Camille would be the first to know everything about my past, beyond my wife of course. Then others would follow. How would they treat me after they knew of my difficult past including being committed to a locked-down psychiatric ward? Would they think I was no longer worthy of their companionship?
I had strategized the sequencing of with whom I would share the manuscript. First, it would go to my siblings. That group seemed safest, as they already had some knowledge of my past battles. If that went all right, I would share it with my children. That would be a big deal, as I wondered what would they would think of their father once they knew the real me. If I survived those two rounds, I would share it with a few close friends.
After that, things would probably be okay, as I had written the manuscript under a pseudo name set in a fictitious setting. If the manuscript were ever distributed beyond family and close friends, no one would know that the subject character was I.
The long night of mental torture ended. I slowly ate my breakfast and read the newspaper. After that I puttered around the house a bit to stall a while longer. Finally, I braced myself mentally and made the difficult telephone call.
“Camille, I’ve written a book manuscript about a certain aspect of my life: my mental health journey. Would you mind reading it and giving me your thoughts?”
“Sure Owen,” she said. “Bring it right over to my home. I’ve got some time today to read.”
Whew! Difficult step number one completed!
I immediately delivered the manuscript that was in a three-ring white loose-leaf binder. After returning home, I couldn’t help but stew about what her response would be.
But the wait wasn’t long. Camille called me after just two or three hours:
“Owen, thank you so much for sharing this with me. I have known a little of your challenges when you were in your late teens, but I had no idea of everything else you’ve been through. I’m so impressed with how you’ve persevered and overcome. My respect and admiration for you has grown many fold today.”
“Wow,” I thought, “ I hadn’t expected that kind of response.” My sense of apprehension and fear turned into relief and thankfulness. I appreciated Camille’s attitude and understanding. I sensed that her reading of the manuscript would help our sibling relationship grow even warmer and deeper. Over the next several months and since then, that is, indeed, exactly what has happened.
My sharing it with my other sisters and my brother and then with my children has brought similar responses and has helped forge even stronger ties with each of them. One of my relationships that had been strained for a few years has moved to resolution, and sharing the manuscript appears to have played an important role.
As my circle of sharing the manuscript expanded, I’ve continued to marvel at the many positive responses. A couple of close friends strongly encouraged me to put my own real name on the book, which I did. After the book was first published and distribution of my story has expanded, it’s been exciting to see and feel the many affirmative responses. Many have stated something like, “Thank you for sharing your struggles with me. I’ve had my own, and it’s good to know I’m not alone. May we talk more? I think it would be helpful for me.”
My preoccupations with sharing more of myself with others seem kind of silly and irrational to me now as I look back. But they were very real then. They kept me in a state of internal self-shame and chronic turmoil for decades. They were also a stumbling block to more meaningful relationships with others.
This all points to this principle of life: Generally, the more we share of our real selves with others, the stronger and deeper our relationships with them grow. Also, as we are more genuine with others, we get in better touch with ourselves. Being open elevates our level of happiness.
So often we humans feel that to be liked, we must put on a wonderful façade of who we are, because we think the real us is not likable. We must overcome these misguided feelings. Robert Bolton, an author and psychologist, said it this way: “A genuine person can spontaneously be himself with another, so they know him as he truly is…By contrast, the inauthentic person conceals his real thoughts, feeling, values, and motives…Genuineness is essential to all vital relationships.”[i]
Being open and genuine with others not only builds relationships with others, but also helps us to be more in touch with ourselves. It is therapeutic.
Of course there are places and occasions where we must be discrete in what we share about ourselves. For example, back in my corporate finance management days, speaking with my employers and coworkers about my mental health struggles likely would have thwarted my career. It’s a competitive, difficult world out there, and any perceived flaws can be used against you. However, I’ve found that being totally open with family and close friends is rarely bad. Beyond that inner circle of relationships, we would do well to try to be more appropriately open and genuine with everyone.
Now, I have learned, that instead of tossing and turning at night in fear of revealing more of myself, I can look forward with eagerness and excitement about how openly sharing my story will further strengthen a current relationship, help me find a new friend, and positively impact the lives of others. My nightmares have turned to sweet dreams.
[i] Robert Bolton, People Skills: How to Asset Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts, Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1979, 260