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.

Riding The Memory Train To Destinations You Can’t Forget

I am ten and sitting quietly having learned the reality of the physical threat implied in my stepfather’s words that, ” Children should be seen and not heard. ” Safe for the moment and out of reach of the driver, I choose my side of the car because I have learned that although my mother’s hands are capable of causing physical pain, they are attached to arms too short to reach me if I stay pressed close to the door.

My sister claims her regular space on the right side of the backseat in the only car we own and I am surprised when my mother turns slightly and reaches back from the passenger seat to give me a paperback copy of a book I will come to treasure. Setting out on a long car trip once again, moving as we have so many times before, it doesn’t take more than a page or two for me to disappear into Judy’s Journey, a story published in 1947 that reveals what it’s like to be ten year-old Judy, the daughter of a migrant farm worker.

Some books stay with you all your life and even if you no longer have the book in your hand, the story never leaves you. I saved my copy of Judy’s Journey after our move from California when I was partway through my fifth year of school. Back home again in Georgia where I’d been born, I found myself confused by many of my subjects as the American school curriculum varied from the east to west coast.

While I may have struggled through some of my classes, I excelled at reading and lost myself in the school library and books wherever I could find them. Beaten into silent submission at home through both psychological and physical blows, I longed for the safety of someone else’s life and found them in books about other children.

My mother came from a family of readers and writers, and books were always among the gifts I received from my extended family on birthdays and at Christmas. I had acquired a good number of them by the time I was able to escape from my mother’s house at fourteen when I made my last childhood move into safety of my dad and stepmother’s home.

My mother would not allow me to take my books and they were left behind with my childhood things after she decided that I could only take my clothing and gifts that my father had given me.

I remember how sad I felt seeing my fourteen years of living packed into only two or three boxes when they arrived by bus a few weeks later.

My books from childhood were marked as mine by my name written in varying degrees of penmanship. Some had Elizabeth in the adult script of my grandparents and great-aunt, while others were identified by a more childish scrawl and dated from when I first began to write my name.

With two sisters still with my mother, my books bypassed my sister Margaret who at twelve was too old to be interested in many of them and went straight into the hands of my four-year old sister Pam who later claimed them completely by scratching through my name and adding her own. It would be many years before I saw my mother, my sisters, or my books again.

Judy’s Journey disappeared somewhere along the way like many other things from my past, but the memory of the story made me talk about it at times and one Christmas, I found a used copy under the tree, a gift from a friend who understood its significance.

I didn’t begin this post to write about this topic. I’d intended to carry on from yesterday’s post about books and libraries before it took off in its own direction. Memories are like a train with multiple destinations and today’s post is an example of all the directions one story can go especially when writing about it.

John came into my studio space about a week ago and said that he thought I needed to write my story. I told him that memoirs were filling the shelves of bookstores everywhere and people were beginning to write disparaging reviews about those who spilled their secrets in a book for all to see. I added that there were many stories out there like mine and why add one more to the mix. I said I was bored with it most days and imagined others might be as well.

I went on to say that there were parts he did not know and more still that the people involved might not want shared, but he reminded me that it is my story and said quietly that he thought it would be good for me, and to think first about myself in the writing process and not worry about the rest.

Yesterday, I was reading what this gifted writer said here about how writing heals and intellectually I know she’s right. I’m sure John is on to something as well, knowing me as he does.

It’s always bothered me seeing my name replaced in books that had been mine, so much so that I don’t have those books with me anymore. I offered them to my daughter in case she has children one day, although she might rather have new books than those with such a sad history. I mean really, how would she explain that to her children …

I wondered what my sister Pam thought as she was too young to remember me when I left. Did they bother to explain the name already in the books or did they say, ” Just scratch it out and put your own in there.”

I thought about what my sister Margaret said about how they never said my name in the house after I left, how my mother and stepfather if pressed by situation would only refer to me as, ” The one who left,” which made me sad on earlier reflection, but now feels more like the name you might give warrior who was brave enough to leave on a vision quest.

As to healing through writing my story, I thought I had done most of that by talking with two remarkable women I’ve mentioned before, but perhaps writing my story rather than telling it might be a good next step whether anyone ever reads it but me.

Time now for she who has been called, ” The One Who Left ” to go out for some sunshine and exercise. Having worked on the past a good bit today, it’s time now to work on my body.

Just A Time Traveler Trying To Find My Way Home

Maybe to you this picture looks like just another woman at a fancy dress/costume party … someone possibly dressed as Amelia Earhart on New Year’s Eve, but I see something different. It’s there in her eyes … joy, relief, and playfulness … the kind of things one might feel when finally arriving at their destination after a long journey.

Too many of us get stuck in the past never letting go of old hurts or regrets. I have long been determined that I would not be a casualty of what I could not change and when I couldn’t find my own way, I had enough sense to ask others for a bit of help and direction. I know I walk a clearer path today because of the guidance and support of two very special women.

I am sure they both know how important the work is that they do, but I want to say thank you again to Nancy and to Wendy for helping this traveler find her way home.

So often I see an internal struggle in the words of the writers whose blogs I read. It is difficult not to want to lend directional support when I see people in crisis. It’s my nature to be a caregiver although I didn’t believe it for many years. I remember exactly, the moment I realized what I had been doing and the impact on my life.  It was the beginning, and I do mean the beginning, of real and lasting change for me.

While I earnestly believe as J.R.R.Tolkien said, ” Not all those who wander are lost ” I also understand that it can be a long and lonely road for those who grow weary of constant movement.

If you’re struggling to do it all on your own, I hope this will be the year you find your own “Nancy or Wendy ” to help you on your way back to whatever you call home.