Hearts on sleeves and catalysts for change

Colour photo of a person's face with a black sweater pulled up so only their eyes are visible

Do you ever think about a thing you do, ask yourself why you do it and find yourself unable to formulate an adequate answer? After last night’s I’m going to vomit my soul up all over my blog for no apparent reason session, I fell asleep wondering why I do that , woke up this morning still wondering and now I can’t stop thinking about it.

There’s a common assumption that people write about themselves for attention. Obviously I can’t speak for everyone, but if I wanted internet attention, I would get a whole lot more of it, a whole lot more easily, if I posted my soul-spew on Facebook for a few hundred of my closest friends and causal acquaintances to read. Even on its best day, this blog gets absolutely nowhere near that level of views, so it’s not that.

On a similar note, perhaps it’s a desire for validation. Again, that would come quickly and in vast quantities through Facebook where I know for certain that people would respond with kindness, acceptance and love. I would be reminded that not only are there people who get it, but there are people I know and talk to all the time who get it. This blog is not a very commenty or interacty place (which I’m fine with), so posting anything here for validation would be utterly pointless.

It may be assumed that people empty their minds out into a blog because they don’t have anyone in ‘real life’ to talk to about their problems, feelings or dilemmas. Again, this is totally not the case for me. I’m incredibly lucky because, whether I deserve it or not, I have plenty of wonderful people in my life who I could talk to at any time about anything. I’m definitely not lacking in ‘real life’ communication opportunities, so that reason goes out the window too.

Sometimes when I read other people’s blogs where they talk about deeply personal issues, they explain that their reason for doing so is, at least in part, to help other people. You write about something personal and painful, someone else reads it and can relate to it, then boom! You have helped a person to feel less alone. I’d love to pretend this was my motivation because it would make me look like more of a decent human being than I probably am but the truth is, the other-people-relating factor is no more than a pleasant side effect for me.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a writer, I need to write and ‘myself’ is an accessible subject. I would really like to say this is the reason, and perhaps it’s closer than all the others so far, but it still doesn’t hit the nail on the head. I write all the time about all sorts of things. I write for work. Even when I’m writing recreationally, I don’t always, or even particularly often, write autobiographically (although I often do write in first-person). I’m not short on external inspiration. I gluttonously absorb music, films, TV shows, books, news articles and personal conversations, curating them in my mind to return to later. I have an equally useful and irritating tendency to remember things in precise detail, word-for-word (I am the worst person in the world to argue with because when you play the “When did I say that?” card, I’ll be able to tell you when, where, what you were wearing and how good your hair looked at the time) so if I just wanted to write, it would take me all of 30 seconds to shuffle through my brain-files and find something to write about.

So maybe it’s actually none of those reasons. Maybe it’s something broader and less pin-down-able. Maybe I’m going to try and describe it here. Clue: I am going to try and describe it here. Strap in and hold on.

What if we didn’t exist in a culture of shame? What if it was no more difficult to talk about what hurts you than it is to talk about what makes you smile? What if it wasn’t viewed negatively to talk openly about mental illness or traumatic events or just feeling-down-because-reasons? What if doing so didn’t result in feelings of guilt because other people might have it worse? What if we didn’t score strength-points by keeping everything buried and hidden behind bullshit faux-inspirational quotes about choosing to be positive?

I’m not suggesting that everyone runs around screaming their problems in the face of whoever they encounter in the course of a day, but what if more people felt they could quietly (or not so quietly, whatever) place a small section of their heart in open view without having to earn the right to do so? What if that wasn’t viewed as a radical act? What could that mean for our collective sense of compassion and understanding?

I’m not going to answer that question and I don’t expect you to answer it either. I only ask that you think about it and the next time you feel like you need to write something, paint something, photograph something, sing something, as an act of release and relief, consider that it may also be an act of empowerment with the potential to reach far beyond your own experience. Consider that it, that you, may be a catalyst for change.

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