Oversharing – Opening The Door A Bit, But Not All The Way

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.

23 thoughts on “Oversharing – Opening The Door A Bit, But Not All The Way

  1. Welcome back! This is a moving reflection, and I’m sorry to hear about your recent distress. It is a fine line determining how much you want to share or open up, but whatever you decision is, there are many out there who can empathize with you.

  2. It’s like having a bone bruise — but emotional. I had some nasty moments growing up and rarely talk about them. Not abuse, more neglect. I had breakfast yesterday with a friend I am still getting to know, and told her some of this. She was, as everyone I tell us, stunned. But it brought us closer as it explained more of who I am (wary, blunt) and why.

    I came home and had to nap a few times. I think even discussing such heavy stuff now wears me out. So I see the challenge in when and why to share, even privately. Like you, I tend to be trusting and resilient, so when I’m not it’s disorienting.

    Thanks for the link!

  3. You raise so many excellent points here, it’s hard to know where to start my response. I respect your privacy and am glad to see you are treading with care, and taking a break from online activity when you need it. I’ve done the same, especially with Facebook.

    In particular, I love what you said here about over-sharing: “… 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.”

    We cannot escape the fact that our culture is compulsively “tell all” these days, with social media at the helm. Facebook is designed for over-sharing — blogs too. It’s hard to find middle ground, hard to know what’s “interesting” to post and what’s not. Topping it off, our definition of “friend” has been radically altered by the Internet. I was shocked the other day to read that a person I’ve known online, through my writing, referred to me as one of her “dearest friends.” I’ve never met the woman and have no relevant history with her beyond what we share online … which is nowhere near the depth of what I have with three-dimensional friends who have been part of my real life for years and have earned the right to be called “dearest friend.”

    Anyhoo, I can see why it’s easy to over-share online when everyone in cyberspace has become a “dearest friend.” But it’s a little uncomfortable, and not totally healthy, in my book.

    Lately, before I post anything on Facebook or my blog, I find it helps to ask myself: “Why am I posting this?” … or… “Who needs to know this, and why?” If I can help my writing students or a friend who’s struggling with a similar issue, I feel better about it — but still worry.

  4. Elizabeth, I for one am glad you decided to share about your experience on here. So many blogs have evolved from ‘personal’ to ‘business’ but only few of them pull it off in such a way that I don’t feel they are trying to sell me something with every post. One of the reasons I love coming here IS your willingness to share personal experiences, both good and bad, it’s what makes me feel connected. I am very familiar with panic attacks and if you ever want to chat with someone in your timezone, I’d love to be there for and with you. In fact, I’ve been having a few moments myself recently where I could feel an attack rising within, it’s been very unsettling. I am grateful you opened the door 🙂

  5. Elizabeth,

    Thank you for your honesty and writing of your hiatus and your careful thoughts on how much to share. You serve as a role model for those of us toddling along that line of how much and when to share. Your sensitivity in an insensitive world are much appreciated. Your journey is all the more precious for it.

    Renee

  6. You were missed by me. I always love coming to your blog to read your wonderful insights or witness the beauty of your photographs. Your post made me teary. Because you are exactly right. The ones who stand by and do nothing when those who are the most vulnerable in our society are abused, are way way WAY worse than the actually abuser. The observers know what they should do, yet are paralyzed by fear and indecision. And most do nothing. It is easier to be an ostrich, with the head in the sand mentality, than it is to stand up and do the right thing. So many lives could be changed for the better if obervers stood up and did the right thing. I don’t know what happened in your life, but I’m sorry if there wasn’t someone who stood up for you. Just like I’m sad that someone wasn’t there for my sister and I.

  7. Elizabeth, I know how hard it was for you to share your inner most turmoil! Thanks for sharing so that others can relate, understand and empathize. Just knowing someone goes through similar situations means a lot! God bless!

  8. I’ve missed you and was excited to see a notice of a new post in my e-mail this morning. I, too, have been uncomfortable with the types of personal revelations people choose to put out there on the Internet for all to see. Those are best shared in a well-written memoir, “The Glass Castle,” for example or, as you suggest, a rich mine for character and story details in fiction writing. I hope you’ll continue to post the lovely writings and photos that you’ve been posting here. I always enjoy reading about your life and insights. Welcome back, my friend.

