Why storytelling?

Healing, love, friendship, identity, childhood, pain, resilience–our lives all mirror each other in these ways. Storytelling is a powerful vehicle that connects us to these themes and allows us to share them with others.

A little bit about me and storytelling

The fear of sharing my stories has stopped me, both in writing and in conversation, far more than I’d like to admit. I am a master at keeping things to myself. I’ve been working on directing that mastery only towards the people that I believe don’t need to or shouldn’t hear my stories, but it’s been scary even when I manage to share them. Vulnerability is at the core of personal storytelling, and vulnerability isn’t always easy.

It’s no surprise that when I first started writing this blog, I believed that the only audience who would ever set eyes upon my words was me. I believed my writing would be a personal liberation movement of sorts–a way to get my experiences out of my heart because I needed my stories to live somewhere outside of me. I kept the posts private for some time. Then I started to question whether I should post them publicly.

Despite my fervent desire to keep things to myself, my belief that storytelling is a central vehicle towards authenticity, won the debate. Speaking openly about who I am and who I am working to become is incredibly important to me in this part of my life. Furthermore, the more I delved into personal storytelling, the more I realized others were dealing with similar things. I wanted to share what was happening to me in my little corner of the internet so that someone dealing with something similar wouldn’t feel alone. So, dear reader, here I am creating space for storytelling. Whether you daydream about your stories in solitary moments, out loud on phone calls with friends, via photographs on social media, or simply through quiet connection through someone else’s written words, we are all storytellers, including you.

What happens to us when we tell or hear stories?

Storytelling has been at the center of our evolution for centuries. It is ancestrally engrained in who we are. When we tell stories we find ways to connect to others, to connect to ourselves, to share a moral, a cultural attribute, to see things with greater clarity because we’ve given ourselves the space to think and be in the moment. Words have the power to produce empathy, imagination, laughter, a shared experience. Just think about all of the stories you’re surrounded by on a daily basis. People craft their stories of themselves on social media. Marketing gurus create stories about why we need a certain product. Family members tell us about relatives so that we keep them close. As an educator, I even tell stories about students with data. We’re surrounded by stories all of the time.

I am especially fascinated by what happens in our brains when we hear stories. Words can drive the release of hormones that can make us feel fear, empathy, love, and connection. If you’re curious about what happens in our brains when we hear stories, I highly encourage you to check out this TedTalk:

Storytelling and wellbeing

So, what role does storytelling have in our mental wellbeing? I believe the stories you consume shape your view of yourself and the world. I also believe that the stories you tell (and how you tell them) shapes your own perception of yourself. I think that when we become really good at telling our stories, we grow closer to who we were meant to become. It becomes an expression of authenticity and in that authenticity we create a healthy sense of self and wellbeing. Furthermore, as our stories unfold, we begin to see a path towards who we are working to become.

I’ll end with this: I believe that one of the greatest mistakes a person can make is to keep the stories they want to tell inside of them. If you feel a story needs to come out, do it. Write it. Speak it. Draw it. Write it then burn it in some ceremonial act. Get the stories that you need to come out, out. When this life is over, what will be left of you and me are the stories we shared.

Meditation Monday: Post #8

Meditation Teacher: Garth Stevenson (ok, he’s not a meditation teacher, but you should still listen).

Time: 8:59

Title: The Southern Sky

About this track: On days when I’d rather not listen to a guided meditation, Garth Stevenson’s music (along with a few others that I’m excited to share with you soon), is what I pull up on my phone. He’s, by far, one of my favorite composers. The depth of the cello as it echoes through the ambient background will cause you to pay attention to the things you’re carrying. This is what hope and personal history must sound like.

Why meditate? Just like we all have physical health, we all have mental health. Meditation helps us bring awareness to our values, thoughts, and actions and strengthens our capacity to live with greater clarity, ease, and intention. As a person living with depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder, meditating has allowed me to be aware of my body and thoughts so that I can take actions that make me feel better BEFORE things escalate. This has been the greatest gift I could give myself.

Where I meditate: You can find me meditating on the FREE Insight Timer App where you can find thousands of guided meditations, meditation music, talks, and live events.

Ikigai: Reflections on teaching

When I think about my students, I lack the words to fully express what they mean to me. I could fill pages and pages with memories of them. I could tell you about how I once announced to a group of kindergarteners (who had suddenly realized that they had all been babies once and were deep in excited discussion about said realization) that I too, like them, had been a baby once. Upon hearing my statement, 5 year olds on the sidelines shouted with wide-eyed disbelief: “Mrs. J, Me too! Me too!”

An adult? A former baby? Impossible. 🙂

Or how on the first day of kindergarten one of my students turned to me and said: “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this.” The joy on her face is forever etched into my memory.

Little moments like this remind me that I have such gratitude for being a small part of their lives. 

I knew I wanted to be a teacher at a very young age; more specifically, it was Valentine’s Day in 2nd grade. While the rest of the kids in my class stuffed brown paper bags with little cards of pinks and reds in preparation for recess, I asked if I could stay inside to read the cards I had received. At that time in my life I wore a patch over my “good eye” in a failed attempt to partially correct my vision. My teacher, noticing me struggling to make out the shapes of each word, pulled out the chair beside me, sat by my side, and read each card to me. I remember looking up at her and feeling love radiate out as she read.  That moment marked the day I knew I wanted to be like her. 

Teaching is my ikigai–the cross section between passion, mission, profession, and vocation. On especially challenging days when life has felt too much and when I feel without purpose, I turn to the stories about my students. To see them light up when a difficult concept makes sense, to see them apply the things I teach them, that is joy. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. 

Perhaps because of my personality type, finding my purpose and talking to others about where they find meaning, makes me feel the most connected to things greater than myself.

What’s your ikigai?

Music for mental health series: Post #7

Artist: Vera Bloom

Title: Breathe

Favorite lyrics:

Falling out to sea
Drowning in the stars
Disconnecting from myself
Still attached but feeling far

About this song: The first time I heard this song, the lyrics made me immediately say to myself: “This is a meditation with grunge vibes.” This song transported me to the early years of learning to live with my mental illness through both its lyrics and melody. When my mental wellness journey first started as a teen, I spent countless hours telling myself to breathe while listening to music (a lot of that music was grunge). Music became the main distraction from the feeling of not being in control of my own body. Fast forward years later and little did I know that focusing on the breath would be one of the most powerful tools I had at my disposal to manage difficult days. Vera’s song is a reminder that the tools to keep going are already within ourselves, we just have to put them to practice.

I also have to add that the lyric “drowning in the stars” has stuck with me. In addition to the breath, gratitude is another powerful personal tool. Sometimes living with a mental illness can pull you away from realizing all of the wonderful things that are around us. We feel like we’re drowning while simultaneously being surrounded by beauty and gratitude. It’s the strangest feeling, and something that pulls us to actively practice gratitude.

You can find more songs on the Music for Mental Health Playlist! If you have suggestions for songs, please add them below or let me know on Twitter: @dailyocd or Instagram: @vero.writes.things