Social media can be a home for the worst news and impulses; it’s making us depressed; it distorts reality. But every so often, there is a space—like Jessica Dore’s Twitter account—that can teach us about ourselves and how we talk to others.
Earnestness on the internet fights a tough battle. With social media turning every human being into their very own brand—and giving brands an opportunity to seem more human themselves—no one can be blamed for taking any and every tweeted statement with a grain of salt. Yet even today, as allegiance to TV shows and cinematic universes has become a substitute for having a personality, some online declarations can only be explained as genuine expressions of unadulterated feelings. Jessica Dore, a 33-year-old writer, therapy graduate student, and tarot card reader living in Philadelphia, is the recipient of many such tweets, in which people make themselves vulnerable by thanking her for how much she has helped them manage their mental and emotional health. I am one of these people. But beyond the personal aid I get from her work, I also appreciate how she presents a better way to use social media. In a digital sea of political anxiety, unruly cultural debates, and addictive negativity, @thejessicadore is one of the healthiest and most beneficial Twitter accounts I have ever encountered.
I discovered Dore in late 2018 by chance, as is often the case on Twitter, and was struck by the fact that this particular Dore tweet (whichever it was) was neither trying to sell me something nor throwing an opinion at my face. It was simply a beautiful image, accompanied by text that sounded a little like a haiku—something mysterious that, once I read it and really looked at the picture, surprised and intrigued me even more. Dore, who currently has 82,000 followers on Twitter, has been pulling a tarot card and posting a picture and her interpretation of it every day for about two years. “My mom had tarot cards when I was growing up, so I sort of knew what they were,” she explains to me over Skype. But it was only later, while Dore was working as a publicist for a psychology and self-help book publisher about seven years ago, that she began learning about tarot herself after witnessing some colleagues reading cards. “I always was like, ‘Wow, this is so accurate for my life!’”
Because of pop culture’s limited capacity for subtlety, tarot is often perceived as a superstition, used by crazy old ladies to divest credulous people of their money by supposedly seeing their future in cards that have silly drawings of horses and moons on them (a recent example shows up in Amy Poehler’s directorial debut for Netflix, Wine Country). It is true that the illustrations are often unusual: On the Three of Cups card, three smiling women are standing in a circle against a light blue sky, holding up the three chalices as their garments flow graciously and luscious vegetables grow on the ground. The image evokes harmony, abundance, and camaraderie. At the same time, the person at the center of the drawing is turning her back to us, her face invisible and her bright red cape standing out; perhaps she is the substitute for us looking on this happy circle, or perhaps she is keeping us out of it. With their beautiful colors and odd scenes, tarot cards invite a second look and even reflection; on a timeline, they just might make someone stop scrolling and start thinking, even if just for a minute. It sure worked for me, and thousands of other people.
In the current resurgence of mysticism on the internet, tarot often gets bundled up with astrology and Co-Star app updates as a form of soft self-care practice. But while astrology on the internet tends to offer reassuring or amusing predictions of moods, romantic connections, or career developments based on personality types, tarot aims to provide general behavioral tips by first exposing possible pernicious patterns common to most people. Dore does consult the moon’s cycle in her work, but where online astrology often encourages me to indulge in how much of an Aquarius I am (which usually means I’m in my head, a contrarian, and too independent—all great things, no doubt!), tarot as practiced by Dore is universal, and routinely dares us to recognize that, as one of her readings explained, “the things we want may require us to be bold & visible, when being small & understated is what we’re used to.”
Online, hard truths—be they about racism, sexism, or other abuses—usually feel both eye-opening and demoralizing. Reading about the latest national crisis is important, but as knowledge accumulates and few solutions appear, the emotional toll increases. Seeing personal tweets from friends dealing with their own issues or, conversely, presenting an idyllic existence can also leave a reader feeling powerless and detached—there doesn’t seem to be anything to do but absorb all this contradictory information and let it have its impact on us. I now rarely look at my Twitter feed, instead checking only my notifications tab even if it means missing out on some potentially valuable (one way or another) content, and visiting a few of my friends’ pages occasionally.
And Dore’s readings make people feel seen, by delivering insights into avoidant behavior or pernicious thought patterns that everyone is familiar with; her tweets offer genuine help in receiving those hard-to-swallow truths and facts. She speaks the truth but always while holding our hand. Although she can’t solve the world’s problems or the issues currently unfolding in my mind, she often seems to speak to me directly about my feelings. She tells me that she knows I’m doing my best and offers me advice on how to do better. Her page is one I visit daily.
