The Risk of Writing
When I am in the habit of writing everyday, I think I’m living in the best version of myself. Creativity is alive and well; I’m working through issues and I’m freeing up space in my brain so that I can tackle the daily asks of me. I have lived most of my adult life with a single item bucket list wish to write a book. I’ve started about four of them. One even made it to around 100 pages, or approx. 20,000 words.
It’s not just a busy life or procrastination that prevents me from finishing. It’s not even writer’s block. What stops me every time is the fear of upsetting people.
Because whether it’s fiction or a memoir, I inevitably end up inserting my own life into my writing. I might be single, but that doesn’t mean I’ve lived 45 plus years in a vacuum. How can you write about life experiences or your own life, without writing about the people around you?
When I look back at the last five to ten years, I can list dozens and dozens of times where I have upset people in my life because of something I have said or done, where I was accused of having done ‘it‘ to intentionally hurt them. I can say with 100% honesty, that I have never made a decision, or said a word, with the intention that a specific person would hear about it and be wounded by my words or actions. If I can be accused of anything, it’s that I was not thinking about that person and perhaps I should have been?
Trust me. There is no room in my life for drama or confrontation. Why would I do something intentionally to invite that negativity into an already stressful life?
So whenever I have committed to writing and I have a good flow going, my personal life seeps in and that life obviously is complemented by other people. Then I’m paralyzed and stop writing. If those people are upset with things that I do when they were NOT my focus, how would they take it if I specifically referred to them? And would they ever forgive me if I was completely honest?
Writing about my life has never been done with the intention to paint myself in the picture of a perfect hero or martyr at the core of the story. That’s not me. It’s true that sometimes I can feel like I’m the only one who knows how hard this life can be, and I admit that when I hear myself or re-read things I’ve wrote, I realize that I can sound so self-centred and patronizing sometimes. Sometimes I’m just really tired and it takes a lot of extra effort to come up with a delicate way of living and saying things to protect other people’s egos. It’s the God’s honest truth that sometimes I just don’t have it in me to worry about it. But even if I’ve been guilty of that, I don’t believe I’ve set out to upset specific people.
But I’m not someone who can write about my own life inauthentically. I can’t gloss over a 20+ year relationship and paint it with a rainbow-coloured brush. I can’t talk about my life without talking about my upbringing and the hard things that shaped who I am today. My experience and my perspective must include my interactions with the people who were with me along the way and without that, there is nothing.
Why do I feel the need to discuss this today?
Because I miss writing. Because I need to write and I haven’t been.
But it’s not just the fear of upsetting people who think the worst of me. There’s a lot of pressure to be kind. And in these times, it seems that if you aren’t meeting a certain standard randomly set by others, there is a constant threat of a public shaming in our new cancel-culture society. This is all said with complete agreement that this is needed right now in many circumstances, to elicit necessary change to some ancient and damaging systems and schools of thought. However, in our effort to keep the peace and not to cause any ripples, I feel that it’s causing people not to have a voice at all. People aren’t speaking their truth, out of fear that they will be shamed, or canceled.
Specifically, let me share a bit about an example of where that fear is ever-present. Parents of autistic children who are new to the diagnosis, are walking into an online world that did not exist when my boys were diagnosed. Back then, we didn’t have a lot of online support to begin with and it was mostly just parents sharing their experiences and asking questions to help navigate the overwhelming system of supports and services. Nowadays, there are thousands of organizations, service providers and online community groups where you can post a question and have a couple hundred answers within the hour. Not only will you get answer, but you’ll get it from a service provider, a medical professional, a parent, an autistic adult, and the list goes on. The internet is an incredible resource. Or at least it should be.
What is happening now, is that parents who have newly diagnosed children, are going into social media or online groups and asking their questions, fully expecting a supportive and understanding audience. But that’s not always the case. There are people online who have banned together under the ‘actuallyautistic’ community header. Many parents are feeling defeated after sharing about their child and asking specific questions, because they are attacked for making “incorrect” references or because they are exploring therapy options that are now being denounced by actual autistics. I’ve seen hate-filled blasts, where parents are told to “learn their place” because “only autistic people can choose what is important to advocate for, because parents cannot choose because they aren’t autistic. Plain and simple.”
I’ve been grappling with this ‘movement’ that’s been going on for a while now in the autism community and I’ve been doing my best to learn and listen to autistic people to source out every perspective. I have learned a lot and can say that I have a much better understanding of ableism and many autistics who have come through ABA therapy in particular, have their own internalized ableism as well. I am also doing my best to be more thoughtful about the words I choose to use when describing my twins, their abilities and and their gifts.
My whole life’s purpose is to care for, support and advocate for my twins. I still hold out hope that they might be able to do this for themselves, but they are approaching 19 and still require 24/7 care. I am the only person on this Earth with 100% commitment to my boys’ happiness and success. No one else will advocate for them. No one else has put in the time to know them and read between the lines when there is no substantial verbal communication. No one in that actuallyautistic community is knocking on my door offering to get by on only 1-3 hours of sleep a night, tend to every need and all their personal care throughout the day and commit to giving up any hope of a social life or career.
I believe that each autistic cannot speak for the entire autistic community and please note that not every autistic person believes in the ideology that they are putting out there. They may be an expert on their own autism, but that does not make them an expert on my children. I also feel strongly that I should be able to speak about my autistic children and our lives together, because it has been my life for 19 years!
I’m not looking to preach or speak on behalf of my boys. I truly feel that there are other people out there, who might hear themselves in my stories and feel less alone. And it’s not that I set out to expose any deep dark secrets about our life. But it’s true that there are some stories that are uncomfortable to talk about. But it’s my story and I don’t want to hold back because of fear of discomfort.
In the end, I think that I’m at the stage of life where what other people think about me doesn’t matter. There is a risk of writing, but as long as I know that my motivation is genuine, I’m ready to take the risk and make decisions where I put myself first for once. And as I am likely in the second half of my life, I don’t want to be missing opportunities or stifling who I am, just to play it safe. As someone once said “fear is only temporary, regret lasts forever”.
(thanks to the writing of this little piece, I’ve managed to work through my thoughts and I’m already feeling more like myself. Ready to write.)
If you’d like to read more of Stacey’s posts: “Lessons in Parenting Through a Mental Health Journey“, or “I Need to Live Forever”.
I’m trying my best to pay it forward by dealing hope and sharing stories & tips on caregiving and how to survive hard things. I blog a lot about single parenting my adult twin sons who both have autism, and the challenges we face in surviving the everyday challenges and planning for a future full of unknowns.