Anne T. Donahue: "What We’re Sifting Through Is Nobody’s Business But Our Own"

Sharing stuff is great, but silence can be self care too

A photo illustration of a phone screen with the Twitter app open-inline

This weekend, one of my best friends and I caught up on everything we’d been dealing with over the last month or so. We elaborated on news we’d shared on social media and covered off the stuff we’d been keeping for close and personal pals. And eventually, talk turned to a question we’d both been trying to answer: How much are we supposed to share with everyone?

I’m a relatively private person. By the time I write about something, I’ve processed it a million times and put enough distance between myself and the situation that I’ve disassociated from it almost completely. I tend to talk about issues after they happen and, as previously written about, usually ask for help never. When I choose to share anything, it’s in an attempt to control the flow of information and to put a spin on it that keeps the narrative mine. But there’s also something dangerous in that: before long, you feel compelled to share things to beat the risk of somebody else finding out and hijacking your angle. It’s easier to announce that you’ve been sad or upset than to explain why someone you met once or twice saw you crying alone in a screening of Star Wars. It’s easier to be forthcoming. And easier still to begin believing that you owe it to someone to be that way.

The thing is, what we do and what we’ve experienced and what we’re sifting through is nobody’s business but our own. We don’t owe anyone  details of our personal lives, our work situations, the reasons we’ve stayed in or the reasons we’ve gone out. We owe no explanations, no candidness, no Instagram stories. Information is a privilege, not a right. It’s earned, not owed. But it’s easy—in the age of Twitter and Instagram and Facebook (woof)—to believe that our lives belong to other people. And that’s when our stories start belonging less and less to us.

I sat with my friend and thought about the idea of not telling everybody everything. I worried that doing so might mean I was excluding people who meant something to me, that by confiding in one pal over another, I was proving that I valued some relationships more than others. I thought about how for so much of my life, I’ve chosen to ignore feelings and memories and emotions in favour of burying them or compartmentalizing; planning never to acknowledge my vulnerabilities or what made me human. I remembered how easy it was to shut down or take a breath while making the silent agreement that whatever I was experiencing would eventually be confronted, but at a more convenient time. (Which has always ended badly: you can only deny emotions for so long before you’re forced to reconcile that they exist and they have shaped you.) And I realized that I didn’t really know how to draw the line between old coping mechanisms and what I felt was overshare. Because I was making it complicated.

Just because something is happening, doesn’t mean we have to broadcast it. Self-preservation looks the way you need it to, whether it exists via opening up to friends and family or processing on your own time or figuring out a combination of the two. Strangers—IRL or on social media—are not entitled to our private lives simply because we’ve shared photos of our newest vintage coat or screengrabs of The Crown. Strangers don’t know us. They are strangers.

And yet we care what they think. A lot. Usually to the point of forgetting that most people are just as concerned about what we think about them. But only a true demon would ever actually demand an explanation for why you’ve been posting less, why you’ve taken a step back from whatever-the-hell, or why you looked sad when they saw you at Bulk Barn. For the most part, we’re all in our own heads, terrified that someone we met once might catch on that our lives feel like they’ve been falling apart. We’re consumed by the idea that our performances might not be convincing anymore; as if a dip in content alludes to a catastrophe. (Or worse: proof that we’re real people with lives detailing more than what we’ve bought or eaten over a week.)

But the thing is, no. Because even if somebody you don’t know (or have opened up to) chooses to pry, you owe them nothing. You don’t owe them backstories, memories, explanations. You owe only yourself what it takes to get through it (whatever “it” may be). And you usually know who’s safe to confide in and who’ll make you feel worse. In moments of Being In It, you do what you need to do to make it through to the other side. It’s nobody’s business but your own. You can still control the narrative by saying nothing—or by saying everything, depending on what’s healthiest for you.

Because that’s what it comes down to, anyway: what’s healthiest? What works? What makes you feel whole? If it’s sharing each step of your own personal journey, that’s your business. And if it’s a question of sharing nothing, that’s your business to. It always has been. And everybody else can just deal.

More from Anne T. Donahue:
Even Unf-ckwithable Women Need Help Sometimes
Have Yourself a Realistic Little Holiday
How to Use Anger for Activism