Trigger warning: Self-harm
The other day I watched Brene Brown’s exclusive on Netflix: The Call to Courage.
Being a Brene fan I had heard many of her stories before, so bursting into tears at her last one caught me completely by surprise.
She told the story of her daughter’s terrible experience at a school gala. What made it so significant for me is that it was essentially my own story from thirty years ago. An embarrassing, teenage-life-altering event that I always thought I alone experienced.
Brene’s daughter was forced to swim a race she knew she wasn’t ready for. Not only did she come last, but she was lapped by her peers. So when she was swimming one way, they were already returning to the finish line.
The exact same thing happened to me.
Now it sounds like an insignificant blip in the grand scheme of things, but when you are in your first month of high school, at the most impressionable time of your young life, it’s a huge deal. So there I was, 12 years old, forced to swim two laps of the backstroke, and I had never been in a pool that size before. It was a race in front of the entire grade, competing in different “clans.” So 200 new kids were watching me lose for the blue team. And not just lose. Severely lose. While the others finished, I was still on my first lap. Everyone staring. Laughing. Teasing.
But I didn’t stop or get out the pool. I finished that fucking race.
Then I wrapped my towel around myself, went to the bathroom, locked myself in a toilet stall, and cried my eyes out.
Dozens of parents were watching too, and my mom was embarrassed to admit it was her kid. She sneaked out the arena to find me, and we didn’t speak about it at all on the way home. In fact, we never mentioned it again.
Naturally, from then on I was always the last nerd chosen for sport teams. I never managed to crawl past my failure status.
What made me cry all these years later during Brene Brown’s talk, was this:
Her daughter (also crying from shame) said:
“That really sucked, mom. But you know what? I tried. And I was brave.”
Ah man. I got that kid.
I had been teased and laughed at. Tears pulled from my eyes like the endless sleeve hanky of a clown.
I was the easy joke.
I was called slow and clumsy and loser.
But nobody had ever told me I was brave.
Now, three decades later on a random Netflix program, I suddenly remembered the song that was going through my head as I swam. There used to be a Kellogg’s Frosties ad that went along the lines of, “Show ‘em you’re a tiger, show ‘em what you can do…” Those silly lyrics were booming through my young mind as I swam skew and slow to the finish line.
If I could see my younger self now I would be cheering her along the sidelines and give her a massive high five at the end. You were fucking brave, kiddo.
This story highlights something so important for me, and is one of the main reasons I read so many books, watch countless movies, and create my own art. It’s why I write.
That beautiful power that lives in our stories. That ability to connect with someone else and say, “me too.”
Knowing that someone gets you, that someone understands, that on the other side of the world, or even in a fictional realm, there is someone who has gone through what you are going through and you are not alone…that knowledge is healing.
To offer that connection to even one other person in this world is why I do what I do. It’s why I make art. Why I put words together on the page.
It’s why I am brave. Cause sharing my work makes me vulnerable. Not everyone will like it. There will be shitty reviews. There may be rejection and more clown-coloured remarks. But I’m not writing for them. I’m not painting for them.
I am doing it for anyone who has ever felt what I have felt, experienced the trauma my characters do, found freedom like some of the creatures that come to life in my books.
I’m stepping into the arena:
The book I am busy writing is about a girl with anxiety who harms herself in a number of ways – cutting, starvation, addiction. It’s also about how she connects with an ancient, wild part of herself and then the book takes on a life of its own.
Here is one line from the first chapter. A very small piece from a work that I am hoping will help someone else know that they are brave.