Collecting bravery

Just about 3 months ago, I wrote “It’s Time” – what I (still) refer to as  “the bravest thing I will ever write.” Since then, I haven’t had the urge to write as much, nor have I felt like I’ve had anything worth saying. I almost felt like I had worked for years to get to that point – and after you reach the top of a mountain, it’s not like you can keep climbing. So I slid down, and barely wrote for the past few months. Still trying to figure out where to go from here – what to say, what’s my angle, what’s my goal, with writing.

Something I’ve been thinking about a LOT lately are the brave women whose stories gave me courage and fire and strength to ultimately write that post. It’s like this: one person writes or says something brave. That gives the second person courage, and so then they write something brave. And then multiple people read it and they get strong and they write it, too. And that’s how it was for me.

Over the years I have read countless blog posts and articles. There are women who write that I feel like I know, because they have shared their deepest stories (the once were secrets) with me and with the world. These are the women who helped me get here. And so I wanted to share some of their words with you, in the hope that their words will keep building that fire within you.

I have followed Jess on Diary of a Mom for years. I feel like I know her and her kids, and I love every single story and anecdote she writes. She has made me a better speech language pathologist and have more knowledge into my kids with autism, leading me to be a fierce autism advocate in many ways. A few years ago, Jess posted this, and my heart stopped. Her, too. It’s her story, too. And I felt less alone. She wrote, “It’s time because the shame should not be mine. It should never have been mine.” Yes. I started to believe it. That maybe, just maybe, someday I would not own the shame.

I don’t remember how I started following Erin Brown’s blog. (Which you should check out, and you should also add her on Snapchat. Trust me.) But one day, the same thing, I saw that she had written it. Her story. When she said, “It’s a lifetime of joys, pains, light and dark, and you carry it all until you are ready to set it down. Dare I say, it’s hard to move forward until you begin that unpacking,” the fire inside of me grew.

When I discovered Elephant Journal, one of my most favorite writers instantly became Cis White. In what is one of the bravest posts I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot, she wrote: “It didn’t define me. It is a part of me, but not all of me. It became something a size of which I can manage. Since it is not my fault, why should I hide the truth of my experience?…….I believe the power of shame is diminished when we speak up and out and with one another about it.” The bravery in her words was admirable – and something I decided I was going to strive for.

And then there’s Laura. I have been reading Laura’s blog for years. I don’t remember how I ever stumbled upon it, but when I did, I felt like I was home. Every word she writes feels like a hug. A warm blanket wrapped around me. As if she is looking me straight in the eye and saying, “I get it. I get you.” And one day this past spring, out of nowhere, I messaged her on Facebook, and she wrote back telling me that she and her cousin Mary, of Say it Survivor, (check out their story-seriously) were having a writing workshop just 40 minutes from where I lived, and that I should come. And while even just a year ago, I would’ve laughed and said, “Absolutely not,” I signed up that night, texted a friend, and she and I went. Our experience at the workshop could be an entire post. And maybe some day it will be. But let’s just say: that was it. It was the final piece that had been missing. I walked out of there without shame, without blame, without fear. And one week later, I published “It’s Time.” (And following that post, guess what I have not felt at all? Regret, more shame, fear, self-hatred. Actually, I have felt more free than I have ever felt.) Laura and I have kept in touch since the workshop and she is just one of those genuinely amazingly beautiful souls. If you ever have the privilege of working with her – do it. I would copy and paste every post she’s ever written, but in the interest of time, just trust me: read her blog. And here are the words that I tell her are my most favorite thing she’s ever said, and never fail to make me tear up upon reading:

No one gets to judge how you managed to survive, friends.  No one.  No one gets to shame you for whatever you did to get yourself to the place where you can live through feeling the pain.  Not even you.

You survived, honey.  Not everyone does, you know.

You miraculous girl.  You miraculous boy.  You clever, resilient child, you.

You can stop hurting yourself.  You can shed your armor, and still be safe.  You can be seen, and still be safe.  You are so much stronger than you give yourself credit for.  You are being held hostage.  Meet the demands.  Feel the pain.  It will take some courage, but we already know how brave you are.  You are so, so brave.

You are strong enough to walk through the pain, and into the sunlight- I promise you. Freedom is just around the bend.  See you there, sweet friend.

And this doesn’t even begin to talk about Glennon and Liz and Brené and so many women in my day-to-day life who inspire me with their bravery to stand tall and be real and tell their stories.

So I hope you gain some inspiration. I hope their words fill you with bravery and comfort. And I hope you find the courage to tell your own story – even a snippet, or a sentence, or a word. Whatever your story is about. It will set you free – this I know.

