During my January reflections of the year just passed, I realised that I'd almost completely stopped writing in the way I used to.
When I first started sharing my writing for wellbeing practice and work, I really was sharing. My Instagram account read as a personal diary of pictures and words from my normal little life, and my website blog gave a longer-form space for more detailed exploration of themes and topics that really interested me.
I've never been an especially vocal or outgoing person in a group, and so I always enjoyed writing and photography as my preferred outlet of self-expression.
In the last few years, it was a beautiful way to connect with the new community I had just moved to, and stay in touch with people I'd moved geographically further from. My more personal writing also became my work as I held mindful journaling workshops and brought groups together to share and reflect.
For anyone to share their creative work and words in this way, they need to feel safe. Not to be totally confident and above any critique, but safe enough to test the waters, use their voice, and begin to feel seen and heard. There needs to be a baseline level of self worth and emotional safety present before we can start to share and connect with others.
I realised that it had been a long time since I really felt like that, and this had hugely impacted my creativity and my writing - in fact, shutting it down almost completely. Thankfully, I've been supported enough that I've been able to carry on my work facilitating workshops and holding space for our writing and exploration in private spaces, but it's been a long time since I've shared anything of real substance more publicly.
Having gained this awareness, my intention now is to patiently work on bringing it back. The way my brain tends to work is that this openness will come in waves - some days I will feel open to share and write loads, and other days I will close up and shut down again (I have been known to 'Hide' a post or 'Revert to Draft' when the vulnerability hangover comes looming!)
Today, I'm diving in deep with the place that feels natural for me to start - stating my intention to bring back my writing, and starting by acknowledging where it got lost.
The Emotions & Experiences That Shut Me Down:
Lots of fragments make up a big picture of reasons why we shut down creatively and emotionally, but here I have one specific experience in mind which is important for me to accept. Looking back and being analytical, it makes total sense to me that I would have been affected in this way, and allows me to be enormously compassionate to myself when I write out what happened and my feelings around it:
Shock - An emotional disclosure that unsettled the reliable status quo and social relationships that were my foundations at that time. Sudden change, confusion, joy, guilt, uncertainty, hope, fear. There is no way I could have predicted this would be in my story, and I can't articulate it.
Secrecy - I wasn't allowed to tell anyone. In hindsight, this was manipulation and dependency. At the time, it was trust, safety, and a bond. I mustn't tell anyone this part of my story. This is mine, and precious, and will get broken if I share it.
Rejection - Loss of hope, more uncertainty, more fear. Loneliness. Humiliation. Nobody wants to hear a tragedy, and I don't have the words to explain how I feel.
Sharing - I need to rebuild and reconnect with some of my 'normal'. I need my storytelling to make sense of things.
Gaslighting - Are you sure that happened? You're probably over-reacting. We don't think it sounds that bad. Can we carry on as if nothing happened? You'll be fine. My story doesn't make sense to anyone else. Maybe I'm wrong.
Isolation - They tried really hard to listen but it's painful, and everyone has their own stuff going on. No-one wants to hear my story.
Grief - I've lost so much and don't have the energy yet to build something new. I'm too sad. There's enough 'real' sadness in the world, nobody needs my story.
My understandable response was to stop sharing and become really small. My posts got simplified and I tried to take my emotions out of what I shared, because they would have been too 'uncomfortable' for other people. My memory of that time is lots of hollow words and sad sea pictures! Occasionally I raged and lashed out, and sometimes I wrote in symbols and messages that would only have made sense to those who knew.
I de-activated my account and my blog more times than I can count, perhaps in hope of disconnecting from my own reality or ring-fencing my wild emotions. (This was largely in lockdowns, and my social media was the main way I interacted with people and felt 'seen' or 'heard' - only of course I didn't.)
During this time, I did lots and lots of private writing, expressing and processing emotions on a blank piece of paper that wasn't going anywhere. I still think this is the best thing to do when in emotional distress. I really support openness and sharing, but I think it's much safer not to do this publicly when you're still in the moment. There is nearly always space to pause and reflect, and after time and editing, things usually come out much better and in a way that feel emotionally held and safe.
Over lots and lots of time, I edged back into view and started sharing a restricted version of my writing and 'wellbeing' content - oh the irony and the imposter syndrome! I remember doing a 31-days-of-gratitude series in March 2021 because that all I was capable of writing at that time - a sentence a day about the smallest things I was thankful for. But it got me writing again, and over the last two years I've gradually built back my capacity for sharing and reconnecting with my online community.
Things Which Have Helped Me Open Up Again:
I've had the gift of kind friends, supportive groups, and access to therapy. I've talked in private, and journal ferociously in a closed notebook.
I've run workshops where we create trust and safety for sharing within the room.
I've been in some amazing held spaces and retreats where my voice feels accepted and heard.
I've waited (with varying levels of patience.)
I've taken little steps forward and little steps back, repeatedly.
Sharing any kind of writing publicly is opening yourself up to vulnerability, and there's always going to be the risk of criticism and 'getting it wrong'. Usually, I'm my own worst critic and look back at old work with a harsh judgement.
I look through Instagram and think 'there are so many voices here, what is the point in adding to the noise?' This can feel really demoralising, until I remember that the only answer is to be authentically myself in the way that I write and post. And the secret to this, I think, is genuine vulnerability. My surface level ideas will be similar to many other people's surface level ideas, but each of my deeper shows of vulnerability will be exquisitely unique.
Openness is what we all crave from each other, and my goal is to loosen my armour again and share my writing in a way that is warm and honest and allowed to flawed. My 'recovery' has been a lot about re-finding my voice, and hopefully fine-tuning it far beyond where it was before.
There's more texture, with deeper scratches, marks and insights. I'll probably look back in another two years and cringe about how I write now, but I think I'd prefer to do that than look back and see nothing there because I was too scared to use my voice.
So here is my commitment to regular writing and vulnerable openness as I'm piecing back together my sense of self, knowing, and trust. This will peak and trough in response to real-time and real-life, but I hope you'll come along for some of the reading ride ♥