Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about parenting, including most recently, Parenting Through the Storm: Find Help, Hope, and Strength When Your Child Has Psychological Problems, which Timothy E. Wilens, MD, coauthor of Straight Talk about Psychiatric Medications for Kids calls “A true gem for parents!” Ann is also the weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio and a Kinstantly contributing editor. She shares her story here of … well, the benefits and challenges of sharing a personal story. – Meg
Ditching My Wallflower Ways and Getting Close and Personal With the Story
I spent the better part of two decades playing hide-and-seek in the pages of the books I was writing. Sure, I occasionally allowed myself to step into the narrative for maybe a sentence or two, but that was as far as I was willing to take it. I felt much more comfortable—far safer—standing on the sidelines, watching the story play out from a distance through a pair of writerly binoculars.
And then it came time to write my latest book—a book that is deeply rooted in my life and my family’s experiences. I knew from the outset that I was going to have to get close and personal with the story—to abandon my wallflower ways.
And so I did it. I cast myself as a character in my own story. And then I opened up about some of the most painful and difficult chapters in my family’s life—an experience that proved to be both incredibly liberating and completely terrifying. It felt good—so good—to get naked with the truth: to cast aside the narrative cloak of invisibility that had defined me as a writer for so long. But, at the same time, I couldn’t help but worry about writing the wrong thing—of sharing some too-personal detail that would cause irreparable harm to a family member.
In the end, I think I managed to find a way to strike that balance: to write a book that would be helpful to other families without causing harm to my own. That’s not to say that I didn’t engage in a lot of heavy-duty soul-searching and world-class second-guessing in the week or so leading up to the book’s publication date. After all, there’s nothing like a middle-of-the-night bout of insomnia to cause a writer to sift through her manuscript in her head and rethink everything that’s now been irrevocably committed to the page. Everything. You can imagine how relieved I was when I spotted a Facebook post from my son Erik: a post in which he announced just how much he was “loving this character named Erik” in my latest book—and when each of the other members of my family gave the book their blessings in their own unique ways, too.
It doesn’t hurt that my family’s story has a happy ending: that I’m able to connect the dots between the struggles we experienced when things were at their worst a decade ago and how much better things are for my family today. Children are resilient. Families are resilient. You can weather the storm together.
Finding the courage to share my family’s story allowed me to grow both personally and professionally—to find new meaning in my life and in my work. I believe that each of us has the power to change the world: change that is sparked when we dare to share the contents of our hearts with other people. Sharing your story can be life changing — for you and for everyone else whose lives you touch. You can allow a difficult experience to destroy you or you can allow it to strengthen you. And one of the ways to find strength in the wake of a difficult experience is by helping other people. That’s what writing this book has meant for me. – Ann