Some humiliations shared

Black background with tiny banana peel in lower right corner.You might have noticed the name of this blog. It’s a phrase I thought of back in 2006, when Amber shared an embarrassing incident and I said something like, “At least blogging means no humiliation is wasted.” That’s been my approach to writing in general for at least the last decade – that whenever something stupid or cringeworthy or life-changingly horrendous happens, at least I can write about it.

I’m not one of those people who writes to know how I feel about things: my feelings are always riiiiiiiiiight there. It’s more to help me cope with things, to  keep things in perspective, to feel less alone about things. (Oh, things. Why must there always be things?)

And I know it’s not an original insight (Nora Ephron probably said it best) but if you can find the humour in what happens to you, it does feel like taking back control.

I also think the more honest you can be, the better. Not that I see my writing as some kind of gift to the world (I just typed “writhing” there, and DITTO) but when I read memoirs and essays and blog posts that are a bit more exposing, I’m grateful. Brevity recently reported on an event called Full Disclosure: How to spill your guts without making a mess, and the panellists said some of the truest things I’ve ever read about first-person writing.

Author Marion Winik said, “Memoir is an underground railroad of information about what people really do,” which is perfect. The post goes on:

For those who won’t be able to relate to certain extreme aspects of our story, it might feel like we’re sharing too much information. But for others, it might be exactly what they need to hear. There’s no “objective TMI,” Winik said. “It’s all who’s hearing it.”

I think there’s been some real sharing-shaming in the last few years. Sure, it’s worth weighing up what’s appropriate in different contexts, but the idea that spilling your guts is undignified has always rankled. Maybe it’s because I work from home and don’t get out much, but I DO want to know. (And if I can find out without the complications and obligations of building IRL relationships, so much the better.)

The more I’m able to share the ways I’m a complete mess without the sky crashing down, the more of a thrill I feel. Because it’s liberating, and because I know there’s someone who will read it and understand. Maybe multiple someones.

In one of Susan Shapiro’s books her psychiatrist tells her to “lead the least secretive life you can”. The “you can” is probs important – there are stories that affect me but aren’t my business. There are stories I’m not ready to tell but might be one day. Then there are stories that I can tell, and don’t. And that’s a bummer.

When I was writing my blog post about periods, I cut out a few things – some of them because they were repetitive or irrelevant, but some of them to be safe. The end result was bold-ish and honest-ish, but not quite what I wanted it to be:  No wimping out. No Humiliation Wasted.

Of course, this is just a preamble for me to share one of the grossest things I’ve ever done. The longer I take to say it, the fewer people will read to the end of the page, right?

OK, fine. Here are some of the most humiliating things that have happened to me, most of which I brought on myself. They’re all true. They’re all TMI, or they aren’t.

1. Soon after we moved to a new village when I was 7, I went to church for the first time, on a school trip. We’d been told to bring some money for the collection, so my mum put 1ps, 2ps, 5s, 10s, 20s, and I think even a 50p in one of those little bank bags with the fold-over flap. When the plate got to me, I got out the bag, struggled with the flap, and triumphantly tipped out all the change onto the plate while people turned to look and my friend’s mum, who was a chaperone, tsk-ed in disgust. It turned out my mum had given me a selection of money because she trusted me to use my own initiative. I didn’t have any.

2. In infant school, a boy I thought was a friend, or at least not an enemy, beckoned me over and I went, flattered at whatever I was about to be included in. Then he and his friend grabbed me and dragged me to the sand pit, where a boy in the year above was sitting. Doing what he told them, they pushed me to the ground, held me down, and lifted up my skirt so the older boy could look at my knickers. I get that it wasn’t a major thing, and a lot of children have obviously been through a lot worse. But it taught me that I could be violated, and made me feel ashamed.

3. In my mid-twenties, I wanted to get into journalism and had a disabling illness (still do), so I wrote a few articles for charity magazines. Also, my mum and I also sometimes use “lamb” as a term of endearment. One day my mum sent me something, and I responded “Thanks, lamb!” I have no idea how, because my mum’s name starts with M and this editor’s name started with T, but I sent it to the wrong person and she teasingly called me on it and I blushed for the rest of the day.

4. When I was 29, I was on a bus that had changed route. Concerned that I was going to miss my stop, I got up way too soon, which you might think is understandable. Except that we were pulling into the terminus, so clearly we weren’t going anywhere else and I’d have plenty of time to get off. Suddenly, the bus lurched forward and I went flying down the aisle. I landed on twin boys who looked about five years old, one of my hands pressed into each of their chests. They were sitting with their grandma, who glared at me as centrifugal force kept me pinned in place and I whispered “Sorry,” over and over.

