Do Tell

Most of what I thought I was keeping private I've really been keeping secret. The former is keeping confidence for the sake of others, not revealing something because it would be a burden for them. The latter is hiding. I'm speaking here of the secrets and privacy of the self, myself really. Secrets can be valuable when carried for a loved one. Secrets kept about myself seem less so. Also, privacy, like solitude, feels healthy and good while secrets, like loneliness, mostly do damage.

Don't worry though, I'm not about to reveal my deepest secrets here today. That's another kind of burdening that does damage. Instead I'm looking to consider the effects I'm feeling of having let go of a couple secrets.

Start easy with one I've talked about before: I'm quitting my job after this school year. That's the sort of thing I would usually kept to myself worrying What if my employer and colleagues find out? What if I change my mind? Fearing these things, I have the habit of making such decisions but keeping them secret. Privacy isn't motivated by fear, but secrets usually are. My habit says, don't tell anyone.

I bucked that habit and have announced the decision and then some. The effects help me see the value of going public. I have been surprised by the support, suggestions, and gratitude with which my announcement has been received. I expected it to be a burden to others, but it turns out to be a type of kindness.

It has been kind to me as well. There have been other times I've said I need to quit my job, but that was only my inner voice echoing inside the empty warehouse of my skull. I kept it secret because the idea felt shameful and made me seem weak. Transforming the secret through telling, I felt lighter and open to ideas. The secret had me thinking I had to go on until retirement. Telling others had me feeling the truth of it.

A second example. At my in-laws, talking about my job, I said it was making me sick. To show I wasn't just whining, I let go of a secret: I'm 219 pounds, technically obese. My mother-in-law was shocked and did not want to believe. No way, she said. That's not possible.

I never want to reveal that I'm fat. It's embarrassing and feels like failure, a lack of will, and weakness. Being fat is something I keep secret out of shame. This is what I've learned. That's my habit.

Saying it didn't change my weight but I felt lighter, less trapped in my weight or held down by it. Letting go of the secret I found that no one reproached me. There was no shame. There was understanding and I felt good.

My recent experience has been that sharing secrets is strengthening. Still, I resist the urge to share because shame, the heaviest of weights, feels so crushing. Shame drives my habit of hiding, of keeping secret while claiming privacy. The habit is so strong it overcomes most logic and experience.

Of course it matters how the secret is told. It's no surprise that telling honestly and in straight-forward fashion without hoping to elicit any response, least of all shock is best. I didn't want to shock my mother-in-law. Instead, I wanted to share something and help her understand how bad my job has become. I told her about my weight not to say, Look at me! but more to offer, This is me. Here I am. I was giving instead of asking for something. For me, that's a radical approach.

There are implications in this for writing. When I tell of my job and weight, I'm not looking for a result, effect, moral, or even an ending. There is no moral. I don't know how the story will end. It's a thing in process. I tell the story without drama or effect and go forward in the belief that someone, maybe me, might benefit. Secrets are hidden stories. Telling in the right amounts — and here there is a border to explore — is good for all.

Why Are You Here?

In bed Sunday morning at quarter to eight I felt anxious that I was late. I had nowhere to go, nothing to do, but the feeling rose in me nonetheless. I closed my eyes tight but darkness made the anxiety stronger. Then I asked it a question:

        Why are you here?

Yeah, I talked to my anxiety. Usually I battle it, push against it, try to tamp it down. I try to stop anxiety, kick it in the knees. What else is there to do with something I fear? These things rarely work but are the habits I've developed. Today I took a different tack. I talked with it the way I want people to talk with me.

        Why are you here?

In case you're worried, my anxiety doesn't reply. There is however a child-like voice in me that said, I don't know. And with that my anxiety began to drain away. It didn't disappear in a flash but I felt it ebbing. Having asked the question, gotten something of an answer, I opened my eyes and felt ready to get out of bed. I had writing to do.