I'm no stranger to this struggle. As an eating disorder and rape survivor, I have fought back my fair share of shame demons. As befits the woman my partner calls the Queen of Communication (that's me!), I dealt with these issues in large part by talking about them--not only to a therapist, to support groups, to my friends and family, but also to the public through performance, writing, and social media. My natural response to a socially taboo topic is to break the silence, loudly and repeatedly.
I've had this condition for over 3 1/2 years now. So why has it taken so long for me to break this silence? Perhaps it relates to the fear of drawing attention to one's physical ills that I mentioned in my latest piece for Adios Barbie on Gender Bias in Pain. Perhaps it's the daunting prospect of attempting to explain my illness that overwhelms me. There may be some fear of rejection; I would rather disappear quietly from people's news feeds, Twitter streams, and consciousness than face the fact that many of those people would quickly unfriend and unfollow me should I start representing my new self accurately. But more than anything else, I think, I have been ashamed that I am no longer the person I was before the pain. I have been afraid to admit publicly that my old life has completely fallen apart, and my new life is anything but glamorous. I don't want to admit it to the world, because I don't want to admit it to myself.
The 6th Annual Women in Pain Conference gave me the wake-up call that I needed. During the discussion of coping missteps and pitfalls, panelist Lynne Popadak (Co-Organizer, USC Quench the Fire Run) spoke movingly about the pressure to be strong and independent, to hold onto the person she was before pain and to continue to present that person to the world. Another panelist, Britt Johnson (aka The Hurt Blogger), talked about "putting [her] best face on," and the freeing power of honesty with friends and family. As the conference progressed, I started to hear a common refrain from many participants: social media (and the pain community therein) is a lifesaver when it comes to feeling connected and validated as a person living with chronic pain. And it hit me. If I wait until I'm "ready," until I feel secure, until I have it all figure out, I will never tweet, blog, or perform again. I will never be "ready." I have to start now.
Within a few days of returning from LA (an ordeal in itself), I unceremoniously started tweeting again. The rewards were almost instantaneous; Britt welcomed me with [virtual] open arms and I had positive interactions with several other WIP Conference speakers. And while many of my followers did unfollow me, I similarly unfollowed many of them. We simply had no common ground anymore. And that's ok. I found new tweeps with whom I share more, and having less industry news in my stream (reminding me of my lost career) proved extremely good for my mental health.
Encouraged, I am now slowly beginning the process of reforming my social media presence, creating more harmony between how I am represented online and who I am today. There are many things about me that remain the same: I love my family and the friends who've stuck by me as much as ever--if not more. I'm just as passionate about social justice. I still revel in edible gardening, cooking, writing, dogs, and roller derby. But I am no longer the energetic community manager who can work 60 hours a week on a Quantcast Top 100 site, and socialize 4 or 5 nights a week. I am a woman in (as yet) untreatable pain, mostly homebound, who saves her spoons all week for one carefully-planned outing. And as such, I still deserve a voice.
So there we have it. Welcome to my Ruud Awakenings.