The fact that Dore started her tarot-reading while working for a psychology book publisher may have first seemed a coincidence, but revealed itself as fundamental to her tarot’s particularly productive nature. “I spent six years with these clinical psychology books learning about behavior, psychology, the mind, and healing,” she says. “But as a layperson, I wasn’t in the mental health field as a clinician at that point.” Around 2015, she began thinking about going to graduate school to become a therapist. However, she started tweeting her cards in the spring of 2017, after making her first mildly popular Twitter post—“I think there were, like, 15 people that liked it, which was more likes than I ever got on anything that I had posted before!”—and just as she was deciding between accepting a spot in school or becoming a bread baker. The emerging popularity of her online tarot practice came as a surprise, but it helped determine what to do with her life. Just as I didn’t expect to get emotional support from tarot cards, and definitely not from Twitter, Dore didn’t predict that her artistic practice would merge with her scholarly interests. Even for Dore, support can come from unlikely places; after briefly trying bread baking, she enrolled in her grad course.
With its grounding in science, psychology may seem opposed to tarot and its focus on imagery and gut feelings, but Dore looks to employ both their attributes in concert. “Behavioral therapies are kind of the gold standard of psychotherapies today,” she explains, “but the psychotherapy field originally, in the days of Freud and Carl Jung, was more an art than it was a science.” Tarot for her is a vehicle to simultaneously “share concepts and skills that are being developed in these evidence-based therapies,” such as cognitive therapy, and “tap into that need that people have to connect with mystery, randomness, art, and creativity.” In Dore’s tarot readings, art and science are acknowledged as different even as they work together to attend to the entirety of the human experience. She sometimes quotes specific psychology terms or cognitive therapists in her tweets and card readings, giving her followers the opportunity to look deeper into these scientific ideas if they so choose—by the same token making these scientific ideas seem less intimidating.
Dore strives for a more wholistic and inclusive approach to healing than the established medical field, which is still dominated by men and white people. “A lot of the research that is done [in the sciences] is skewed toward a very particular population,” Dore tells me. “What you get from that is interventions that are not necessarily very inviting to people who don’t meet these criteria. You go in to get help for something and you feel stigmatized, you feel blamed, you feel like you’re being told that it’s on you.” Dore is fully aware that her tarot readings are not equivalent to proper therapy, but in an age when therapy apps are multiplying because people lack the means, time, or access to take care of themselves, a helpful tweet can feel like a small but significant blessing. Incidentally, getting help while using social media can reduce the stigma around talking about mental health. Sharing Dore’s insights with my friends has made me open up about my less pleasing thoughts, because even as I was talking about my anxiety, the topic was still, chiefly, a tweet; in turn, my friends have often opened up to me too. Dore can’t answer all the private messages she receives every day, and her output may be mostly tweets (as well as a “Tarot Offering” newsletter, her reading of a six-card spread ahead of each month, now both written and audio), but “if there are so many people that aren’t getting the care and the services that they need, it’s time to just start to do things that are good enough,” she tells me. “It doesn’t have to be the best.”
Even though the social media experience is usually (and paradoxically) rather lonely, community is at the core of Dore’s practice as a tarot reader online and in person. In Philadelphia, she has been running Tarot Circle, a weekly tarot meeting and support group, for about a year. Entry is donation-based, and “everyone has a deck of cards. They’ll pull cards for themselves and then we will open up the group to whoever could particularly use some support that week.” The idea came from a therapy group session she was running in her first year of grad school in an eating-disorder clinic. She remembers, “I was given permission by the therapist there to use tarot cards in the group a couple of times, and the clients really, really liked them.” Just as her thoughtfully crafted tweets help me talk with my friends about my issues, the cards there were an entryway for the patients to talk about the disease. “Even if they didn’t know what the cards meant, they enjoyed pulling them and then seeing what came up for them around ‘what does this image remind me of?’” Dore continues. “We would talk about recovery, and being in the disorder, and it was beautiful!” She hopes to help people across the world set up their own Tarot Circles in their own communities. Her work is therapeutic primarily because it encourages discussion and exchange, getting people to come into dialogue with their thoughts either alone at their computer or together with others.