5. Not long after my mum and I moved into this flat, two men from the council came round to look at the kitchen and bathroom in preparation for some renovations. I had my period and was using the bathroom in a hurry before they arrived. I use pads, even though we’re all supposed to have moved on to biodegradable tampons or moon cups. (I’m prone to thrush and find it more comfortable, and I’ll do what I want, shut up.) So the men came and stood in the bathroom doorway talking while I was in the hallway with my mum. Then one of them turned to us and said, super hesitantly, “Is it all right for us to go in here now?” And I was like, “Yes,” thinking DUH.

Then I went to my room and he and the other man went into the bathroom and took measurements, talked to my mum for a while, and left. Only later did I realise that his polite question was a warning, a chance for me to recover the situation, because the next time I went into the bathroom, I saw it on the cistern: my most recently used pad, covered in blood. I know. It’s revolting. I shrivel up inside when I think about them going about their business with my period blood staring them in the face, perhaps thinking that we think that’s normal. And then I want to laugh hysterically because I will never get over how awful it is.

If you wanted to lead the least secretive life you can in the comments section, no obligation, but you know,  you could.

  • I love this post. And I also love reading truly honest writing, even if it’s uncomfortable. Actually, one of the reasons I got into online journalling (as we called it back in the day), was in the hope that by sharing things about myself, I would get to know people who were LIKE ME, and who would truly understaaaaand me, in a way very few people in my “real life” did. There’s no greater relief than reading about something you thought only happened to you, or that *only you* thought, and realising that you are not alone, and it’s actually fairly common, it’s just one of those things that people don’t talk about.

    Anyway, in the spirit of sharing, my most humiliating experience was when I was 11. I am still not over it. So, I’d gotten my period, and it was only the second time I’d ever had it, so I didn’t really know how it “worked” yet. I didn’t know, for instance, that, towards the end of your period, it will sometimes stop during the night, when you’re lying down, only to resume again the next morning, once you’re up and about. (Er, I’m assuming this happens to everyone, not just me? This is why I wish people talked about things more…) So I woke up one morning, and yay! Period had stopped! I didn’t realise it was just on pause, so to speak, so I didn’t bother using any protection, and headed off to school… where my period re-started, and soaked right through my jeans, to incredibly dramatic effect. I still think of it to this day, and it still makes me cringe in absolute horror: I relate completely to your # 5!

    • First of all, thank you for empathy and solidarity! That’s one of the things I’ve always loved about blogging, too — I would never have met so many people who seemed on a similar wavelength otherwise. And I’ve always liked reading the personal stories on your blog, in fact I can remember the story that inspired me to say “no humiliation wasted” but wasn’t sure you’d want me to repeat it 😉 Also THANK YOU for sharing! Oh, that must have been rough. It’s true though, I’ve had times when I’ve thought it ended, and then whooosh, and it *isn’t* something people tend to talk about. Maybe this is just going to be a period blog now?

  • Keris Stainton

    I love this post too, for the same reason as Amber (and also for how much I laughed at the “writhing” line). I’m sure I’ve had humiliating period incidents that I’ve blocked out – I remember running for something and feeling a sanitary towel ‘travelling’ up my back – but in the spirit of sharing my MOST humiliating experience (and in this not actually being a periods blog), here’s mine:

    I was working in a now-defunct record shop as a Christmas temp. My co-workers were some of the funniest people I’ve ever met and I laughed a lot. One day I was standing on one of those kick stool things filing something and someone started doing a bit or telling some story and I laughed a lot and then I wet myself. I could feel it coming and I couldn’t stop it. I tried with the power of my mind and also with my actual pelvic floor muscles (and this was before I even had kids), but no dice. And it seemed to be the most wee I had ever wee’d. I couldn’t even scuttle off to the loo because I was standing on a stool and I figured stepping down would make it even worse. So I just stood there as my jeans got wetter and wetter, panicking about how the hell I was going to be able to hide it for the rest of the day. When it finally stopped and I did shuffle off to the loo, thighs clamped together, I did the best I could to tidy up, but there wasn’t much I could do. I think I ended up tying a jacket round my waist or something, but it must have been obvious. I didn’t say anything. No one else said anything. It’s a shame because I absolutely loved that job, but that’s the first thing that comes to mind whenever I think back to it.

    • Thank you! And I’m SO sorry I didn’t realise this comment was here for two days, you should have had instant virtual hair-stroking for sharing such trauma! I mean, oof, I can imagine how awful that must have been — one of those moments where you can’t believe what’s happening and want to slide out of your own body. At the same time though, my feeling reading it is more sympathy and acceptance, like “yep, that’ll happen”. We’re all such messes, really.