When people see someone journaling their woes on social media, the common response is to cringe, look away, maybe block the poster. Some people have the balls to comment even, please stop! Most people believe it is inappropriate to air one’s dirty laundry, or vent personal, private, intimate feelings in public. As someone who has done this excessively since experiencing life-altering traumas, I would like to defend over-sharing, and explain to those curious the benefits of ego self-destruction in the public eye.
I lost my parents and wife to death and divorce surrounding the events of a terrorist attack that, bizarrely, cost me my job. The ensuing PTSD/depression has rendered me disabled and I have yet been unable to return to work. The details are not important here, but I explain this for some context. Essentially I found my life in a tailspin where all the roles, contexts, peers, supports — everything I knew — were suddenly gone. In this period most of my friends bailed either immediately and silently or in time with various shades of blame-casting, telling me all the wonderful things people tell people who are depressed when they just want you to become un-depressed.
As a result, I found myself with virtually no network, no sounding boards, nowhere to go for hugs, or for simple pleasures. Nothing to take my mind off the loss; nowhere to process those same losses.
I had a few public meltdowns on Facebook in the immediate aftermath of the worst events. Over time I alternated between self-exile, not communicating with anyone in person, by email, or online, and periodically hitting bursting points where I would post what from a certain point of view amount to mood swings, soul searching, cries for help, embittered rants, oblique but not very oblique scathing criticisms of those I felt had abandoned. Ugly stuff, admittedly.
But I do not regret these things.
In the long time period since the worst of it — the bombings in 2013 still feel like the critical turning point in my life, though my father’s death 2 years prior and my mother’s dementia and rapid health deterioration 2 years later, and everything in between, make it a long period of losses faster than I have been able to keep up with — I have experienced significant psychological shifts. Some for better, some for worse. Far from being out of the woods, I have many times hit suicidal points. And yet some things have sorted, some insight has been gained, and amidst the horror of it all, some moments of hope and joy. None of which, I am confident, would have occurred had I behaved appropriately and kept my mouth shut.
One change is that I no longer feel compelled to call out anyone, either directly (which was rare but happened initially) or indirectly. Indeed, I no longer carry much anger at any individuals. I have forgiven some, and in other cases come to see the flaws that all people have. In cases where I’m confident others did and do stand in obscene judgment of me, I no longer worry much about these people, no longer am tormented by the injustice. Because, you see, I have made so many contacts, some fleeting, some new friends, who have helped me feel understood, feel goodwill again.
For every ill-advised rant or overshare, while I may have chilled several in my social circles from engaging with me (and I am aware of many instances where the gossip mill churned over my exploits), I would have one or more people from my past reaching out publicly or typically privately to express concern and solidarity. People who themselves had had losses I never knew of, who sympathized. People who told me I was brave to say such things in the face of stigma and social norms, because they felt similar feelings but were not willing to disclose them. People who echoed my private tortured thoughts that, yes, there are fair-weather friends, yes, there are psychopaths who throw you under the bus, and yes, it is very very hard to trust and to stand up after traumas.
In time I found that the connections in my life, while too scarce, were much more positive connections than the ones I had spent many years building. This is not a criticism of lost friends, but rather an awareness that the *basis* for my connections for many years had been inauthentic. I was holding so much pain inside, so much shame from a troubled childhood with a dysfunctional family, and felt obligated (ironically) to never share such things with my social network. Instead, to do my best to be jovial, meeting people for dinner or drinks or game night. I lived a dual life where inside I was tormented but outside, I thought, I was a funny guy. Well, turned out, when events overwhelmed my capacity to hold it all in, all those friends who liked to hang out were gone in a heartbeat. They showed very little empathy, not a lot of concern, and in some cases, explicit judgment of me for what was happening.
Conversely, the friends I have made either through reconnecting after years or people I’ve met in the last couple years have felt more authentic. Unfortunately this means I’m not always the funny guy. Sometimes I agonize over being a mopey depressive stick-in-the-mud — especially with new friends where I’ve established myself as the life of the party. When I discover people are okay with the fact that I have real pain, are empathetic, I am, truth be told, at a loss. It is unfamiliar territory. And it is bumpy, because not everyone is empathetic. Some turn judgey when I get dark. But, armed with a lot of experience *over-sharing* now, I experiement with *sharing* why I am glum. And am shocked to learn, a fair number of people *care* and allow me to stop being mr. entertainment for a bit. And some do not. And that’s okay. I do not need to get close to those who cannot understand.
These are lessons I imagine well-adjusted people learn in kindergarten (whereas I was mostly dissociated at that age, trying not to think about the abuse at home). But for me, it is amazing to understand that people can care, can allow one to be in pain. It’s painful as hell to realize that as a result of attachment disorder and a messed up childhood I never really learned to pick my friends and manage my relationships, but, hey, you can’t learn without making mistakes. So…
I am not ashamed for over-sharing. I do it regularly, with people I have just met. I have made some better friends as a result, as well as burned some bridges quickly that I sometimes regret, sometimes do not. But I’ve learned that there is a lot more empathy out there, and compassion, than my old network led me to believe. I have learned that complete strangers will sometimes express not only sympathy, but sometimes compliments for being able to articulate pain and loss.
I suppose my only regret in over-sharing is that I did not initially understand how the NSA collects everything you ever say and stores it forever. But that leads me to a final point:
Over-sharing may be necessary in dealing with extreme trauma, especially traumatic loss of the very people who once were intimate emotional connections. Necessary because it is better to share than to be bottled up, better to offend others than to be in extreme internal conflict for not being able to process things. But over time this process does begin to sort, does begin to establish new modes of connections, as confidants and new fair-weather friends emerge, as the internal conflict is diminished. Over time, over-sharing can lead to appropriate levels of sharing. Eventually, one hopes, it may be possible to become fully appropriate — sharing cat pics and occasional brunches with the inner circle, taking out aggression on the family dog and the less fortunate, and gossiping with friends about each other.
The people who take offense to over-sharing are either ashamed by their implicit failings being called out, or embarrassed to know someone who is not showing as thriving. In such cases, the value of pleasing these people is fairly low.
I hope to return some day to the world of the living, to not be in frequent despair and hopelessness of my uncertain future. Many people with PTSD do end up homeless and in poverty. Many people with extreme losses, with no family, never recover full lives. Many suicide. None of this is light, none of it should be dismissed. Some people hashtag #ptsdawareness; I choose to tell whoever is listening, this shit is *hard*. It is hard to not have family. It is hard not to be able to do the work I spent 15 years building into a career, because I cannot concentrate and can barely manage to feed myself. But it is a light at the end of the tunnel that I no longer feel collectively shamed for how hard this is, no longer feel I am not allowed to talk about it.
I feel more human these days. I feel like things have happened that I am struggling to overcome. I am deeply aware of one point the docs and therapists and books were saying a few years ago and I could not absorb, which is that my future will never look anything like my past. This remains terrifying. Imagine the first day of kindergarten, but no parents to drop you off or pick you up later, and you have to pay the mortgage somehow, but also must get along with the kids at recess who have no such burdens. This is how life feels these days. A learning curve that is too extreme. But I am so, so, so grateful to know, there are tons of people out there who care, who have been through their own horrors, who can try to understand. I am so grateful to know that I don’t always need to carry all of it on my own.