Inspirational Heroes Emerging Out of Shame’s Shadow…

This is a serious post and serious posts are not something I enjoy writing. I’d rather dwell in the realms of light-hearted whimsy and enjoy myself rather than getting down into the dirty moop. I’m more eager to follow a  “Why so serious?” mantra in my online activity and push an upbeat, perky and proactively positive persona. There’s a lot of bleakness out there and the web doesn’t need another dour avatar face doling out the grimness, bitching and moaning about bad stuff. This is all good and keeps me happy, but there’s also a downside. That downside is denial of reality and that denial may have a detrimental effect in the grand scheme of things.

I try not to get drawn into depressing current affairs debates and dive into popular shitstorms. I also try not to overshare and force my personal daily life problems down people’s throats. I have a history of heath problems and used to blog extensively about them but it got too painful and I felt like a raw, exposed nerve. I felt defined by illness and found myself engaging with communities and cyberspaces that were all about disease and depression. It was very unhealthy and unhelpful and it got me down so I shut it all down, closed off those connections and channelled my attentions elsewhere. The bare shame and scar tissue were hidden and covered by a thick jumper, out of sight and out of mind.

It was the right thing for me to do way back when but it was also, in part, a retreat into denial. The end outcome is that there’s a separation of self-image from sombre real life issues in public spaces. I keep on with conscious self-censorship and try not to talk about my past and present health crap online. (There’s a lot of it, it’s boring and I’ve more than had enough of it for a lifetime thank you very much) I’m ashamed, both because of my shame and because the shame prevents me from being totally honest about myself and then I wonder whether I should just rename myself “Shame Clayton” and live in the wilderness in an igloo made of frozen, guilty tears.

All the wider world gets is occasional cryptic outbursts on Twitter that elicit confused sympathy from some very nice people. (And I’m grateful for the concern and best wishes in those moments, so thank you!) When I do have those moments I end up blurting out because I want to urge others to enjoy their lives as much as possible and cherish good heath while they’ve got it. My power to do that, however, is limited though because of the taboos I’ve taken on. I don’t have the courage or conviction to back it up and run with it, so I stick to irreverent discussion of pop culture and 99% of the time that’s perfectly okay with me.

I’ve therefore got a tremendous amount of admiration for people who actually do what I can’t do – genuine human beings who are so much braver than me in that they actually power through silence, shame, stigma and various other hang-ups to talk about the things that just aren’t talked about. I’m in awe of people who open themselves up and express themselves eloquently and creatively  to inform, educate and inspire others. It’s a risky move and it can be incredibly painful, but there’s a chance that in publicly discussing problems they beat stigma and ignorance. They may potentially save someone’s life.

As I say, I can’t do it but several events move me to write this short, serious post in praise of those that do. Today Angeline Jolie has written a piece in the New York Times explaining her decision to get a preventative double mastectomy. Here an infamous public figure is putting their physical and mental scar tissue on show and doing so to raise awareness of breast cancer. The issue is, for the present moment, out in the open and people are enlightened and possibly empowered if they were living in doubt and fear. That’s a win for knowledge and wider worldwide wellbeing. It’s a blow for cancer and the result is that much suffering may ultimately be prevented. This is why I don’t agree with those who sneer at celebrities for preaching about serious health issues from positions of comfort. By virtue of their fame they have way more influence and reach than any public service ad campaign or initiative. When someone like Russell Brand describes drug addiction in the Guardian or Magic Johnson makes a documentary about HIV people take note and come away armed with knowledge and possibly entertained and uplifted.

That’s showbiz, but I’m even more awed by those who aren’t celebrities and don’t have massive media attention or media resources supporting their bold decision to put it all out in the open. My main inspiration for writing this post is the artist Katie Green who is both a lovely person and a brilliant illustrator. For years Katie has been working on her graphic novel Lighter Than My Shadow which is an autobiographical memoir of her experience with eating disorders. She’s delved into all the pain of the past to write and entirely hand-draw a 507-page chronicle in comic panels. That’s immense and insane. It defies comprehension. It is possibly the boldest creative project I’ve ever encountered yet and I’m looking forward to finally getting a hold of the thing when it’s released in early October.

Katie says it all best in her blog in which she provides insights into her reasons for writing and drawing Lighter Than My Shadow. She is so right about breaking the silence and challenging secrecy. Her artwork is beautiful, her voice is authentic and it’s a guarantee that the final published thing will be an astounding work that will inform and inspire people. We’re dealing with a devastatingly destructive illness and I’ve experienced its awful impact firsthand (but we don’t want to go there). By making this graphic novel, Katie is effectively providing hope and education, putting up a strong fight against eating disorders through a creative medium.

Comics are an ideal format through which to explore health issues – the Better, Drawn blog and this recent webcomic chronicle of depression are two examples. I believe that  Lighter Than My Shadow will be an important graphic novel work, even if it’s only regarded as such by a niche, special interest audience. Regardless, it’s a worthy project and I can’t adequately express how much I admire Katie for embarking upon such an epic personal endeavour. This book will potentially do so much good, prevent so much hurt and heartbreak and I believe it will save lives.

Shame and silence kill people and cause awful, unnecessary suffering. People who courageously rise above shame and earnestly open up in public to raise awareness are heroes in my eyes. We should listen to them, learn from them and thank them for their bravery and honesty. If you’re going to take anything from this inarticulate, awkward attempt at writing a serious post, please take this – take care of your health and do whatever you can to help others take care of theirs.

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  1. Doing Life Daily, Rocking Rubber Bands and Life Lessons from a Basketball Legend… | ENTER... JAMES CLAYTON

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