I’ve been writing on this blog for almost three years. It has always been a personal blog – more personal than most, I’ve been told. But it wasn’t until recently that I understood why so many people were baffled by my openness here.
That in and of itself is nothing remarkable. When you live in a tourist destination there are endless opportunities to meet with people who are coming into town for one reason or another. I also travel fairly frequently so I have had the chance to meet dozens of bloggers from all over. Meeting people from the Internet has never been strange to me.
Meeting Mike (or Father Muskrat, as he’s known online) was something I was looking forward to. He comments here and I’ve been reading his blog for a few months now. We’re friends on facebook and occassionally exchange messages there and via twitter. I was interested to see what this Nascar loving, snuggly wearing lawyer was like in real life.
We met at a mexican cantina over by the amusement parks. We always have to meet out of town guests over by the amusement parks. My first thought upon bursting through the restaurant’s front door was “thank God it’s not raining in here!” My second thought was, “wow, that guy over there waving at us is cuter than I thought he’d be.”
He was remarkably charming. And interesting. It was hard not to swoon as he talked about his “incredibly smart and talented” wife. I spent the first 45 minutes grilling him about his personal life as each new detail was even more interesting than the last. Plus, it was adorable hearing him talk about law and finance and war and Civil War history in that delectable southern accent.
Our food arrived and I began the process of making myself look like a slob as I shoved mahi tacos in my mouth and dripped sour cream all over myself. I think I was wadding up my tenth napkin when he finally got around to asking the inevitable question.
“So… how are you feeling?”
He shifted in the booth a little and the reflexive “fine” caught in my throat.
I realized I couldn’t tell this man I was fine. This man, who I’d layed eyes on for the very first time only an hour earlier, already knew I wasn’t fine.
In that instant I was painfully aware of exactly how much he knew. He knew I had a son and a daughter and that their names were Devin and Emma. He knew I was married to Jared and that I worked with my best friend. He knew I had grown up in Iowa and moved to Florida, although it wasn’t until tonight that he’d heard the entire story behind why I chose Orlando.
And he knew I’d gone two months without getting my period.
He knew about the weekend that I didn’t get out of bed. He knew about the fatigue and how it crushed me sometimes. He knew about the search for a doctor and the vials of blood that were being spun in a machine somewhere in a desperate attempt to find out what the hell was wrong with me. He knew about the drugs I was taking to keep myself sane.
As I stared at him across a table littered with the remains of nachos and salsa, I suddenly felt extremely naked and vulnerable. I understood, in that moment, why people thought the way I blogged was weird. I understood why people said “I could never do that”.
For the first time since I started this blog, I wondered what the hell I was doing talking about all of this crap on the Internet.
And then, as I looked into the eyes behind the glasses, I noticed the way his head was tilted ever so slightly to the side. I sensed that it made him a little uncomfortable to ask how I was doing, but also that he was sincerely interested in the answer. I saw that this man, this person whose wife’s name I had just learned, wasn’t judging me or sizing me up or waiting to hear some juicy Internet gossip. He was asking me how I was doing because he knew, and because he cared.
I exhaled and told him that I was doing better. I told him about the changes in my diet and my efforts with exercise and stress management. The conversation carried on and I doubt anyone else at the table was even aware of the revelations that had just spun through my head.
We continued to talk late into the night, until I realized that I was still over an hour from home and suggested we say our goodbyes. We drove our new friend back to his hotel, Adam took me back to my car, and I drove home. Another successful blogger meetup was over.
But that moment has stuck with me this week.
I’ve relived that feeling of nakedness over and over, and I’ve wondered if what I am doing here is a mistake. I’ve mentally reread hundreds of posts in which I have shared the most intimate details of my life with thousands of virtual strangers. I’ve cringed a little at the realization that not only has my brother-in-law had to read about my battles with a lost tampon, but about my failures as a mother and wife. I’ve thought about my sister-in-law reading about my battles with depression. I’ve thought about my friends from high school who have now been witnesses to my breakdowns in mental health.
All of the things that you reserve for those closest to you, that you keep quiet about in polite conversation, they’ve already been said for me. By me. I can’t walk into a class reunion and swap stories of accomplishment in an attempt to show how successful my life has turned out. I can’t go home for Christmas and cherry pick the details of my new life in an effort to prove how great we’re all doing.
And I can’t walk into a mexican cantina in Orlando and pretend to be fine in front of someone I’ve just met.
It’s startling to realize you don’t have any secrets from the world. Any masks I would attempt to wear have already been ripped away as fraudulent, and by my own hand. There’s very little barrier, very little protection, between the outside world and the most delicate parts of who I am.
And yet, there is some relief in that. In talking to Mike I realized that there was no need to pretend I was anything other than myself in front of him. Regardless of how he might have felt about who I was, there was simply no point in going through the motions of trying to be anyone else.
Having people look at you and see you – the good, the bad, the ugly and the shameful – is terrifying. But it’s also freeing. It’s kind of nice to know that I don’t have to worry about what kind of impression I’ll make or which facade I have to hold up.
And I don’t even know how to tell you how healing it is to know that you are seen
and accepted exactly how you are.