For as far back as I can remember, I have felt such intensity of emotion that my heart breaks and rebuilds itself a thousand times each day. Remember in the classic Grinch movie, how the Grinch’s heart was two times too small? And then later it grows so large that it breaks out of its frame? That’s my heart at the end, just ready to burst with feeling, although it’s not always bursting with love or something good. Yet the painful things do have pieces of goodness in them, and the good things can be painful. Welcome to human life on this fucked-up planet.
I saw Frank Warren, the creator of PostSecret, speak at the University of Western Ontario here in London two weeks ago. I left feeling so much emotion that I had to let it calm down before reflecting on my experience there. I’ve followed PostSecret since almost its beginning in 2005, and have been fortunate enough to have TWO of my homemade postcards featured on the website. (Curious about my secrets? Read on!)
I’m not going to describe the presentation in detail because I wouldn’t do it justice. Plus, I don’t want to spoil it for you in case you decide to attend a PostSecret event in the future yourself. In short, it was magical and humbling. Frank is a man who didn’t create the phenomenon of strangers sharing their secrets anonymously, he merely opened his eyes and his heart and said, “Come in, you are welcome and you are not alone.” And since then he tells the world that every Sunday when reveals a fraction of the week’s secrets from his mailbox by sharing them with the world. And his speech was exactly that, Frank sharing his open heart with the audience. And although he did most of the talking, he conversed with the audience the whole time. He sat there and spoke with us as a friend.
As some of you probably know already, each time Frank speaks he invites the audience to share some of their secrets. It is vastly different from the anonymous artwork shared on the website because it involves voicing one’s secret in front of audience members that most likely include classmates, friends, and/or family. Scary! As audience members shared their secrets I didn’t look back towards the microphones, I just let the voices wash over me.
My feelings after the event were so mixed because I was completely knocked out of my comfort zone. I felt overwhelmed after suicide and abuse and mental illness were talked about openly in a crowd of my peers, yet I still felt so distant from everyone. I felt angry. I felt like everyone in the auditorium could talk about those things but that they still wouldn’t get it, what it’s like to be stuck in illness and pain for years and years. And I felt angry at myself, at my silence.
Frank said that “suicide connects us, we just can’t see it” because each one of us knows someone who has been suicidal or has ended their life. Maybe it’s a friend of a friend that took their own life but we’ve all had suicide touch our lives somehow. It’s one hundred percent true, unfortunately. Yet I sat there, in the front row no doubt, and screamed silently. Suicide has gone way beyond touching my life – it’s been on my mind as a viable option for my whole life. It has been my imagined antidote for too much feeling, my overburdened heart.
I feel like it’s really hard to talk about suicide because society spreads the message that once we do talk about it, we “save” someone from death and that’s all there is to it. The crisis passes and there, the person is fixed. I’ve attempted suicide over four times but I don’t like to talk about it. Why? Because that was the easy part, giving up. Getting up each day to take on another day of living, THAT is what hurts. That is where the battle lies and where so many of us feel alone.
One of my favourite PostSecret postcards touched on that problem exactly. Now Frank, I bet you’re going to read this post because you’re that awesome, so let me know if it isn’t cool to re-post this secret here and I’ll take it down. Until then, here is that secret, by some anonymous person out there:
One of the many things I love about PostSecret is that Frank doesn’t judge or edit, he just lets the art speak for itself. All of human emotion is allowed. Which is why I felt safe enough to share my art first with Frank and then with the world. I’m keeping one of my PostSecret-published secrets to myself, but here’s one I will share with you:
Not very artistic, is it? It was all I could muster. When I wrote it my life felt as black as that paper. It was July and scorching hot outside but my world couldn’t have been darker. My bursting heart could hardly take any more. I didn’t want to tell anyone I knew just how bad I was feeling but I needed to tell someone. So I told Frank and then the world.
So, dear internet, in case you were wondering, I lived longer than just writing that postcard. I lived another four years (a rough estimate) and I’m still going. Sending that secret helped me tremendously. It taught me to value my own secrets enough to share just one of them. It taught me that art, no matter how small or how simple, helps me keep going. It taught me that the world values my secrets too.
My favourite thing that Frank Warren said when he spoke that night was that “sharing secrets saves lives.” It gave my silent self a jolt of electricity, reminding me that keeping my secrets to myself isn’t helping anyone. I often feel like my story is too dark to share, too evil, and that the world would be much better without ever hearing it. But maybe that isn’t for me to judge.
Most of us don’t want the secrets we have, we never asked for them, to carry as burdens for years and years, yet there they are. They are ours, but they don’t have to stay just ours. We can let them go. When we’re ready, of course, little by little, and ease our troubled hearts.
Maybe your secret is as small as breathing for one more day. Each breath in is courage, and each breath out silently whispers to the world that we’re still here. We’re still fighting, less alone than we know.
I started writing this post at 11:45 on a Saturday, and now that I’m finished, it’s been Sunday for half an hour. A brand new batch of secrets are up! Go visit PostSecret and start the week off feeling far less alone.