When I was in the USA last year I stumbled upon and open-mike comedy night at the downstairs bar at my hotel. I joined in with the 30 or so people crowded into the small room to hear the performers. It was a tightknit group who got together on a regular basis to display their comedy skills, with a friendly and jovial atmosphere as you might expect. Gradually I realised that I was one of about five people in the audience who weren’t performing.
One performer was a young woman, who was clearly known to the group. For her few minutes in the spotlight, she talked about a recent experience with abortion and her families reaction to it. It wasn’t funny. She seemed extremely vulnerable, and the audience didn’t know how to react. The experience she was sharing was too recent; too raw; too painful. Whatever happens to transform a personal story into a comedy routine that everyone can laugh at wasn’t happening.
I wanted to grab an overcoat, wrap her up and take her off the stage. I wanted to somehow protect her from her painful experience, and the sharing of it. I wanted to tell her that this wasn’t the place to find the solace she was looking for. I was a stranger in a strange environment, and I didn’t do any of those things. I watched her sit down. It seemed that her story had not connected her more deeply with anyone in the group, and I feared the experience would deepen her sense of isolation.
I have also seen and experienced this type of raw over exposure in writing groups where people read their work aloud, and in sometimes in reading blogs. I have read blog posts that suggest struggles with depression that have not been met by supportive comments. I have stumbled upon one post, months old, that suggested that the person might be suicidal, with no follow up comments or posts. It saddens and frightens me when I find people reaching out for help to the internet, only to be met with silence.
When it works well, the process of creating a song, a poem, a blog post or a joke converts our personal experience into a universal story that others can relate to and understand. This very process can be healing, and create a sense of perspective about the subject matter and a feeling of connection with others. But sometimes, it doesn’t quite happen. Sometimes it comes across as just raw feeling, uncovered and unprotected.
For myself, I try to write about things that I have some perspective on, that might be of help or interest to others. Although some of these topics can be personal, I don’t write about things if I am feeling very shaken up and vulnerable. If I was seriously in need of help, I’d talk to a real person about it.
So by all means, share what is going on for you, if that feels comfortable and helpful. But remember to take care of yourself. Its not necessary to tell the world your troubles if you don’t feel OK about it. You don’t have to bleed your heart onto the stage, or the page. Your sensitive sould needs to be protected, and the best person to do that is you.