Breadcrumbs left in Baltimore: a note on writing about hard things.
After years of denying that I am a creative person, I've started to slowly but surely realize that I want to be a writer. Words have always played a big part of my life and have been instrumental in helping me explain my darkness and my feelings. Words are what brought me to God and its words that have helped me encourage others in their mess. I've spent my whole life working towards being a lawyer but the idea of the corporate life and procedural regulations is killing me. I want to sit with people, and talk to them and write words that will encourage them. And I feel a constant knocking on my heart to do this. It's what inspires me to get out of bed and stay up at night.
So now, I'm taking my first few baby steps to hone my craft and find my voice! But of course, there is a lot of fear in my way. Fear that I desperately want to fight through. I want to connect and make a difference by being real and authentic, but the thought of writing out my story with depression and suicide, or my struggles, makes me feel like vomiting. Once it's out there, it's not mine, it's the internet's and I'm scared of what will happen.
So I guess my question is how do you decide how vulnerable you want to get with your readers? How did you make that first step when you first spoke about the woods?
There is a diner in the Baltimore airport I visit whenever I have a layover on my way from Atlanta to Hartford. It’s called the Silver Diner. You should go if you ever find yourself connecting flights in Baltimore. Since 2015, this has been my ritual. I secretly rejoice whenever my itinerary holds a stop in Baltimore.
To know my story is to know there was a time when I vowed to never go back to Baltimore. I didn’t want to remember all the trauma. I wanted to forget that point in my life. After crawling out of the depression in 2015 and piecing myself back together, I remember booking a flight home to Connecticut to see my mom. I remember my whole body tensing up when I looked down at the ticket that morning and realized I was heading back to Baltimore. Of all the places, that was where I would switch planes.
I thought to myself, “I am never going back to Baltimore. Why am I going there now? How come we can’t stop somewhere else?” I don’t know what I was so afraid of. I think there’s a fear that comes with revisiting a place that once broke your heart. It’s like you might morph back into that past version of yourself if you set foot on the soil once again.
We touched down in Baltimore for a two-hour layover. I got off the plane and I was met with the entrance of the Silver Diner. I wheeled my suitcase into the diner, found a booth in the corner, ordered a bison breakfast (that’s my go-to) and a coffee. I pulled out my computer, determined to claim back when the darkness tried to steal from me. I wrote, for the first time, about the hell hole I’d lived in that past year. It took me 8 months but I was finally ready to write about it.
I share this story because that moment is when a lot changed for me. I was no longer silent about my depression. I was no longer covering up this huge part of my story. I was releasing what happened to me, giving it to whoever wanted it on the internet. I remember my palms sweating as a I pressed “publish.” That was the point in my story where I became a light to others in this march towards mental health. Something shifted in my walk that day in the middle of the Silver Diner, the booth tucked in the back corner.
At some point in your own story, it will be time to be a light. The shift will happen. You will no longer be afraid of the words that come tumbling out of you because you will know the words cannot hurt you. You will reach a point where your story isn’t an open wound, it’s a healing balm ready for others.
It’s sort of like the story of Hansel and Gretel. You remember that one? The two children, Hansel and Gretel, walk deep into the woods. Hansel takes a piece of bread and tears it up into small bits. They leave a trail of breadcrumbs to help them find their way back home.
Your story is a breadcrumb trail for anyone deep in the woods. Each little piece is a navigator, a chance for someone to find it and say, “they made their way out of the woods. I shall, too.”
The dark parts of your story don’t disqualify you. We all have them. We all have timelines we can’t make sense of, things we think God cannot possibly use for good. The key is forging a redemption story where you used to see ashes.
I got an email the other day from a young woman named Chloe. In her email, Chloe told me how thankful she was that I had depression. It’s an odd thing to thank someone for but she said if I had not gone through the depression then she was not so sure she could walk out of it. Sometimes you go before the others, A. Sometimes you follow. Sometimes you lead. But you never need to doubt that your pain serves a purpose. It all is purposeful.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t confusing. There will be days this side of heaven where you look around and think, “Why? Why did that painful, awful thing have to happen to me?” And then someone like Chloe will come along. She will read your blogs or pick up your book. She will find herself in your voice and she will uncover some hidden strength to keep walking. She will feed off your breadcrumbs on the days you feel like your words don’t make noise. She will remind you of the pain and how that pain is somehow worth it.
Here’s the thing: you don’t have to share it all. This isn’t a race or a competition. You can share one small thing that has made a difference to you. You can inch your way into vulnerability.
When I teach my writing classes, I always tell people to start ankle deep with their vulnerability. It’s like making your way into a cold pool. You could jump all the way in but I definitely prefer to start ankle deep, then calf deep, then knee deep, then thigh deep. Share your words with a trusted friend. Get some good feedback.
I never share things I am not ready to talk about. I believe in keeping some things secret and sacred. There are parts of my journey through mental health that people will never know about. In a world where we share everything, it’s beautiful to keep something sacred for yourself.
So what are your breadcrumbs? What parts of your story could help someone else breath again? Tell me about the landmarks. The high peaks and the low valleys. Tell me about the places where you stopped to rest. The moments where you pitched the tent. Tell me about the heavy and the light.
Look for the breadcrumbs in your story, babe. Look for those hope-filled pieces that resemble stars in a black sky. You don’t need to paint every gruesome detail. Just tell me where your hope lies. Tell me why you decided to hold on. Tell me when you felt out of breath and how you recovered.
In a world pitted with grief and confusion, we need some more anthems. We need more strong voices. We need hope over anger and love over hate. Tell me your “how I held on” story. Give me a reason to keep crawling through the woods and back into the light.
tying you closer than most,