As many who have been following my story and work over the years would know, this is not the first time that I've shared some of my most personal challenges. After first publicly disclosing (in 2011) the sexual abuse I experienced as a child, it took many more years to feel comfortable enough to share publicly some of the impact of this abuse. In fact, I only really first discussed it publicly in 2016, after I wrote about it in my book Who Gave You Permission?.
After yesterday's Facebook post, a number of people have asked me (respectfully) why there's a need to share publicly what I'm going through at my lowest. So I thought I'd share some of my key reasons for doing so (in no particular order):
- It's my reality. So just like I share publicly positive aspects of my life, it's only right to share as much of the full picture that I'm (at least somewhat) comfortable sharing. Not sharing this aspect of my life gives a distorted picture of me and my life. Moreover, as a public figure and a victims' advocate, there are some who look to me for guidance, support and more. As a leader, I need to lead by example. Part of that is being honest - with myself and the public. Often, people tell me that when they look at me, they see a resilient, strong person who seems to be doing incredibly well. And while that is true some of the time, often it's far from my reality. I have my challenges, just like everyone else does.
- As a victim/survivor of child sexual abuse, I was forced into silence for decades. This in turn has impelled me not to remain silent, especially when this silence is imposed on me due to our broader society's outdated views on certain matters.
- It helps others. Every time I post about these low points, I receive many public and private messages from people who thank me for making them feel better (e.g. they feel less isolated and more "normal" when they know they're not alone). This includes messages from leaders and victim advocates.
- In order to change our culture around the issue of mental health, it's important to be honest and forthright about it (especially for those of us who feel we can). I believe this is the main way for us to evolve as a society; by speaking openly and honestly about the most sensitive and complex issues.
- Safety net. By sharing publicly the fact that I am in a difficult place, it provides me with some sort of a safety net as those closest to me are now aware of where I'm at. Those who can, reach out, even with a quick message. Receiving love and support is an important way to escape a low point, at least temporarily. Simply knowing there are people out there who care is a massive help. It encourages me to reach out directly to them during the many other difficult times. No doubt having a large supportive global network of close family and friends has been a significant help to me personally (I can literally call someone for support at any given time), and I'm grateful to each and every one of them. I never take it for granted, especially as I know that there are many people out there who are truly alone (although, despite my large network, at the low points the feeling of isolation is often overwhelming).
I should note that I obviously don't always share publicly my low times. I do so when I feel it's appropriate for any or all of the reasons above. And of course I respect the views of others who may not necessarily agree with my approach for whatever reasons (e.g. it may be triggering for some, it will detrimentally impact me/my family).
Ironically, it seems as big a challenge now to discuss the profound and long-term impact of child sexual abuse (especially the associated mental health issues) as it used be to discuss the abuse itself. So, on the one hand, we have made significant progress; we can now quite openly discuss the issue of child sexual abuse. On the other hand, clearly, we still have a very long way to go; we still can't really openly discuss depression, anxiety, suicide, self-harm, addictions, etc.
It'll take a great deal of time and effort to change the status quo, but change it we must. It will literally save lives.