You may have noticed that I’ve been absent for about seven weeks. I just closed for business without so much as a sign on the door or a note saying I’d be gone a while and disappeared.
I didn’t intend to stop writing and it was not due to lack of interest in blogging or a shortage of things to write about but rather an overwhelming indecision about how much I should share about an unnerving experience I had last November. It left me feeling as if everything I wanted to write about was either too much or too trivial so I got lost in the inertia of indecision.
I often worry about over sharing the details of my life especially the darker parts of it and I rarely hit publish without considering the long-term effect a revelation might have on my future or that of someone I love.
It’s tricky deciding how much is too much. I notice other folks asking the same question from time to time, most recently Caitlin Kelly and Cindy La Ferle and I often wonder what my readers think.
Sometimes I happen upon a blog that is so deeply personal I feel I’ve stepped into someone’s therapy session by accident and I don’t know whether to pull up a chair and join in or slip quietly out the back door. I don’t want people to feel that way when they stop by GOTJ, but I do want what I say here to have meaning. That said, there are times when I worry that what I want to say is too personal … so much so that instead of spilling it here I go quiet afraid that if I open the door I’ll unleash a beast I can’t call back.
My words and posts are about my life and my experiences. It’s not always been happy, but it hasn’t all been bad either providing a balance that usually makes it easy to avoid the darker topics for less weighty ones. I generally feel as if I’ve been gifted with the power of resiliency, enchantment, and joy … almost as if storybook fairies paid a visit to my crib and waved their magic wands over me as an infant saying a few words to try offset the evil they knew would surround me as a small child.
Childlike enthusiasm and leading with my heart have been used more than a time or two to describe me and where some might see these as the attributes of someone weaker than others, I see them as defiant badges that affirm my ability to hold on through the hard times.
But as strong as I am I sometimes need support.
Last November I had a panic attack. I’ve never had one before and actually thought I might be having a heart attack. John was out for a walk with his daughter who was down for a visit and I was alone in the house. Just as I was about to dial 999 for an ambulance, I did an abbreviated version of what I’d heard a doctor friend of mine refer to as a systems check.
Once I realized I was having a panic attack, I sent my old therapist a short email and she responded within ten minutes which I found remarkable considering I had not seen her as a patient for 17 years. I’ve mentioned Nancy Loeb here in the past and I say again, if you have a history like mine and need someone who can help you change your life, she’d be the one.
During my unplanned blogging hiatus, I spent three weeks in the US only returning about a week ago. While I was in Atlanta, an old friend of mine from my university days sent me an email after noting my blogging absence to ask if I was okay. Here is a bit of what I said in response.
“ My reasons for not blogging lately have to do with a few internal struggles. I can’t decide whether to blog about it or not, but I have so much of substance that I want to say that it makes it difficult to write about travel and trivial things. In many ways I am doing very well and in others I feel I’m walking the edge at times as I deal with some ghosts.
It may sound odd, but the Paterno/ Penn State media coverage followed one night by student protestors being beaten with police batons and unable to escape triggered what I can only imagine was a panic attack of big proportions. I don’t have panic attacks and almost called an ambulance it scared me so bad. I was having trouble breathing and thought it was my heart for a minute and in reality it was my heart, but in an emotional way.”
Later, when reread the email I’d sent to my friend, I thought, ” Oh no, I meant Sandusky/Penn State “as he was the abuser, but then I realized that for me, I got it right the first time. The world is full of people like Sandusky, but it’s the Paternos of the world who are the real disappointments.
I think people who have the power to save a child and do nothing are as bad as the abuser and part of what caused me to become undone that day was description of what Mike McQueary witnessed and the obvious collusion involved that allowed a pedophile to have continued access to children. McQueary’s trial transcripts coupled with a video of college students being beaten while protesting, acted as a trigger for the panic attack and forced me over the last few months to confront my thoughts as to how much sharing is too much.
Secrets like the ones I had growing up are usually kept due to fear or shame. Good therapy can change that, but even when I think I have said all I need to say whether in therapy or with the people I’m closest to, there are still times when the urge to say more here is overwhelming.
Pat Conroy, author of one of my favorite books, The Price of Tides, was quoted years ago in a Vanity Fair article saying, “ One of the greatest gifts you can get as a writer is to be born into an unhappy family ” and I’m sure he would give me added points for having a family with deep southern roots as well.
Bits of my life creep into my characters when I write fiction which satisfies me for now. Some things are still too horrible to write on their own and I think writing it into someone else’s imagined life gives me the distance I need not to get lost in my own story. That may be a better option for me than memoir, at least for now.
That said, I’ve decided that certain details will not be part of what I write here. It doesn’t mean the tough topics are off-limits, just the amount of detail I’ll share about any similar personal experiences.
Many thanks to those who sent an email to check on me during my time away … it makes me smile to think I was missed.