Writer’s Block

I could write about the activities we’ve been doing in speech, but I don’t have anything new and innovative to talk about.

I could tell you the funny things my students have said, but it’s hard to convey the humor in written form.

I could write about how much I hate MCAS and PARCC but it’s nothing that others haven’t said.

I could tell you what’s been going on with Bella, and share the latest social story I wrote, but do people want to read that?

I could write the follow-up from my Musings post, but I’m avoiding it.

I could finish the post I’ve been trying to write about panic and anxiety, but I just can’t get it right.

I could write a “10 Reasons I Love My Cats” post, but really, who wants to read that?

I could do a book review of a great series that I read recently, but I don’t know if I’d do a good job.

I could try to write a fictional piece, but none have come to me.

Really, I just feel like this.

What should I write about? What do you want to read?

Will you write for me?

I’ve posed this question casually on Twitter on on the blog’s Facebook page. But I haven’t put it out, as its own post.

In keeping with the spirit of my last post, I’m thinking about how many people out there have stories that they’re not telling. Out of shame, out of fear, out of embarrassment. Or maybe out of having never been asked. Maybe out of not having the space to do it.

Here is your space.

My space is your space.

Let me hold space for you.

Do you have a story to tell? Do you have something you’d like to say? A sentence, a paragraph, a poem? Do you have an experience that you’ve kept to yourself, because you think you’re the only one living it?

Would you be brave? Would you write something for me? I want to share your stories. I want to share your thoughts. A word, a sentence, a paragraph. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to be “good”. It doesn’t have to be anything. Whatever it is, is what I want to share.

The idea being – that we all have stories. And we all think we’re the only one with our story. And so it’s time to share them. Because we aren’t alone and it’s enough of thinking we are. It’s enough of feeling shame. It’s enough of feeling constrained.

Nobody has to know it’s you, if you’re not ready.

Share anonymously. Share under a pen name. [If this helps encourage you – there’s a website on which I publish articles under a pen name. Sometimes it helps. Makes it easier to share. If it helps you, do it.] I don’t care. Just share. Write a comment here. Write a comment on Facebook. Tweet at me. Or email me and tell me, Yes, I want to share my thoughts. Post my story. Post my words. Post my experiences. 

It doesn’t matter if I know you now. It doesn’t matter if I knew you then. It doesn’t matter if we talk daily or if we haven’t spoken in years. If you are reading this, and you are thinking, Maybe I have one thing to say – I want to hear it.

There’s no judging, opinion-forming, telling, gossiping.

Just listening. Holding space. Caring. Compassion. Admiration.

The idea being empowerment. The idea being strength. Bravery. Community.

I hope – I really, really, really hope – that following this, I’ll get even one person who shares, even one thing.

Will it be you?

Why I write

I’ve had people ask me (or ask each other), Why does she write? Why does she feel the need to share intimate details of her life? Why does she put such personal information out to the world?

It’s not a rude question. It’s a great one. Especially given that, I still feel butterflies before pressing, “publish” on a blog post. Especially because I still sometimes wonder, What will-so-and-so think of me if they read what I wrote? It’s not easy, and I certainly don’t share everything. But I do what I can, when I can.

So, to the ones who wonder – here is your answer.

I write for a sense of community. I write because I’m not alone, and neither are you. I write because even though I am a very uniquely created individual – I am not the only one who has the thoughts and feelings and experiences that I do. I write because you, and you, and you are all out there, reading. I write because someone has to. I write because I have to. I write because when I keep things in, they turn into a sticky tar, rendering me sluggish. They turn into hot bolts of fire, paining me. They turn into ice, paralyzing me. I write to keep myself light and moving.

We live in a world, where, although improving, people tend to keep things quiet. There used to be – and still is, in so many ways – shame about sharing things. So much was/is expected to be kept quiet and dealt with alone. Only recently has a shift started. People speaking out about mental health struggles. Drug and alcohol abuse. Sexual assault experiences. Relationship struggles. Many people are sharing – yet many are still quiet. Usually out of fear. Out of shame.

Many are still sitting there, thinking,

I’m the only one in my life who struggles with alcohol.

Nobody else would understand my struggle with depression. 

I carry so much shame about having been raped. Nobody would get it.

She wouldn’t understand my struggles with food and my body. She’s completely confident about hers.

Everyone’s marriage seems perfect. Why is mine in such a bad place? 

Everyone else seems fine. It must just be me.

Let me tell you: everyone else is not fine. They are just faking it, day in and day out, like you are. And they are sitting there, quietly, like you are. And so maybe you’re walking past each other on a daily basis, but neither of you have any idea.

