This is the advice my friend Olivia gave me when she asked me to write for her mental health blog, Catholic Refuge. She was just starting the project and she was hoping to start a conversation about the ways that mental health and religion intersect. We’ve known each other for years and we know a lot about each other’s journeys, so when she asked me to write about mine, she knew exactly what was on my heart.
I had been going through a really hard time. The pandemic had just begun and, even before that, the year had been a mess for me. I’d been struggling with near-daily panic attacks, sleeping three to four hours a night, and just generally feeling like I was falling apart. I wanted to write for her blog, because it’s also a conversation that I think is worth having, but I didn’t know that I was ready to share what I was going through just yet.
That would have been sharing the wound. If I wrote about my constant worry, my inability to sleep at night, the way I felt like I was clinging on to the people in my life…that would have been sharing the wound. It was too new, too present. Not only did I feel like I didn’t have anything to say – no words of comfort, no realizations – but being that vulnerable on the internet would have been too heavy of a load to bear.
Instead, I shared the scar. I wrote about “witness talks” which are a fairly common practice in youth group and retreat settings. They essentially consist of people sharing the story of how they came into the faith or how their faith became a powerful presence in their lives. They have the potential to be really beautiful, but they can also be very damaging. In my piece, I wrote about my high school self hearing those talks and thinking that if I only prayed harder, went to church more often, became a better Christian, etc., I wouldn’t be in so much pain.
That was a scar for me. It was something that caused me a lot of distress, and it’s still not something I look back on fondly, but it’s something I’m able to understand more clearly after having the time to work through it. It’s not an experience I’ll ever forget about, hence the scar, but it didn’t actively hurt me to share that story either.
“Share a scar, not a wound” cannot be attributed to Olivia, though she did find the perfect time to say it. Instead, it’s something Nadia Bolz-Weber, the theologian, said to Glennon Doyle, the author. The similarity there is so poignant: a friend reminding another friend to be gentle with themselves and, in turn, gentle with each other.
Our stories cannot be a way of sacrificing ourselves to save others. Instead, they should be a reminder of community, kindness, and commitment to one another. When we’re honest about our own needs, we’re able to share our most authentic selves with others, and that’s the kind of thing that has the power to change the world.