A couple of weeks ago I shared something of my history of depression, and we began to talk about how we as a community can hold space where we can talk about mental health, where it’s okay to admit that things aren’t okay.
I’ve been reflecting since then on why it is so important for us to tell our stories, and here is something of what I’ve been thinking.
Stories define us When I was studying A Level Drama, I played the Old Woman in Philip Ridley’s Brokenville. In the wake of an unknown disaster, an old woman and five teenagers tell stories to comfort a mute and frightened child. They don’t remember who they are or what has happened to them, but it gradually becomes clear that they are weaving elements of their forgotten histories into their tales, so that they begin to remember a little of who they were and discover a little of who they can be. Telling our stories helps us make sense of them, so that the act of storytelling is a powerful tool in shaping our selves and our futures, whether our audience is a friend or a stranger or God or our own heart. That is why spiritual practices such as the Examen, which encourage us to process and seek meaning in each day, can be so formational.
Stories connect us Tenx9 is an initiative begun in Dublin, which invites people to gather to hear nine people take ten minutes to tell a real story from their lives. One review of an event said “I saw humble, raw, unadorned, talent…tell stories that made me tearful. All sorts of tearful. Sad tearful, laughing tearful, the sting behind the eyes when someone puts into words that which you have left at feeling and not even put into thought. Just people. You and I type people…people who had wrestled and twisted and rifled through corners for those words. They had risked the precious and decanted onto paper those particular thoughts and faces from the past.” I’ve not had the pleasure of going to one of these evenings, but I manage they engender a real sense of connection, if only for a brief moment. There is something disarming and beautiful about being given a glimpse into someone’s life, and it is an honour and a joy to experience the thread that a story can tie from one person to another.
Stories release us I’m not entirely sure about the mathematical accuracy of ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ but I do believe that telling our stories can break the power they have over us. It is through telling the story of my mental health that I have come to better understand some of the things I experienced, which has allowed me to transform those experiences into something I can handle without the need for full safety gear. There are other stories I am still learning to tell in the same way. There is a danger that we can rehearse our stories to the point that telling them becomes a performance we are no longer fully connected to, and we can edit and manipulate them until they become something not quite like the truth, but if we can guard against falsehood and keep pushing ourselves to describe the scenes that still feel raw, our stories can give us the words and the power to move the narrative forwards.
The more we practice the art of storytelling the better we get at it, so may we find more ways of telling our stories – creatively but honestly, to ourselves and to our communities – so that they may become a wrap that holds us and a chain that links us and a truth that frees us.