of respect for people praising her right now.” My intent was to push back against the fawning of reputable critics and commentators whose approval I worried would catch on. I thought a few hundred people would see it and maybe some other viewers would rethink their compliments. Regardless of my intention, the tweet went viral. It currently sits at 15.3 retweets and 70.8k likes.
Marianne Williamson has implied that people who take antidepressants are weak, that you can cure cancer and HIV with love, and that fat people need to pray more. She’s a heinous wind chime of a human and I’m losing a lot of respect for people praising her right now. #DemDebate
— ella dawson (@brosandprose) July 31, 2019
I published that tweet on July 31st. It blew up and then blew over, its circulation winding down. But then on August 6th, something strange happened. Williamson herself tweeted at me.
@brosandprose I have never implied that people taking anti-depressants are weak, I never told people with AIDS that they could just love it away, and I never told overweight people that their problem is that they don’t pray enough. EVER.
— Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) August 6, 2019
Having placed a bet with my Twitter followers that if Marianne showed up in my Twitter mentions, I would donate $100 to the Warren campaign, I promptly whipped out my credit card. Then I drafted my response:
Why not reply to my actual tweet, Marianne? Did the “heinous wind chime” comment hit a nerve? https://t.co/YdJ40WEVNR
— ella dawson (@brosandprose) August 6, 2019
Williamson had tweeted at me without replying directly to my actual tweet. I found this suspicious, possibly an attempt to not bring her followers to my original tweet. But it seems more likely that she just doesn’t know how to reply to people on Twitter properly.
I did reply, as soon as I saw it in NY magazine. And of course “heinous wind chime” hit a nerve; it’s based on a totally false perception of me. You might not agree with me, but to say horrible things based on things that aren’t even true is no different than what Trump does.
— Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) August 6, 2019
Comparing me, a cranky millennial live-tweeting a debate from her tiny apartment to her 24k followers, to Donald Trump seemed like a bit of a fucking stretch, if you’ll excuse my language. I didn’t hold back.
I’m a queer, herpes-positive activist who needs antidepressants to survive. Saying that my criticism of your record is “no different than what Trump does” is disqualifying and gross.
I would say that I can’t wait to see you lose, but you’re only in this to sell books anyway.
— ella dawson (@brosandprose) August 6, 2019
Marianne never responded, and I went back to doing my job considering it was two in the afternoon on a Tuesday. I even slacked my coworker in disbelief: “I appear to be in a Twitter feud with Marianne Williamson.”
After some interest from press in our strange Twitter tête-à-tête, I moved on with my life.
Fast forward to last night, seven weeks after this exchange. It was 11:30pm on a Sunday and I was watching Succession in the guest room at my dad’s house when I saw my phone blowing up with Twitter notifications. It was Marianne goddamn Williamson.
For the record @brosandprose: I NEVER implied “people who take antidepressants are weak, that you can cure cancer and HIV with love, and that fat people need to pray more.” You have the right to think I’m a “heinous wind chime of a human being,” but those falsehoods remain untrue
— Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) September 23, 2019
I genuinely do not know what caused Williamson to fire off this tweet. I haven’t talked about her since mid-August when a journalist at the New York Post asked me if I had a comment about her using feminism to shield herself from criticism and I called her a “shockingly unqualified disaster.” My last tweet about her was this one from ten days ago, which contains no actual political substance:
Things I screamed about at my farewell party last night:
– Marianne Williamson
– office crushes
– the TED Talks I don’t like
– our aversion as a society to talking about casual sex
– Elizabeth Warren
– hamburgers? I think?
— ella dawson (@brosandprose) September 12, 2019
As far as I can tell, I’ve just been on her mind. I hurt Marianne Williamson’s feelings and she’s still mad about it.
It can be hard to parse the inappropriateness of Williamson’s decision to tweet at me from the weirdness of her existence in general, but it’s important that we do. Marianne Williamson thinks it’s reasonable to tweet unprovoked to her 2.8 million Twitter followers about a person who criticized her record, and accuse that person of deliberately spreading falsehoods. Marianne Williamson is not mad at the countless journalists who pressed her on her comments about anti-depressants. She’s not tweeting at Anderson Cooper at midnight on a Sunday. She’s upset with little old me, a writer who lives in Brooklyn and loves her Effexor and hates charlatans.
I am not a journalist or a political operative, or a prominent societal voice or a campaign staffer. I’m not even employed right now! I’m living off my savings and scrambling to find new health insurance before my coverage ends at the end of the month. I pose no threat to Marianne Williamson. I am a citizen personally impacted by her approach to mental illness, and I dared to disagree with her views.
It’s not just childish and bizarre to lash out at me on Twitter on a Sunday night. It’s also dangerous. This is where we get into the weeds of social media platform design, but it’s important. Marianne Williamson @-mentioned me in her tweet, meaning anyone who replies to her tweet is automatically placed in my notifications too. It also means that her fans can easily find me and scold me, which they are. Her fans are eager to defend her honor. There are strangers arguing with each other right now in my mentions while I sit in my pajamas writing this. Her fans are, thankfully, kind of pathetic compared to the alt-right hordes I faced in the last election cycle, but it’s still a nuisance to be called a hater and a hack when I’m trying to go to sleep. When a public figure like Williamson targets another Twitter user, it puts a target on that person’s back for their millions of followers to aim at.
Imagine if Joe Biden had done this to a constituent who took issue with his comments on consent. Imagine if Elizabeth Warren spun up her Twitter account to @ a random writer who didn’t like her tax plan. It would be considered pathetic, unnecessary, and irresponsible leadership. For some candidates, it would be considered disqualifying. It’s dangerous and immature behavior. Not convinced? Look no further than Donald Trump, who does this shit all the time. Here’s the impact it has.
So here’s the deal, Marianne, because I know you’re reading this. Even if you were the best mental health advocate in the world, even if you single-handedly cured HIV and cancer yourself, even if you personally paid to vaccinate all of Brooklyn, I’d still think you were an insecure hypocrite with surprisingly terrible impulse control. You are utterly unprepared to lead this country, and your candidacy is an insult to the real politicians running to save us from Donald Trump. If you can’t handle me, if you can’t handle one viral, snarky tweet from some random girl who watched the debate at her boyfriend’s apartment because she doesn’t even own a television, how the hell are you supposed to handle Donald Trump? Or Putin? Or Kim Jong Un? You don’t care about this country, you only care about your reputation and selling more books.
I was right. You are a heinous wind chime, and I’m tired of listening to you rattle. To quote another popular meme, keep my name out of your mouth. And drop out already, it’s getting embarrassing.