I attended a writer’s weekend in LA several years ago, and for the first time, I read aloud a small portion of the book I was writing. To say I was nervous reading my writing would be an understatement. I trembled in fear. I had given speeches and talks on my story several times, and I was very comfortable in that medium, but at that moment, reading my innermost thoughts out loud intimidated me.
As I stood at the front of the room and read a few paragraphs aloud, I opened myself up to vulnerability. I described my darkest moments of being curled up in a ball in the foetal position suffering from overwhelming panic attacks, and how I thought I was well and truly losing my mind. As I read my paragraphs out loud, my mind raced with thoughts of Oh my God, you are putting yourself out there. You are going to be judged. People are going to think you are weak. And at the same time that these thoughts raced through my mind, I marvelled at the fact that I could read whole paragraphs while not focusing on anything that I was saying. It was quite a remarkable feeling. Somehow, I was able to get through my reading, and as I sat down, I felt a wave of relief that it was over.
Fast forward to a couple of hours later whereby a few of the attendees asked me if I wanted to join them for lunch, to which I agreed. As I sat in the sunshine speaking with my fellow writers, several of them asked me to elaborate on my panic attacks, my recovery, and what had caused them. I opened up completely about my history. It was a pretty raw, authentic conversation, and on hearing my tale, a few of my luncheon companions shared with me their own gritty, emotional stories. My companions mentioned that my narrative was inspirational and relatable and that sharing my story gave them the courage to tell their own story. Their words truly made my heart sing – for that was the purpose of sharing my story - to inspire individuals who are suffering. To give them comfort in knowing that they are not alone.
I was marvelling in the warmth of knowing I was doing the right thing by sharing my story when I was crudely smacked back down to earth.
“Well, I don’t think the corporate world is evil. I have nothing but good experiences with working at XYZ company” …. “I don’t see what your big deal is” cut the words of a woman sitting across from me.
I was stunned stupid.
I had no words.
I had just described to the group how the panic attacks had scared me to such a degree that I developed a fear of fear itself, so much so that I became a social recluse for fear of a panic attack occurring in public, in front of people. And all that this lady got from the description of my anxiety and depression was the need to tell me that she did not think the corporate world was evil and that she did not know what the big deal was. I had not mentioned the word evil, nor disparaged any corporations or leaders, and so I was doubly confused about where her judgement had come from.
My luncheon acquaintances immediately jumped to my defence, saying encouraging words of support, but I remained silent. My mind whirled the rest of the afternoon and during the following days as I struggled to grasp her judgment. I began worrying that I was making a mistake sharing my story and doubts began circling my mind telling me that it wasn’t such a good idea to be so forthcoming about my innermost fears and flaws.
As luck would have it, there was a blessing in disguise that mandated that I snap out of my self-doubt. I was booked to give a speech to several hundred women on my story two weeks after my encounter with the lady that had tried to invalidate me. And, because I had to focus and prepare my speech, I was ultimately able to find my voice again and remember why I tell my story.
This experience helped me to recognise that my story is not going to appeal to everyone, and that’s okay. Second of all, the encounter forced me to look inward to sanity check if I had ever invalidated someone’s story either consciously or unconsciously. In all likelihood, I probably have, and for that, I am sincerely regretful.
Key questions to ask yourself: