TMI. I would say that about one in five comments I get about my writing or Facebook posts involves this critique.
Too. Much. Information.
Sure, the critique is usually couched within a compliment, but it’s clear that a fair number of people, even if they are generally appreciative of my writing, feel that sometimes I’m a bit too…shall we say…explicit.
I’m not going to lie. I enjoy writing provocative things. I enjoy going there. I believe writing is fundamentally a form of exhibitionism. When I write publicly I feel like I am exposing myself to the world. I am pulling back the curtains so the reader can see what’s really going on backstage. And yes, I find it thrilling and exhilarating to show you that side of me, and I think it’s from behind the curtains that my most honest and believable writing is able to surface.
That said, self-amusement and cheap thrills does not fully explain why I go there. And I think voyeurism does not fully explain why people read what I write. There’s a bigger, far more important, reason for both.
For the bulk of my life I operated under the rather unchallenged assumption that most life matters are private. Personal struggles of any sort, and health issues in particular, are most certainly private — only to be discussed quietly, with carefully selected company, if at all.
In 2013, after five years on anti-depressants, feeling completely isolated and bad about myself for not being the stoic man I thought I should be, I rather rashly wrote an online “coming out” article about my condition. For whatever reason, in that moment, I was not able to be private anymore. Being alone was no longer an option.
The sky did not fall. I did not suffer professionally. I did not lose any friends. I did not lose contact with any family members. And I still got aliyot in shul (when I dragged myself there at least).
In short, my life was not, in any measurable way, damaged. In fact, my life improved. It improved because the decision to be open caused an incredible number of people to reach out to share their also-private stories. Some had already sought help. Others sought advice on how to get help. In all cases, together we learned that our aloneness was entirely self-inflicted, because in reality, we were all surrounded by many many silent-sufferers.
It’s tragic. It’s devastating. And it’s the norm.
Several years later my wife, Carrie, decided to be a gestational surrogate. Throughout the process I learned more than I ever expected to know about the struggles people face with infertility. Just as people came out to me when I wrote about taking antidepressants, the stories of friends and family members who had struggled, or were struggling, with infertility poured in. So many people struggling silently. Again, self-inflicted aloneness.
Depression is normal. It’s part of modern human life.
Infertility is normal. It’s part of modern human life.
It’s 100% clear to me now that we simply can’t be afraid or embarrassed to be modern humans. It’s 100% clear to me that incredible angst and pain is related to our incredible reluctance to openly discuss our struggles and to own those struggles within the context of community.
Humans need support from other humans. Humans need to know they are not alone in order to cope; in order to heal.
It is for this reason, more than anything else, that I have become completely comfortable with the explicit. Parenting is fucking hard. Let’s talk about it. Cancer is fucking hard. Let’s talk about it. Infertility, mental health issues, assault, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, divorce, trauma…All of these things are So. Fucking. Hard.
Do we need to talk about everything publicly, all the time? Of course not. Sometimes it’s just too hard or just too private. Will we be healthier as a society if we allow ourselves to be even slightly more open and more vulnerable; if we allow ourselves to use tools like humor, irony and sarcasm to say things that are oftentimes too hard, too explicit, to say in straight language?
If we don’t want to be radically alone, we need to be radically open.
To Much Information? No. Not Enough Information.