After my illness, I instinctively knew that words were going to be very significant to how I got through my recovery. I needed words to feed me hope, light and possibility if I was going to survive mentally and recover emotionally. It wasn’t me wanting to hear medical falsehoods about my future, but it was about harvesting positive options out of the truth of my situation, instead of drowning in a sea of limitation and hopelessness.
I knew I needed words to educate me too about all that had happened, and that I’d need words to express what was going on inside of me so I could move forward positively, with the legacy of the illness and misdiagnosis I had experienced, that would play out in my life for the rest of my life.
Words, I had discovered, were like gold nuggets in life, with the power to release the burden, or lift the soul on a bad day, to re-assure the mind in a moment of doubt, to establish a clear vision in a moment of confusion, to provide a sense of connection at a times of feeling lost at sea. As I had had a background in writing and presenting in my marketing work, you could say I had made a livelihood out of words, so it seemed a logical next step to me when I got stronger to set out to help others going through big life challenges as I had, through their use.
So, I started to speak out on patient issues so as to try to ensure no one ever ended up going through what I had gone through, when they didn’t have to, and so grew the public speaking and advocacy work I do. And, as writing had always played a big part in my life, it too seemed like a vehicle to help make things better too, so after years of journaling, came this blog.
But ‘words’ is also an anagram for the word ‘sword’ and not just in a funny, co-incidental way. Words can hurt, even when the intention is to do anything but. This I learned last week.
My phone bleeped with a message from a dear friend. I say a dear friend, because she is indeed the most beautiful friend someone could have and has been there for me many times through the various wavy parts of my life journey, with encouragement, faith and love. But on this occasion, she was angry, and very angry at that. I had written something in a blog that had wounded her and both she, and once I learned this, I, were shocked, disappointed but most especially, very hurt.
At first, I thought I had misunderstood the text (the bluetooth in my car had read my text aloud through the car speakers while I was driving in its usual stop starty, inappropriately intonated way), so I replayed it, craning forward in my seat as I drove, to hear every word right, only this time, feeling a certain uneasy tingling rise in my legs as I did.
Straight away, I pulled the car to the side of the road and parked up, hoping that the dodgy accent was misconstruing the message, or that there was some misinterpretation going on in my head with what I had just heard. I grabbed the phone out of my bag and read the text. And there it was, anger, glaring up at me through my phone’s cracked screen.
My friend said she was disappointed and shocked that I had written about her in a specific blog and had unsubscribed. I was shocked to my core. What? Where? How? all competing for answers in my head at once.
Immediately I text a response that no, I had not been writing about her in the said blog, (or to be clear I add now, in any blog bar here… and please know I have only written about this here to try to bring healing to us both) but just describing a tough moment in my life and how for a while it had affected my ability to go through day-to-day life in a way where I could identify with others. The ‘others’ I referred to were no people in specific, just more humans talking about day to day matters, like people talking on a call-in radio show, or people having a light-hearted day out, all perfectly normal stuff for people to be doing, but just not where I could put my head at that time. It was about how I was interpreting the world in my head, bearing in mind what I was going through. The reflection was on living through a challenge and how feelings of isolation are often part of the journey. And I wrote it to console anyone who might be feeling the same, to say that it is good to reach out to people going through similar issues/support groups to help see you through. Nonetheless I text that I was genuinely sorry for the fact that she had gone through the experience of thinking that I had been talking about her in some way, but that really I wasn’t.
I sat in the car after sending my response, feeling rattled, teary and like I should just press delete on the whole blog, because it had done something so contrary to my intention for it, it had hurt another, when all I wanted it to do was to help someone feel better.
I reached out to another friend who writes, asking if this had ever happened to her. Yes, she acknowledged straight away, and more than once! It was part of the course of writing it seemed to have some people close to you assume they were the characters in this piece or that, even when they genuinely weren’t. I felt relief and reassurance that I was not alone in this situation. But I wasn’t over feeling bad.
“Should I put down the pen? I asked her, “because if it brings hurt to anyone, even if unintentional is it thus a bad thing?” Her advice was the contrary, to keep writing, that my blog was touching hearts, achieving good and to keep going, and not give up on the good it was doing because of this one negative reaction.
But was it doing good? I wondered sitting there in my car on the side of the road, still shaky and teary and feeling utterly forlorn that I had hurt my friend in any way. And even if it was doing good, was it enough good to make up for the fact that it had hurt her, all be it when I hadn’t set out to.
Yes, I had received many supportive comments and messages since I started my blog, I reflected, where people talked about blog posts resonating with them, capturing something that they hadn’t felt was captured before, speaking to them, or yes, touching their hearts, but was it enough to make up for this damage?
I reached for my phone again to re-read all the comments, ironically almost wishing they’d seem less positively impactful now, so that I could keep my friend in the place of being ‘right’, and delete the whole blog, but the more I read the heartfelt words of the readers who had fed back to me, the more I could feel real appreciation and encouragement, so now felt guilty for ever having thought of being so ungracious as to jump ship.
When my phone pinged again later that afternoon, with a message from my friend who had been hurt acknowledging that perhaps I hadn’t deliberately written about her, but with some added stinging comments about my writing, I won’t lie, some felt like low, blows. But this time, my reaction was different. I was calm because I understood that she had chosen this interpretation of my work, and that her angry comments came from that choice, and that all that was her right!… just as I had chosen to express the challenging feelings of isolation and detachment when living in a crises in the blog in question, as was my perspective and my right also…, but in both cases they were our interpretations and not necessarily the reality.
I realised too that my writing was never about being responsible for people’s interpretations, because I could not be so arrogant as to assume to say how they should react, as reaction is based on so much from life experience, to perception and beyond. All I could do was continue the art of expression, writing from a place of honesty and experience, hoping that that would bring more light than darkness, to at least most of its readers.
For the record, I do write with the intention of doing good for another and never with the intention of being mean, but the mere fact that I do write will always leave me open to being misinterpreted and misunderstood from the standpoint of my intention, to possibly be accused of this or that, to be disliked, or cancelled out of someone’s online or real life, or, if I am lucky, to receiving the lovely feedback too. But the only alternative to not risking the negative responses is to stop writing, remain silent, leave whatever talent is there and whatever good it might do to one side, and that strikes me as living under the fear of darkness, rather than living in the spirit of the light.
As if by magic in the same week, I came across this wonderful quote from Mother Theresa, which seemed to validate me sticking to making my art in the best way I can and for the best reasons I can find,
“Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
While my still beautiful friend has unsubscribed to my blog, I hope she will read this at some point and realise that I was just trying to use my art, of writing with honesty about challenging experiences, to help the next person in the dark find a little light, to give my best away, and to know that I would never intentionally produce my art to hurt her, or anyone else. We have been through a storm, but I am hoping with enough understanding of the others human response to their circumstances, and perhaps with these words too, our friendship will prevail!
© Pauline O’Shea
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