Some people seem to have a deep and abiding urge to share their innermost thoughts and feelings. I am one of those people. While I recognize this can be one of my most precious personality traits, I am also aware that it is a tendency that has the potential to cause hurt. Now that I am a grown up, mature 46-year-old lady, I can look back over my life and reflect on times where my tendency to share could’ve perhaps found a more appropriate outlet (hello therapy!). One of my goals with my blog is to share freely and creatively without causing harm to others. I will do my best to uphold that intention, however there is no use in dampening my writing to the point where blogging is a bland and meaningless enterprise. I suppose this is a line we always walk whether in cyberspace or “real life” but it’s harder to un-say things when they’re in writing.
It has been my experience that people who are not free-sharers, or who are, as I call them, “under-sharers”, sometimes get anxious about people like me and the potentially embarrassing things we could come up with, particularly when we are given a public platform from which to share. At the same time I have noticed that under-sharers enjoy living vicariously through free-sharers and rely on our disinhibited bleatings for entertainment and to get the ball rolling with difficult yet often cathartic discussions.
I have spent a good deal of time fraternizing with the Catholics, and I myself am theoretically a card-carrying member of the Roman Catholic Church, however I was not raised in a Catholic family. In intermingling with Catholic families, particularly with some past, up-close-and-personal encounters with cradle-Catholic men from varyingly dysfunctional Catholic families, a pattern of behavior has been revealed to me. This pattern is one of the ongoing encouragement of the tamping down of one’s feelings for the preservation and honor of the larger family unit. Stiff upper lip little Catholic soldiers! Buck up! Onward ho! Don’t let that giant load of crap you’re carrying around drag you down! As they say in Al-anon, “fine” stands for “fucked-up, insecure, neurotic and emotional”.
Obviously the secretive behavior of the institutional church has cultivated and helped sustain this kind of unhealthy “We’re all fine!!!!!” family culture. I doubt anyone reading this needs ME to tell them about the soul-crushing impact of encouraging a victim of sexual abuse to keep it to themselves. Nor do I need to elaborate on how utterly devastating it’s been to the greater church community for its leaders to have intentionally covered up such evil acts by their own colleagues. Talk about a culture of under-sharing… the Catholics have a corner on it. Thus I do not find it AT ALL surprising that lavish amounts of booze are commonly available wherever one or more Catholics are gathered, including at most Catholic school functions I’ve attended. It’s lovely to have a glass of wine at second grade curriculum night, but is it really necessary that it be the ONLY time I can get real with Mrs. O’Riley*?
The culture of under-sharing is undoubtedly generational too. My mother (who is not a Catholic and is quite a free-sharer herself) taught me when I was a little girl the expression “Don’t air your dirty laundry in public!”. At the same time, she always encouraged me to talk about my feelings and to express myself creatively. I’ll just bet that phrase was handed down to her from another generation of women, and I won’t argue too much with it (best not to argue much with my mother and her ancestors anyway), as there’s a time and a place to let it out. But since I’m on the subject of Al-anon idioms, may I mention the expression “If you can feel it, you can heal it!”, and for a free-sharer, feeling it usually involves talking about it.
All of this brings me back to my recent post “you’re bloody right it was a bad night last night!”. I sensed a wee bit of cringing going on with a few folks. While some may feel that writing a blog post about one’s heavy menstrual flow is over-sharing, I see it as a public service in the ongoing effort to normalize a function of human existence that has in the past been a source of embarrassment or shame for women.
To that end, I will give another little menstrual anecdote before I wrap up this post. When I was a girl in the 1970’s, probably about three years before I actually started my period for the first time (I was a late “bloomer”), I was herded into a classroom with the rest of my female classmates to receive a special lesson about our impending menstrual cycles. There, we were treated to a filmstrip which showed terrifying, graphic images of girls wearing giant “sanitary” “napkins” tethered to their awkward, puberty-stricken bodies by unattractive elastic belts. This was SERIOUSLY depressing yet strangely intriguing information to receive. It was as if my happy childhood world had been rudely interrupted by breaking news from my impending adolescence, with more unnerving updates to follow when I was least expecting them.
I figured I would never be able to do anything fun again during that one week of the month where I would be forced to wear one of these colossal pads strapped to me like a menstrual millstone. But even more unsettling at this tender age was the information provided about tampons. You actually had to insert the tampon into your vagina! How would it stay there? What if it fell out while you were swimming or riding your bike? I couldn’t believe this was happening! After the lesson, I was given a small white paper bag to take home with me. It contained a Kotex maxi-pad in a box, a tampon in a cardboard tube, and some further reading material covered with drawings of ladies wearing flowing garments and colorful flowers in their hair. I hid the bag under my bed and pulled it out occasionally for a secret, guilty review. Apparently after the lesson, I attached a boatload of shame to menstruation and all its trappings, because soon after, my friend Ana and I were busted by the playground monitor for scratching the words “Debbie uses tampons” on the wall of Garfield Elementary School behind the gym during recess. I guess we didn’t like Debbie. I remember standing in front of that groovy thirty-something lady with her shag haircut, hoop earrings and bell-bottomed jeans. She looked us squarely in our sassy 10-year-old faces and said “So what if Debbie uses tampons?!” I remember at that moment thinking to myself “Yeah, so what? So what about tampons anyway!?” and beginning to feel less shame and worry about tampons, and more stupid about my reaction to the filmstrip.
I can think of a lot more shocking and taboo topics of discussion to blog about than my menstrual woes. And rest assured, if do I bring them up here, there WILL be a good reason other than to make my little sister squirm or to randomly air my dirty laundry in public.
*Mrs. O’Riley is a fictional character and bears no resemblance to any real Catholic lady at Assumption-St. Bridget School.