Even though she offers tarot readings via Skype on her website for a modest sum, Dore also, and more notably, uses Twitter’s parameters for their original purposes—encouraging communication and empathy between all kinds of people and to spreading helpful information for free. She understands the current reality of social media, however—how differently a comment will be received online as opposed to IRL. “I try not to make absolute statements” she explains. “When people are making absolute statements, there are people that are going to feel invalidated by that, or it’s not gonna resonate for them.” She aims to be universal yet specific. Her solution is to “talk about things that are very common to the human experience,” such as “boundaries, and interpersonal relationships, and avoidance, and anxiety—all of these things that we all deal with in some way or another.” Instead of being one person talking about her own experience, her Twitter persona speaks about the human condition at large. At first I was surprised by how thoughtful and inclusive all her tweets were; with time I realized that it shouldn’t be that hard to keep other people and other experiences in mind when sharing on social media. To not do that would be to deny what Twitter and the internet itself are all about. Dore’s care for her audience encourages greater openness to others, as opposed to the typically self-centered behavior that social networks have too often generated in users. In a time when personal accounts on the internet are proving crucial to raising awareness about social issues, there needs to be more exchange and less self-aggrandizing:
“Today’s card. You may think, ‘I did this work already, I shouldn’t have to be here, doing it again,’ which makes it harder + more painful than it has to be. Some lessons are learned over + again w more depth + complexity each time. Maybe the work is 2 make peace w doing the work.”
Whatever “the work” may be for you—whether it is learning to say no, to notice when you are bottling up negative feelings, or to get rid of bad habits—Dore suggests that it’s OK to find it difficult. Using the written word is an opportunity for her to employ a thoughtful, inclusive language in order to reach and help the most people. “I just try to use words like ‘maybe’ and ‘sometimes,’” says Dore. She also asks open-ended questions: “What action can you take today to move closer into alignment with what’s important to you?” is a sentence that lets the reader think for themselves. This inconclusive but generously amenable way to make followers engage with her message has made me realize just how declarative and closed-off tweets—for instance, those by film critics like me—often are. Instead of inviting dialogue between people who don’t have the same opinion about a movie, such statements prevent direct responses, leading instead to subtweets and screenshots shared in private conversations. Declaring your opinion as fact on Twitter, without a sense of humor or of broad-mindedness, very often makes for crude drama that distracts from cinema itself. By contrast, there is an openness, and thus a poetry, to Dore’s writing; in her readings, the artificial line between the therapeutic and the artistic—between well-being and self-expression—built by decades of life under capitalism evaporates. Perhaps if film opinions were shared less defensively online, the gap between the critic’s personal taste and her essential function of supporter of cinema’s evolution as an artform, could also be reduced.
For Dore as for everyone else, being online means presenting a curated version of oneself, and the line between IRL and URL is a tricky one to navigate when tweeting about mental health. “When you’re training as a therapist, there’s all this stuff you learn about self-disclosure as a clinical tool to use sparingly,” she says. “Our profession as healers is different in that we’re using the self as a tool in the work that we’re doing; the relationship is part of the healing process.” If Dore tweets about issues that she is dealing with in her personal life, her therapy clients “might not want to say something that’s going to trigger me, and that is an impediment or an interference with the work that I’m trying to do.” Yet presenting a perfect image can also be detrimental, as patients and followers may believe her to have it all figured out and see her as “this ideal that they have to be like, and that’s not real.” Dore occasionally and carefully opens up about her own mental health history: “I’m able to speak to it because I’m still figuring it out myself—I’m most of the time tweeting advice at myself!”
As well as offering help with her cards, she also provides a good example of a conscientious and healthy Twitter presence, one that I’m inspired by. Honest but never exhibitionist, Dore doesn’t lie, but she also knows that she needn’t share everything with the world; I’m trying to follow her example and keep my most personal stories for my closest friends. I also try to play with my username to make it at once different from my real name, but personalized and silly: Now that social media has become so ubiquitous, it can no longer be a completely separate part of our existence, giving us multiple personalities to manage (Rocketmani is A SERIOUS MANI is me!). Social media ought to be integrated into our regular life, without either displaying all its crevasses nor masking them with a polished, made-up facade.
Amid a toxic internet (and a toxic world), Jessica Dore meets us where we’re at, on our lonely feed, armed with special skills and poetry. “If you start to talk about these things for free on Twitter, and you’re actually rooted in methods that we know are helpful, but you do it in a way that is not blaming people, not invalidating anyone, not making people feel unseen or uncomfortable, and you’re using art, and you’re doing it in kind of a creative and nonthreatening way—yeah, I think people are going to be drawn to that,” she recognizes. What Dore offers everyday is not a solution or even a promise, but a picture for us to try and see. All we need to do is keep looking. We’re holding all the cards.
All Rights Reserved for Manuela Lazic