Mental Health / Writing

A bitter pill to swallow

BreakTheSilenceAs the vivid memories of clinical depression begin to soften around the edges with the passing of time, I’ve gained a long-yearned for sense of clarity. This must be what people mean when they talk of “coming out the other end”.

I have greater self-awareness and I’m actually starting to like myself. I’m no longer the 94lb girl dressed in colourless clothes, floating in and out of your peripheral vision, wishing she was invisible. I can walk into a room and know I have as much right to be there as the next person. I won’t stand by and watch abuse and bullying happen, to me or anyone else. I’ve kept the secrets of other people’s abominable behaviour for far too long. I’m learning not to care so much about those who care little for me.

I almost lost my own identity in my attempts to gain the acceptance of others. I put so much on the line and when it all came crashing down I was lucky not to end up back in therapy. But the skills I’d learnt saw me through and as I moved through the visceral stages of grief, the scales fell from my eyes. Years of struggle were uncloaked and I saw, for the first time, how my efforts to build bridges had been thwarted and devalued at every turn. The fault lay not with me, as everyone would have had me believe, but with them.

You cannot imagine how this revelation made me feel. At first I was hurt. I felt the burn of betrayal. I questioned and examined shared occasions and perceived relationships, doubtful now if any of it was real. Then I felt angry and humiliated. They played me for a fool. All this time… Instinct drove me to shut down, retreat, erect a wall. And for a while this sufficed. But I’m stronger now. I won’t go quietly into the night like I always used to. I won’t pretend anymore. The sun has risen on a new day in my life. I will face my detractors – I’ve cut the strings of my puppet masters and I’m choosing my own path.

That’s why the news I got this morning was such a blow. I’d written a feature for a British newspaper about how my inter-racial marriage had been received by our families and they told me it would have to be published under an alias – my words could be construed as allegations of racism and threatening behaviour. The paper couldn’t risk being sued for defamation.

I’m not out to name and shame anyone, I thought hard before I first committed my personal experiences to the public arena of my blog. But I realised that by giving in to the “don’t air your dirty laundry in public” mentality I was helping to conceal wrongdoing. And by being complicit in the concealment, I was allowing the hold over me to continue.

This morning’s news stung because it still feels like I’m being gagged. I’m prevented from taking public ownership of my hard-won lessons. I can’t use my voice to tell it how it is. I must remain nameless, shrouded in anonymity. I must protect the very people who set out to wound me.

But I can see beyond this. It’s only as big a deal as I make it and, in reality, it doesn’t change anything. It’s only strengthened my commitment. I won’t be part of any more cover-ups. I’ll write so people can understand: how it feels, the consequences of certain behaviour, the ugliness of prejudice and the abuse of power. And I’m unafraid to stand by my words.

I have a note above my bathroom mirror that reminds me to live every day by the lessons I’ve learnt. It helps me remember to be true to myself and not slide back into existing to keep other people happy. It reads simply, “Be Honest”

I will tell my story. I will write my experiences, and I will say what I think; not what you would like me to think or what society says I should think. This is Me.

Tell your stories - Anne Lamott


16 thoughts on “A bitter pill to swallow

  1. I just found your blog tonight and started reading all the articles (I’m hooked!), sorry for commenting on such a personal matter when we don’t know each other.

    I too am in an interracial marriage (very happy!) and I can relate to your feelings. This is indeed you. I hope the article doesn’t get edited.

  2. I hope your article goes to print unedited – even if the same cannot be said of your identity. The media can be so frustrating. Today I was in a national newspaper (not one I admire) talking about extended breastfeeding. They cut out everything I positive I wrote, took the negative bits, twisted them, and portrayed me as anti-breastfeeding which was the last thing I wanted. I too, feel naive and like I should have known better. Perhaps if using an imposed false name means that you can actually say what you want to say, that will be the best way to get your story across, rather than letting a newspaper sanitise or distort it. I hope you’ll be happy with the outcome.

    • I looked up the article you were in and thought your segment was probably the part that will strike a chord with the majority of women. I don’t think you came across anti-breastfeeding at all. Yours was the most honest account there. There is enormous pressure to “succeed” at breastfeeding and many women subject themselves to unnecessary stress trying to fulfill their perceived maternal duty to some externally imposed standard.
      Thank you for sharing your experience though. I will be asking some questions in my next communication with the editor.

  3. You’re such a great writer … I don’t know what I can say apart from what has already been said. I hear and agree that integrity in the message is so important … but your story will still shine through.

    • Thankyou! I’m fine about it now – I suppose I was naive in not seeing it coming. But the story will be “out there” nonetheless, and having such a reputable newspaper carry it is an opportunity I’m grateful for and an achievement I am proud of.

  4. I’ve told you over and over how beautifully you write, because you do. But this time I could really feel what you were writing. You know I wrote a memoir and in it I exposed someone who tried to destroy me (by taking my children).
    Before it could be published, I had to protect… HIM! By changing his name. Now whenever I see his fake name in my book, in my story, I feel like its a lie…

    • I bashed this out straight after I got the news, so you’re right Maggie, it’s very raw. I felt a bit stupid afterwards. Past hurts still have a hold on my emotions I guess. Perhaps they always will. But at least I’m getting better at seeing past them now: it just takes a few hours instead of a lifetime. I can understand EXACTLY how you must feel every time you read that made-up name. It seems so unjust doesn’t it?

  5. I agree, this post is beautifully written. It’s hard news to take but writing in publications sometimes requires certain adjustments. Your story, and your message, will shine through and to a much larger audience. I’m looking forward to reading it and supporting the heck out of it on social media. Rest assured, we’ll all know it when we see it.

    • Thanks Linda, I’ve got over myself and am feeling much calmer now. It’s been a lesson in appreciating what I have – and that’s a great opportunity to be published in an influential broadsheet and, more importantly, a strong and supportive friend. Enough with the choking me up now… 😉

  6. I can totally understand your anger at feeling gagged in this way, especially when you have been so brave in facing up to your truths and owning them. Be assured though that you write so well and so honestly that your truth will be heard and felt by your readers regardless of the name that is printed in the byline.

  7. This is very complicated. But you can only tell your story as it is – YOUR story and your experience. It’s a pity. But then, if you are telling your story under an alias, it’s still your story isn’t it? I would feel offended though, I think, in some way. I completely agree with that last quote!

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