I am not broken.
There! I said it!
I think that this is a nice way to start this essay about my unexpressed truth, a writing prompt I’ve been given to end the creative writing course I’ve been participating in for the last three months over at foster.co.
I’ve come to believe in the power of affirmation over the last couple of years, so what better way to start than by affirming something that is true and yet something I’ve spent 50 years not believing? It’s a simple truth, as I think all truths are.
If truths resonate at frequencies that can transform the world—and I believe that they do—why are they so notoriously difficult to find? Is it a question of tuning? Maybe.
My truth has been covered in a patchwork quilt of loneliness, bad choices, comparison with others, alcohol and drugs, teachers’ telling me that I’d never amount to anything, my dad with the belt because he loves me. Yeah. I know.
There have been moments in my life when the truth resonated a little more clearly. For example, when I joined the army at 16 and found someone who believed in me, my Russian teacher David Wolstencroft. Or when I was 26 and had my first spiritual awakening, sitting on the early-morning bus from Glasgow to St Andrews to deliver a presentation on 19th-century expressionism in Russian literature. Or when I was 33 and crossed the threshold of Alcoholics Anonymous for the second time.
As I look back at these moments, it feels like these were all signposts pointing towards my truth. Or, to stick with the frequency metaphor, they were notes in the same key, gentle sounds that resonated with my truth in a beautiful, sympathetic feedback loop that would cause the patchwork quilt to come apart at the seams and slip off.
I’ve always felt better off alone while, at the same time, feeling a crippling fear of loneliness. This paradox is illustrated by something I learned about in Alcoholics Anonymous, that I suffer from low self-esteem and grandiosity. Or, as I’ve heard it said in the rooms of AA, we alcoholics are in the gutter looking down on everyone. It’s a corrupt paraphrasing of a much more hopeful line, from Oscar Wilde’s play Lady Windermere's Fan:
‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’
I prefer to be looking up than down, but that makes it sound like a choice. Ah, yes, choice. Can it really be that simple? Again, truth, dear reader, is usually simple. It is I who complicate it.
Online Creator Communities
I started to get closer to my truth when I joined a group of YouTubers on a course run by Ali Abdaal, a young doctor who quit medicine when his YouTube channel reached around 1m subscribers. It wasn’t the course material so much as the amazing group of people on it with me. There was real magic in that group.
Ali’s course coincided with my discovery of August Bradley’s content around values, growth mindset, limiting beliefs, habits and routines, and his Notion system that brings them all together. Yes, software. It still boggles my mind that I can get closer to my spiritual truth with computer software!
August launched his course around the same time as Ali, and the two courses went together hand in glove. By the one, I was learning a system for aligning my actions to my values; and by the other, how to plan and create content based on strategy.
The musical notes were getting louder, and now there were more of them.
Through Ali’s course, I met a fellow creator called Beccy. She invited me to join Foster, a writing community that was about to launch a 3-month season of writing around the themes of reflection, reckoning and renewal. It has been such a wonderful thing to be part of, and it’s why I’m writing this essay now. There is similar magic in the Foster group as I felt in Ali’s course, and it’s made up of some of the bravest creators I’ve seen. When it comes to exploring and expressing one’s truth, there’s nothing quite as inspiring as being in a group and watching others go through the same process.
Why I Make Content
Perhaps the biggest shift in my frequency dial came through learning about values from August Bradley, or guiding principles, as he calls them. I explored mine in my podcast.
Since my diagnosis of depression a year or so earlier, I had taken to recording monologues while I was walking the dogs and publishing them as a podcast called Quoth the Camser. I’m not sure why I felt that publishing them would be helpful to me, other than to say that I probably wouldn’t have recorded them if I had known that they were only for me.
I’d dabbled with making videos and writing a blog many times before, since around 2006, so I knew that creating content was a valuable way of exploring how I was feeling. I think that’s what propelled me into recording my monologues after the diagnosis.
I’d also enjoyed watching UK artist Dodie’s mental health monologues on YouTube; her recordings helped me feel like I wasn’t alone, so I guess a part of me hoped that I could help others by doing the same.
It turned out to be a life-changing year that I hadn’t seen coming when I started recording these monologues. My post office business that I’d been trying to sell for the last eight years finally sold—quite quickly. At the time, I was trying a new medication to balance my mood, and it was a crazy time for my family and me. The recordings were really helping my mental health, so there was a big incentive to keep the process going.
Now that the business had sold, I thought I could taper off the meds. It took a few months, and I continued with my podcast recordings, some in video form and published to YouTube. Coming off the Citalopram was rough because I suffered some pretty bad dizziness. I have all that on tape, and I’m glad for that. Documenting that process helped a lot.
When I fired up the first Zoom window at the beginning of Ali’s YouTube course, my screen filled up with young people. I had a few moments of real crisis, where I wondered just what the hell I thought I was doing. What really helped me was having had prior interaction with someone during induction week. It was with Esther, a car enthusiast who later became my accountability partner and is now a dear friend. She’d asked an audio question in the course forum, so I recorded a quick video to help her out. And that was my way in - I had a friend, and the interaction had shown me that my background in audio and photography would be helpful. I wasn’t just an old guy pretending to be young; I was a creator with knowledge and experience to share.
That was at the end of 2020 and, as I write this in early 2022, I’m still publishing at least one video a week. I’ve had many moments of doubt, of course, but as I’ve continued exploring my thoughts and feelings on camera, my truth has begun to sing. That patchwork quilt of fear and resistance, low self-esteem, judgement, and all the other parts of me that are not aligned with my values, is slowly slipping down from my truth as I get closer to my overarching value of love. It begins through daily habits: writing a journal; taking Clover, the basset hound, up a steep hill; meditation. Those acts ground me and put me in a place where I feel connected to the source. Then the urge to write an essay or make a video or phone a friend takes over as the patchwork quilt slips away. The fearless self-expression through creation reveals the love that I seek, the love that I have to give, the love that connects us all, and my truth sings like a heavenly chorus.
In the last few weeks, I’ve had some quite moving feedback from people who have resonated with my truth, as I expressed in my videos and writing. I’ve become a better husband, a better father, a better friend. I’ve even taken guitar solos when playing live with my pal Dónal, something I’d never have done before unless I’d practised them for hours beforehand. It’s such a liberating feeling.
The beauty of this process is that the patchwork fear-quilt that holds me back is sliding away. I don’t have to worry about my numbers’ not growing or negative feedback or crickets because this process is making me well, and the ripple effects on my family and friends are huge. I sat down with my wife this very morning and told her how I was feeling. I wouldn’t have done that even six months ago. I still have a lot of work to do, but I’m sure that that will always be the case. Journey before destination, right Ali? (we both love Brandon Sanderson novels)
Through content and community, I’m learning how to feel whole. Through the bravery of other creators, I'm seeing that I have nothing to hide and that I’m hurting myself by hiding the parts of me that I’m afraid of showing.
I wish for others to learn from my example as I have learned from the example others have shown me. So please join me in saying:
I am not broken; I am whole.