Jenny Lawson, known as The Bloggess, attracts one of the largest followings of any “mommy blogger” with her bawdy, honest, sometimes off-kilter, wit. Her tagline: “Like Mother Teresa, only better.”
Lawson has been a professional sharer since she started blogging in 2006 and every day talks of her life openly on a blog that receives millions of hits a month. Last week, though, she confessed more than usual when she wrote a raw post about behavior she had kept, until now, private:
“I self-harm. I don’t do it all the time and it’s not enough to put me into an institution or threaten my well-being, but it’s enough to make it frightening to live in my body sometimes. I’m far from suicidal. I do it to self-sooth, because the physical pain distracts me from the mental pain. It’s one of those things that’s impossible to explain to people who don’t understand impulse control disorder. Honestly, I find it hard to understand it to myself and I’m working my ass off to fix it now before my daughter is old enough to see the things I don’t want her to see. It is one of the hardest things I have ever done.”
The response was immediate. Readers posted thousands of comments offering support and sharing their own stories of self-destructive behavior. Mothers wrote of their emotional struggles. One teen wrote of her suicidal feelings. Twitter reaction, too, overwhelmed Lawson (more on that later).
This week, Lawson and I had an e-mail conversation about her decision to go public and about how she hopes to channel the response.
Lawson told me that she left the description of her self-harming behavior intentionally vague for her own protection, because speaking about it can act as a trigger for her to engage in it. Still, she felt compelled to describe it, at least in general terms, to her audience.
“It’s a subject usually filled with shame and I had a hard time writing about it even though I know that most of my readers would support me, even if they didn’t quite understand me,” she said.
“I’ve been working with a shrink for the past few months to help and I realized that not sharing it on the blog felt like it wasn’t happening, and I wanted to be able to celebrate those little victories and little defeats fully on my blog.”
Lawson lives in Texas with her husband and their 7-year-old daughter, Hailey. One of her major concerns is that her daughter will soon begin to understand what her mother does to herself.
“My daughter doesn’t know the degree to which I struggle with self-harm but I’m sure she’s noticed me poking my fingernails through my clenched palms or biting my lip until it bleeds. I don’t want her to think that’s a normal habit.”
The post with her revelation also talked of her struggles with depression and how those who suffer from it often do so in silence.
When depression sufferers fight, recover and go into remission we seldom even know, simply because so many suffer in the dark…ashamed to admit something they see as a personal weakness…afraid that people will worry, and more afraid that they won’t. We find ourselves unable to do anything but cling to the couch and force ourselves to breathe.
Lawson suggested that readers who suffer from emotional pain or who want to support those who do sign on to the “traveling red dress” project she created last year. Her idea was to pass around a red dress that women could wear to remind themselves of their power, to wear at a time when they feel particularly high — or low.
In reaction to the post, the twitter hash tag #travelingreddress exploded.Women as far away as Switzerland pledged to donate red ball gowns and formal dresses to the project.
Lawson responded to the offers with a typically opinionated line: “... I’m continually amazed at the goodness of people and that anyone who says social media is pointless can go ...” (you can imagine for yourself how the sentence ended).
To me, she wrote, “There are people doing meet-ups, offering free photo shoots of people in their red dresses, even a red-dress marathon being organized for charity. Hundreds of women racing down the streets in red ball gowns and sneakers. Could you even imagine?”
“Me either. But it’s nice to try.”