It wasn’t until a few years ago when I realised that each one of us is a writer, a storyteller and the audience.
The reason stories – whether through films, books, songs or sitting huddled around our grandmothers – appeal to so many of us, irrespective of our age, is that stories enable us to make meaning of our worlds, within and without.
Not only do we tell stories to other people; we also tell several stories to ourselves.
Because what is self-talk if not stories I reiterate to myself, often subconsciously?
We are the stories we tell ourselves
My journey of storytelling began with unravelling the stories I was telling myself i.e. deconstructing my own self-talk.
I believed I was always too quiet, too thin, too sarcastic, too emotional, too independent… Because I had heard others say this about me, it had to be true, I would tell myself.
At different points in time and through different mediums, multiple strands have kept coming together to reveal to me the macro-narrative of my life.
(Re)telling my stories
“When you can tell your story and it does not make you cry, you know you’ve healed” is a line that I’ve kept going back to ever since I first came across it.
I began (re)telling my stories to myself by writing them down – stories of struggling with self-esteem because I am thin, of not fitting in because I choose the assert my autonomy, of feeling confused and helpless while making sense of my mental health.
These stories were heartbreaking and damaging.
Writing has and continues to allow me to name the thoughts and emotions that run amok through my mind. It has helped me create the space I need to reflect as well as sit with them, especially when it’s uncomfortable.
That’s when I realised it wasn’t only what others had been saying about my physical appearance but what I was telling myself – about being less because I was thin – that also caused damage.
Writing helps me identify gaps and inconsistencies in the stories I tell myself. Over a period of time it has helped identify what stressors in my environment can derail my mental wellbeing. This in turn helps me:
(i) develop my own early warning system to detect red-flags in my behaviour(s) and/or mood(s)
(ii) activate a higher dosage of self-care
(iii) be mindful of my thoughts and feelings
(iv) contain a potential meltdown
Yes, it can feel like getting a case solved by Sherlock Holmes while getting to be Sherlock Holmes!
Retelling to reframe
As a consequence, this journey of telling my story – first to myself – has empowered me to reframe my stories by stepping away from victimising myself.
As an extension of that, I am learning to be as kind, patient and compassionate with myself as I have known to be with everyone around me – especially on days when I think I don’t have any reason to feel good about myself.
Furthermore, I feel more equipped to own my power and reclaim myself, little by little. It has taught me that it is okay to not feel okay all of the time.
It has changed my own intrapersonal dynamics; the manner in which I relate with myself when relating with the world. I have begun saying ‘yes’ when I want to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ when I want to say ‘no’.
Every once in a while I catch myself pausing to ask the question: what is the story I’m telling myself? It’s a healthy self-check mechanism – and one that does not only kick in when I’m writing.
This retelling and the reframing of the stories has enabled and emboldened the introvert in me to want to speak up and share my many stories with those around me – beginning with my siblings and friends – in an attempt to create an awareness about the impact of personal narratives while also de-stigmatising mental health.
I first went public about my own mental health with a short post on Instagram a whole year after terminating therapy. More recently, I felt I had more to share about what learning to cope with my mental health issues had taught me and so I penned a candid blogpost a few months ago.
As a facilitator of writing workshops on self-expression, aside from encouraging folks to explore their own self-talk, I also hold space for anyone who would like to talk about or share their own mental health story – whether privately or within the group.
Given my own experiences, I cannot not sufficiently emphasise the importance of therapy to those with mental health issues.
These experiences, in turn, have helped open up conversations about mental health with those around me.
In holding space by facilitating informed discussions and conversations, I want to help contribute towards making the entire spectrum of mental health more inclusive.
Elita is a facilitator-freelancer-blogger who has previously worked full-time in the development sector. She currently runs workshops on expressive writing, engages with like-minded organisations to create human-centred content.