  9. I’m glad to see you back.
    It’s always a decision, whether or not to share something. I know what you mean about bits of your life slipping into your fiction. I know that several intense emotional experiences that I never wrote about on my blog are very obvious in my writing to those who know me well. The difference is that a stranger wouldn’t pick up on it as being personal, whereas a blog post is obviously related to me.
    I hope you’ve recovered completely now – having a panic attack sounds terrifying.
    Oh, and the therapy thing? I’m the sort of person who goes out the back door. I should probably work on that, but… :/

  10. Much love, Elizabeth. I don’t frequent the blogging world much these days…I feel bad that I didn’t notice you weren’t posting, I thought it was because you were in the US. I hope you are feeling good. It’s funny, I think sometimes we feel guilty about those feelings of despair, depression, fear…from the observer it looks like a lack of gratitude for the wonderful lives we lead, however most don’t know the path that brought us here, and the scars we still carry. I know you’ll find the perfect level of disclosure for you. I tend to over-share I think, lay it all bare, probably why I resist blogging these days! Anyway, take care, I’ll be thinking of you xxxx

  11. Hello again – and yes of course I missed you, ..and knew you were travelling …and so simply let you have some space. That said, you were pretty close to getting a note from me…:-) Your panic attack makes perfect sense to me. I hope you do not have to deal with another one, and glad you could system check yourself well enough to pin point what it was. Hugs from further east! xx

  12. Elizabeth, you may struggle with your blogs but as a reader all I can say is that they flow so easily as to seem effortless. Keep up the good work my friend! I have missed your voice!

  13. Thanks so much for your kind words and support. Your comments mean a great deal to me and I appreciate each one.

    Amy ( Alundeberg) ~ Thanks for the welcome back and your support. I’m feeling better already. With most things that are difficult for me talking, or in this case, writing about what I’m feeling can help me sort things out.

    Jim ~ Or James as you’ll always be to me. 🙂 It always makes me smile when you leave a comment. Thanks for your continued interest in what I have to say and your support.

    Caitlin ~ I am with you on how it can be fatiguing to talk about tough issues especially those that have been with us since our early years. I have to believe the need for rest after a difficult conversation is a good thing in some way, like the rest needed after surgery. I love what you said about bone bruise.

    Cindy ~ You always find a perfect way to share your thoughts, I bet your students love you! I think you are dead on too when it comes to impact of sharing on social media.

    Kerstin ~ Thanks for being so open your own panic attacks. Poor you … I can’t imagine what it must feel like to have had enough to be familiar with them. I hope that never happens to me again! I always appreciate your honestly in what you share on your blog posts as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read something you’ve written and thought how brave you were to share it. I bet there are a great many people who have been helped by your experience.

    Renee ~ I don’t feel like much of a role model right now, but thank you for your confidence. I really like what you said about sensitivity in an insensitive world.

    Wendy ~ I am so sorry that you and your sister were not protected either. I hate that for you both. Thank you for sharing a bit of your story and your kind comments about my words and images. I always enjoy what you have to say.

    Judy ~ Gosh, it’s been a while. Thanks for still being interested and for your sweet comment.

    Jayne ~ Thanks for your excitement over a new post … I’m only sorry today’s was so heavy. I’m sure it was nothing like you expected. Even though I haven’t been writing much over the last few months, I have been taking a boatload of photographs so get ready for some new adventures.

    Miriam ~ I like what you said about working our more intense experiences into fiction. That feels like a good direction for me now.

    Hay ~ Don’t worry about not missing my lack of posts … you are filling your days with good things for you and your family.

    What you said here really resonates with me. ” I think sometimes we feel guilty about those feelings of despair, depression, fear…from the observer it looks like a lack of gratitude for the wonderful lives we lead, however most don’t know the path that brought us here, and the scars we still carry.”

    Sometimes well meaning people have suggested I just move on and don’t look back and perhaps that works for them, but I’m wired a bit differently because even with loads of work and a nature that runs to optimistic and happy, I still can be blindsided by my ugly past. As you can see by a few of y comments … I’m feeling better now. Thanks for being such a sweetie and I love waking up to your Facebook photos and comments. xx

    Mariellen ~ Don’t even give it a thought … you were right to give me some space. I was a crazy woman back in the US cleaning like a fiend to get my house in order and had no time for sleep let alone time to sort my thoughts and blog about it. I’m still hoping to see you in Cornwall this year. xx

    Scott ~ You are such a sweetie! I was just thinking about you and your mom and here you are supporting me. Look for an email from me tomorrow. xo

  14. I am happy to see you here again, I have fretted and worried about you and John. You take the trail you want to travel, we are with you on this journey, whatever you want to share.

    • Thanks Leah, I’ve been functioning okay … just too overwhelmed to write about easy things and didn’t want to deal with the tough topics. I’m okay now and getting back into blogging. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

  15. Well, I noticed your absence, but thought you were in the States and having troubles with your rental house again. My own blog is down because Word Press went wacko for me, and even though is now functional, I got out of the habit of writing. Have not really liked writing, although I am told I do it fine enough. Would much rather pick up yarn and crochet hook to get all the churning done

  16. I wonder a lot about how much to share as well. I don’t have an answer yet, nor do I have the time to write as much as I once did. Take care and have a happy birthday:)

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