Telling Your Story

We all have a story to tell. It is unique, reflecting our individuality. It is an unfolding narrative that casts us in a leading role. It is a compelling story that can move others.

It takes courage to talk openly about our personal experiences, to be unapologetic about the details of our life. It takes realism to accept that we are a work in progress and our best thoughts are not yet fully developed. Relating a life story demands a commitment to truth telling and a willingness to be vulnerable.

Brene Brown says,

“Owning your story is the bravest thing you will ever do.”

Some people imagine their story inconsequential. They see it as unimportant or irrelevant. But stories matter. Your story matters. The stories we tell about ourselves are the key to our well-being.

Lissa Rankin M.D. reminds us of the dangers of neglecting our past and leaving our stories untold. She says,

“When this happens, we wind up feeling lonely, listless, and out of touch with our life’s purpose, plagued with a chronic sense that something is out of alignment. We may even wind up feeling unworthy, unloved, or sick.”

You need to be acquainted with your story to do it justice. There can be no telling if you don’t take your life seriously. There is always the temptation to conveniently neglect parts of your story you prefer to forget. Telling your story asks that you place a premium on every experience, no matter how challenging or embarrassing.

What benefits are there in telling your story?

Telling your story helps you to make sense of your life. It allows you to examine what has happened in the past and how you dealt with it.

Telling your story validates your life. It attaches meaning and significance to every breath. Our stories are everything.

Telling your story helps you make sense of who you are. It provides context for your deepest fears and failures.

What benefits are there in sharing your story?

Telling your story allows you to connect.

There is no better way of connecting with people than telling your story. It’s the fastest way to give people a relatively accurate view of who we are. As Donald Miller says,

“Being able to explain who we are is critical if we want to connect in life.”

Support groups connect people facing similar challenges. The group might involve people recovering from trauma, grieving the loss of a loved one, adjusting to a disability, or coping with a medical condition. Through the sharing of personal experiences, participants receive emotional comfort and moral support.

Stories are more than random facts. Stories create solutions to problems that have arisen. Stories cultivate empathy and understanding.

Telling your story allows you to identify with people who feel stigmatised and to challenge negative attitudes and stereotypes.

Julian Leeser was a self-absorbed 20-year-old when his father took his life. The unexpected tragedy left a gaping wound in their family.

Last year he delivered his maiden speech in the House of Representatives detailing the painful personal story of his father’s suicide. Since then thousands of people have contacted him about the impact of his address.

Mr Leeser says,

“The whole issue of suicide touches a chord with Australians because many of us know someone with a mental illness.”

His advice to families that are struggling: “You are not alone.”

Mr Leeser is committed to rebuilding caring communities where people know and notice the signs and acknowledge the people around them.

Telling your story allows you to demonstrate that hardships can be overcome.

There are no guarantees of an easy life. For any of us. No one is free from tragedy and pain.

No matter the extent of the pain and suffering, it can be endured. No matter how heart rending the tragedy, it can be negotiated.

Bad things happen. While we can’t always control what comes our way, we can control how we respond.

Sometimes we’re overwhelmed by fear and self-doubt. It feels like we’re surrounded by darkness and fog. At such times we can become disconnected from the thread of our own narrative. We doubt the wisdom of trying to express what we are living. As Dr Kelly Flanagan says,

“I wonder if my words and I should have stayed in my heart, where it is safer, where blood, sweat, and tears might not end quite so badly.”

Constructing an honest yet positive life narrative from tragic circumstances is challenging. It sheds light on our ability to navigate turbulent times.

When my son Adam took his life, I was unsure of the story that was unfolding. I questioned my ability to find the words to capture my lived experience.

There are three key elements of storytelling structure – Challenge. Choice. Outcome.

Challenge:

The challenge was massive and contained a number of elements.

• How to make sense of Adam’s death.
• How to watch out for surviving family members and provide them with appropriate support.
• How to monitor my grief.
• How to function normally.
• How to talk about what had happened.

Choice:

When faced with personal tragedy our choices are few.

We are all prone to getting caught up in the self-pity, unfairness of life, ‘why me’ trap. The choice is whether we allow these self-defeating, unproductive thoughts to continue unchallenged. ‘Dwelling on the situation’ can lead to deep depression and in some instances, thoughts of suicide.

Personal tragedy can’t be denied. The hurt is real. The loss will continue to be felt throughout our life. But it is not in our best interest to give up on life. We can choose to place the present painful experience in the larger storyline of hope. We can choose to think of the people who gain courage and inspiration from our example, who are nurtured by our love and care.

Victor Frankl says,

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Outcome:

Hope is the only way we keep living. Hope is our bread. Hope delivers us from becoming fatalistic with despair. That’s not to say the way we see the world hasn’t been altered.

Don Straka says,

“What we hope in for tomorrow always changes who we are today.”

 

Telling your story allows you to be a source of encouragement and inspiration.

The idea of R U OK Day was born from tragedy, conceived by a son whose father had taken his own life some years beforehand.

R U OK Day is an opportunity to connect with those around us and check on their welfare. It is about starting a conversation with someone around who might seem disengaged, agitated or out of sorts. It involves sensitivity in the way our questions are framed and attentiveness in the way we listen.

R U OK Day provides the ideal setting in which to share our own struggles, times of uncertainty, times of regret, times of fear, times of loss. Stories show how we overcame emotions that inhibited us from taking action. Stories demonstrate how hope can be rebuilt by valuing the light we possess no matter how insignificant. Stories unite us. Stories are an invitation to hope.

Michael Hidalgo says,

“Stories connect us to others, remind us we are not alone and tell us we are a part of something bigger than ourselves.”

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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