My last piece, A Letter To My 22 Year Old Self, received nice comments. However, some folks were worried about my emotional health.
In response, I’ve been pondering, am I actually depressed? And what happens when you are so radical honesty in public?
Four years ago, I started this blog writing:
Welcome to my virtual home! This is a lifelong experiment to living transparently.
Putting yourself public on the internet goes against the norm unless you’re a celebrity, own a web business, or insane. After all, what about those drunken picture from St. Patty’s bar crawl where you’re passed out on the street at 2pm? We can’t let others find out!
Sure, there will be negative consequences, but in the end, I take responsibility for my actions and not trying to please everyone. Besides, my friends know I’m a little nutty.
If I was to be totally honest (eh? eh?), my early posts sucked in terms of honesty. For example my RV stories had an element of bravado even with the negative stories like getting robbed. I was “fronting” or crafting a false “personal brand”.
I started thinking about this topic after reading James Altucher, who has a great post entitled 7 Things Happen to You When You Are Completely Honest:
People confuse “honesty” with a type of “happiness”. He can be honest because he is happy. But it’s not true. Life is a series of failures punctuated by brief successes. That’s honesty. Failure is not necessarily bad. It’s reality.
But branding tries to reverse that. With a “personal brand”, you suddenly pretend to be super successful, a “businesswoman” in Kardashian’s case – failure is non-existent, and out of your mind comes the exact mathematical formulas that if someone drinks your Cola and snorts your Ecstasy then they too will have the pretty girl, the success, the money, the accoutrements.
Honesty is about the scars. it’s about the blemishes. But it’s more than just bragging about failure, which could be a form of ego. It’s about truly helping people.
Funny. I have heard and have voiced the same opinion in different ways. Like, it’s easy to not worry about money when you’re rich. Or it’s easy to not care about your appearance when you’re beautiful. Likewise, it’s easy to be honest when you’re just full of good stories and joy.
Yet, the past year brought forth my most honest writing as I wrote about my broken dreams, doubts, and past failures like
Confessions of a Failed Internet Hustler - Part 1. Not surprisingly that last year, I published the least number of pieces, often with months of silence.
After all, who wants to read about another person’s problems? One of my friends jokingly says she vicariously lives through me with my years of random projects and travels. So I can see how folks worried about me when my writing turned from goals and dreams to struggles and sorrows.
Further in the same article, James writes:
WHAT WILL HONESTY GET YOU?
#2 PEOPLE WILL THINK YOU ARE GOING TO KILL YOURSELF
#3 PEOPLE WILL THINK YOU ARE CRAZY
Then people will send emails to your friends, “is he as crazy as he sounds?” And that’s how I make friends now because introductions will be made and people will have to find out for themselves.
#4 PEOPLE WILL GET FRIGHTENED
So they will call you names. Oh, that guy is just trying to be a “contrarian”, for instance. Or an “idiot”. Or worse. I’ve been called everything. I had to call the Brown University Public Safety office the other day because I got emailed a death threat and the guy didn’t think I could track him. The guy was a senior and had also apparently threatened the life of a librarian there.
They need to understand why you are telling the truth. Why you are being honest about what you really think. In meetings at the office everyone is quiet. You’re not supposed to speak up. So people will dislike you, try to put you down, post comments, whatever.
After reading his post, I laughed.
No, I’m not going to kill myself.
Despite my writing, I actually feel physically, mentally, and spiritually better than ever.
Not to say I have solved my life. I still have most of the same anxieties, doubts, fears, self-judgments, resentments, emotional triggers, and so on. And yet, I am feeling better. But how can I still feel the same things yet feel different about them?
How do I figure out this dichotomy? How do I make sense of where I am now?
Thinking of this dilemma, I I remembered a story from Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With The Heart of A Buddha by Dr. Tara Brach.
Fearing she might harm herself, Marian sought counsel from an elderly Jesuit priest who had been one of her teachers in college. Crying, she collapsed in the overstuffed chair he offered. “Please, please help me,” she pleaded. He listened to her story and sat quietly with her as she wept. When she calmed down, he gently took one of her hands and began drawing a circle in the center of her palm. “This,” he said, “is where you are living. It is painful– a place of kicking and screaming and deep, deep hurt. This place cannot be avoided, let it be.”
Then he covered her whole hand with his. “But if you can,” he went on, “try also to remember this. There is a greatness, a wholeness that is the kingdom of God, and in this merciful space, your immediate life can unfold. This pain,” and he again touched the center of her palm, “is held always in God’s love. As you know both the pain and the love, your wounds will heal.” (207)
I still feel many of the same, negative emotions. However, I don’t identify so dearly with them anymore. My entire life takes place in a larger wholeness, a larger context of spaciness.
I have a deeper trust, born out of experience, that whatever joys or sorrows arising are just fragments of a larger life to be acknowledged, accepted, appreciated and let be.
And those negative feelings that used to hang over me like a cloud for hours or days? Now, they last typically seconds, minutes, and yeah sometimes, hours. The difference is cutting off the judgments on top of judgments. And it’s not because I’m pushing the negativity away, but because I can see each experience’s proper significance and not overreact.
I’ll end with James’ last piece on what honesty brings:
#7 YOU BECOME FREE
At first we hug our boundaries in chains. We think “if we tell the girl we like her, she might not like me back”. We think, “If I say I like this candidate, my friends might hate me.” If I say X, everyone else might say Y. And so on. But more and more we start to feel where those boundaries are and we push them out. We push them further and further away from ourselves. Until finally they are so far away it’s as if they don’t exist at all. You don’t need money for that. Or a big house. Or a fancy degree or car. Every day, just push out those boundaries a little further.
We reach for that freedom. We never truly get there. We’re always striving to see how far they can go, just like a little child with her parents. But eventually, the boundaries are so far away we begin to feel the pleasures of true freedom.
And it feels good.
You’re right James. it feel good…even when it feels terrible.
* Photo is actually from my RV cross country trip at the living roof top of San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences.
* Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach is one of the best books I read this year. I came across Tara nearly five years ago in her Washington DC sangha but finally read her book this year.
* James Altucher is a very interesting fellow, I don’t agree with everything he writes, but his life is pretty fascinating.
* I should preface every statement in this piece with “most times” and “usually” but that usually sounds terrible most of the time.