Can you help me understand something? Like seriously. I need someone else to explain this to me slowly and in small words. I have had these times in my life. Experiences that are just awful. So awful, in fact, that I don’t even want to acknowledge them when they are happening.
Then I survive them and time passes. And I find myself not just journaling about them, but publishing pieces about them. Every time I do this, it scares me. Every time, I think “This is going to be the last straw. This is going to be the one where people say I have gone too far.” But that last straw never seems to come.
Instead, what happens is that I feel good. Damn good. So damn good that I repeat the cycle again. What is this? Can you help me identify this phenomenon?
Case in point. I just published an article for Above the Law – one of the most well read legal blogs on the internet. The topic of my article was loneliness. While a common affliction these days, especially for lawyers who rate themselves as the loneliest of professions, loneliness also commonly induces shame.
This was true for me. I was so ashamed of my own loneliness that it took me years and a bout with postpartum depression to start to face it. Ultimately, my meditation practice forced me to reckon with it because sitting still without distraction made me unable to look away. As I learned, this pain was worth it because facing the problem eventually helped me address it.
But at the time, the idea of saying to myself “I have no friends” was too painful to bear. Fast forward ten years, and I decided to tell the internet about it. The weird thing is that I don’t feel ashamed anymore. I feel fantastic. What gives?
Now, you would be correct to point out that the response from my community has been heartening. I received nothing but positive comments and messages in response to my post. One contact on LinkedIn even offered to be my friend and a legal scholar of ethics dubbed me the Lawyer of the Week for my post.
Certainly, seeing the reality of what people really think juxtaposed against the tragedy of shame playing out in our minds can help us get perspective. But this isn’t a one-off scenario. At this point, this is a pattern for me.
I have written about my experience with postpartum depression, and my struggle with alcohol during the pandemic, and my fear of networking, and my challenges with anger management. All of these things in the moment made me feel deeply ashamed. Writing about all of them made me feel great.
And, though I got similarly positive responses to those posts, the great feelings happened before any public response. The good feelings started when I decided to write. They climaxed when I wrote and cried my way through the editing process. And they continued as I hit send or publish on the piece.
So what are these great feelings? If I had to offer one word, I would call it self-acceptance. Writing about our past experiences forces us to get clear about them. It forces us to recall what happened, acknowledge all the angst and fear there, and not look away.
In general, the form of story telling also calls on us to provide a narrative structure. It’s not enough to just say what we experienced; we next have to say where it took us and what we learned. That means we have to figure out the meaning of the experience.
I have read that writing about a traumatic experience can help us process it. My lived experience tells me this is true. I don’t know of any research that says publishing your work has any added benefits, but I have felt them myself.
When I have published the pieces about my dark moments, it’s like self-acceptance on steroids. I know that some people may judge me. I know that some people may criticize. I publish anyway. Usually, I have been motivated to do so because I know that I am not alone in dealing with the issue. For example, all of the dark experiences I have shared (depression, alcohol, loneliness, imposter syndrome) are things lawyers commonly face.
But when I share my story with these experiences, I highlight my story and take the risk that some might not understand. When I do, I remember how much of my life was spent tip-toeing around people who might not get me and I say to myself “not anymore.”
So perhaps I have figured this out on my own. Writing about dark moments in life isn’t without pain or risk, but it feels damn good. It feels good to acknowledge your own experience and understand what it means. It feels good to own your story no matter what people might think.
Justice Louis D. Brandeis (the namesake for my law school) famously said “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” He wasn’t talking about mental health here but the saying still applies. If you are struggling with dark moments, try bringing in some light. Talk it out, write it out, share it with those you trust. Your story matters and acknowledging it can feel damn good.
Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.
Like this post? Subscribe to the blog here or follow us on social media: