Why I write and talk about my life publicly

When I was in high school, I got diagnosed with several anxiety disorders.

For years, I didn’t tell anyone about the diagnosis that ruled my life. I was medicated secretly and would have full fledged panic attacks and get through them by shoving my nails into my flesh to be able to stay in the room, instead of running out.

I was really sick, but mostly, I was really ashamed. The last thing I wanted to do was be honest about the fact that I lived with G.A.D, O.C.D, panic disorder, and S.A.D.

In 2012, I began an anonymous blog that was called story of my life (it’s since been put down, sorry for not allowing you to see the Inspo/ cringe of my early blogging days).

In 2013, on the national bell let’s talk day, my blog went viral all over the internet. This was when twitter was a BIG thing, and my anon accounts got more than 20k retweets on single tweets that day, multiple times. The entry I wrote was called, “I have anxiety disorder and I haven’t told my best friend.”

After that, I realized that people sort of liked my voice. Which was great news because all I wanted to be was a writer. And also terrible news because no one knew I was the one writing the things.

I was getting emails from the newspapers my little journalist heart wanted to work for, asking if I’d be willing to interview.

As you can imagine, this was thrilling but also terrifying. I could have everything I wanted, but I would have to share my identity with the world and everyone would know that I had anxiety disorder.

Now, this fear of mine seems so far away that I can barely relate to that version of myself, thinking I’d be exiled and rejected and abandoned and LESS successful if I was honest with myself and with the world.

Most people around me, except my mom, told me that it was a bad idea to share this information publicly about myself. I think that’s a pretty common narrative in our society - the less human you are… the more successful you’ll be. My dad even told me I might never be able to get a job because I would announce myself as mentally ill.

I was scared shitless to publicly begin talking about my anxiety disorders, but keeping such a big part of my daily life hidden was killing me. I was always lying to everyone about why I couldn’t make things in our mutual calendars, or why I had to do certain things. I wanted to be free. And I felt so alone.

With time, I started realizing after that there was actually no reason for me to remain anonymous - because people actually liked me for my honesty.

So, I started something called Anxiety Free Community, which turned into a non for profit that was set up in schools and online as a way to promote conversation about mental health issues and recovery.

I went through a multi school tour in a blazer as a 20-year old getting paid insane amounts of money that I had never encountered simply to talk about my experience as someone with anxiety disorder.

I think people liked me because I was raw, real, and I said the things we all wanted to say but were scared to. There was nothing like getting to a school early in the morning on a dewy fall day, and being handed a mic to just talk.

I remember about a year into my speaking gigs, an old teacher I had in high school messaged me on facebook to tell me she was sorry. About what you may ask? For essentially bullying me and telling me I wasn’t going to go far in life if I didn’t show up to her class. Little did she know, I was struggling hard with anxiety disorder and her class had no windows, which made my sense of claustrophobia climb, which would result in uncontrollable panic.

Although I didn’t end up going to present there - I had this feeling of… I made it. She understood me, finally.

Being understood to me feels a lot like hitting a jackpot.

This is probably the basis of why I write - because I can explain and describe and let you in - and that way I understand myself and you understand me.

And it gives me peace to be understood.

Although I had most of the anxiety disorders known to man kind, for some reason, I didn’t care about going up on stage and talking to people about what anxiety did to me on a daily basis and asking people to close their eyes and raise their hands if they could relate. And then suggesting gently opening them to see that we were all in the same boat.

Understanding each other is what magic is.

When I share my story, people know I am a safe place to come and share theirs.

I was lucky in so many ways at the beginning of my entrepreneurship journey, because I knew so many press contacts due to being in the journaiism world, I was making my way into the globe and mail, the Toronto star, CTV, etc. And it was a perfect time for this advocacy work to surface, as mental health stigma reduction was exploding and budgets were being handed to school boards to try and fix the fact that everyone was on fucking celexa by the time they were in grade 9.

No, but really, 10 years ago, we did not view mental health issues the same way we do now. A flaw in nervous system regulation due to trauma and in brain chemistry - rather than in personality.

I think I had a part in this shifting. However big or small it may have been, I know sharing my story helped hundreds and maybe even thousands of people at least feel a ping of … I’m less alone. Someone gets me.

But yet.. I was so closeted about my diagnosis for the entirety of my high school life and it was absolutely brutal. I still go to coaching or therapy to unpack the abuse that I went through because I hid and people judged me because of the way I couldn’t be “normal”.

Sometimes, people ask me why I share so much.

Recently, as I’ve been navigating my public coming out as a queer woman, I’ve wondered many times if I was oversharing.

Does it matter if I am gay, bi or straight to the internet? To my work? To the stories I care to tell?

In a way, no. Whether I am in love with a man or with a woman, it’s all the same to everyone else. It doesn’t change who I am, my interests, my hobbies, my skills and my flaws. But… if I didn’t share it, I’d feel the same way I did with anxiety disorders.

The thing about writing is that it will always be YOUR perspective. Sometimes, I get insecure about this. I wonder if my perspective is valid enough. I may live the same thing so differently than someone else who’s in the situation, or the interaction with me. Actually - I know this to be true for sure.

My therapist challenged me earlier this year, asking me if writing is a way I found power when I felt so helpless in childhood. That maybe I used my pen to get revenge. Maybe it was the only way I could find justice.

I thought about it long. I walked about it several days in a row.

And I came to this realization:

I don’t write to get revenge.

I write to be heard and seen.

And at first, I gasped… oh no, is that bad? That I want to be heard? That I want to be seen? That I want to tell my stories? Is that narcissistic?

Am I an asshole because I’m a writer?

And to that I say, of course I’m an asshole because I AM a writer.

But also… it’s pretty normal to want to be heard and seen. It’s actually one of our top emotional needs for our nervous system to be well.

This is why I love art: it’s a way to feel less alone.

That’s why I write and talk about my life publicly. The amount of people who have flooded my emails at one point or another in the past 6-7 years has been crazy. People have literally told me I have saved their lives because I shared my story.

I decided I was worthy of being heard and seen and that my stories were not just mine - they belonged to everyone who felt like they wanted to be seen and heard the same way I did.

And I for some reason didn’t mind writing them first.

WorkEmily Aube