I can’t tell you how comforting it is to read a blog post, or article, or story, or memoir, about someone who gets the experiences I’ve had, the thoughts I’ve thought, the emotions I’ve felt. It’s akin to a hand reaching out and grabbing yours; a blanket safely covering you up; a gaze holding yours.

And so – if I can do that for someone, I will. And I have. So many people have come out of the woodwork – old neighbors, elementary school classmates, co-workers, relatives. People who have all said, in one way or another, You are writing my story. You get me. It’s such a relief for someone to get me. 

And maybe then, they will write, or share, or speak up (and some of them have) – and they will feel empowered, and freed, and light. And then the ones they share with will feel that same feeling. And then they will share. And they will know they aren’t alone. And they will find that hand to hold. And, do you see what we’re accomplishing here?

Community. Together. Bonded. No shame. Not alone. Not just you.

So, that. That is why I write.

Why do you?

Month-old journaling bits, day-old responses

I want to write, so badly, that I can’t. This is not a new feeling. I keep opening word documents, blank blog posts. I know I just need momentum. I know once I get going, I’ll go. But that blank page – it puts pressure on me, to write something extraordinary. And the more pressure, and the more want, the less I can do it. I go back and forth between “I have so much to say” and “I have nothing to say”. I have thoughts, snippits, of ideas of topics – but when I allow them to settle into my fingers, I get all blocked up. Every idea and thought I have sounds stupid.

Just write, just let the words pour out of your fingers. There is no expectation, there is no requirement. You write for you, and therefore, whatever you say is just fine.

Sometimes I wish I wrote fiction.

You could. You could write fiction. Just like you could write poetry. There are no standards, just the ones you fear exist.

I wanted to write about the “too much” vs. “not enough” thing. I don’t really know how to explain it, though, only just feel it. With someone people I worry I’m too much. Too needy, too anxious, too dependent, too self-centered. With others, I worry I’m not enough. Not caring enough, I don’t check in enough, not funny enough, not supportive enough. I’m not good enough in general. And all of that results in a lot of spinny thoughts, ruminations, anxieties. I wonder what it would be like to just…be. I wonder why I automatically jump to the conclusions and fears of being simultaneously too much and not enough – and I wonder, does anyone else do that? Is it yet another “Jen thing” or can anyone else relate? What is it like to just be and do without a constant analysis of real and perceived events and outcomes?

Remember that you certainly do not always feel this way. It’s been a theme in your life, but it is not a constant of a day to day. Remember how many interactions and moments you have now that you don’t analyze or question, and you felt this way in this moment when you wrote this, but you don’t feel this way all of the time. You are very good at just being. You’ve come so far. Remember that your analytical, anxious, obsessive brain will always have a tendency toward this, but it no longer consumes you. Remember that presence of thoughts matters far less than reactions to those thoughts.

but this is not poetry

there are no words.
there are feelings and sounds and aches and pulses and colors and sights
but how do i put those into words?
the same way that i still can’t capture the wind
or the smell of fresh air
or the feeling of joy
i can’t turn….this, all of this
into words, into sentences, into coherence.

Things I could write about

I could write about how I got my nails done yesterday for the first time in months, in a super dark shade of purple/plum. But people don’t care about that.

I could write about the cauliflower soup I made yesterday. But I’m not a food blogger.

I could write about how I smelled and sensed snow in the air today. But there are no poetic words floating about in my head.

I could write about how, after two weeks off for vacation, I’m a little anxious at the thought of diving back into the joyful insanity of work again. I guess I could share how after every vacation I notice a little voice of fear in my head, wondering if I’ll somehow forget to be a good speech-language pathologist when I go back.

I suppose I could write about not knowing what to write. But I always do that.

I could talk about how the news, the articles, the talk of rape and rape culture and doubts and accusations and shame are breaking my heart, but I can’t stop reading.

I could attempt to explain how I am fairly confident that shame is the opposite of compassion, and the reason people shame themselves and feel shame for their decisions and experiences is due to the fear of being met with shame; if they knew they’d be met with compassion, they might find it a tiny bit easier to find compassion for themselves.

I could write about how it’s so much easier to say things to other people, to believe things for other people, than for ourselves.

I guess I could write how my grief comes and goes, and I’m not quite sure what to do with it. But I don’t have any words.

I could talk about my ever-ongoing battle of nurturing the introvert/routine-follower in me, and going out of my comfort zone/pushing myself a little bit. There’s a line somewhere between the two but it’s sometimes hard to see.

I could continue rambling on about anxiety or sensitivity or life. But I have nothing profound to say, and I write about those topics too much.

I guess I could write about any of those topics.
But I don’t have the words. I don’t have the courage. I don’t have the initiative.

So today, yet again, I’m not going to write.

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