‘I have so much shame, they labelled me insane’

Journaling in his darkest moments, Reece found his voice on the page

‘I have so much shame, they labelled me insane’

‘I have so much shame, they labelled me insane’

I sat on the dense wooden palings that ran along the front of the beach. I sat without a care in the world. Just me and the universe and the video camera, a truly perfect combination. It was 1999. I was rocking a bowl-cut, baggy track pants, an oversized hoodie and a white Quicksilver beanie. I was eight years young but with the soul of an 80-year-old.

Something inside of me lit up that day. When I looked through the camera, I saw the beauty in the world that I had not yet seen. It was raw and unedited, with no apps, no filters, just life as it was, in real-time. I could explore the world because I wasn’t in it. I was always happy to let others be in the limelight, but when I was the centre of attention, I felt exposed. Even a simple hello was too much for me to bear.

I struggled to tune out the noise in the world around me, and instead of becoming the protagonist in my own life story, I got lost trying to fit into everybody else’s. I wore costumes and masks and performed. I was a true entertainer. The audience cheered and clapped and gave me a standing ovation, but when I stepped off the stage, it was awfully quiet. As the curtains closed, the room filled with darkness, and I was alone.

I was bringing stories rooted in shame to light but was hiding my own

If you asked in 1999 what I wanted to be when I grew up, my reply would have been, “A filmmaker.” I was truly obsessed with storytelling. This was how I made sense of the world. I would tell stories and live in fantasy. I would dream and live through characters because I struggled to connect with my own identity and sense of self.

In 2017, I won a prestigious award as a young filmmaker for bringing stories rooted in shame and stigma to light, yet I kept my own story in the dark. I spent day and night chasing the next story but didn’t realise I was running from my own.

A therapist I was seeing to help me make sense of my life looked into my eyes and said, “Fuck, Reece, I’ve been a therapist for a long time, and I’ve heard a lot of stories but yours is the loneliest story I have heard.” That was the first time, at the age of 26, I had let myself feel the depth of my loneliness that I had been desperately trying to numb. The therapist followed up by saying, “I feel privileged to be the first person to see the real you.”

This was a life-changing moment. This was when my true healing began. I had found the source of my silence – deep shame.

Journaling helped me to find my voice

I had wrestled with shame for my entire life, and it felt like a losing battle. I struggled to speak up and share my truth. Even with the best intentions to do things differently next time, when I opened my mouth, the words wouldn’t come out. But then I discovered writing. I started to journal during my darkest moments, and this is when I really started to be vulnerable and open up my heart. I found my voice on the page.

In October of 2018, I participated in an open mic night at Le Chat Noir in Paris. I had spent my first 27 years hiding behind lies in an attempt to belong, and it took an adventure into the unknown, on the other side of the world, to realise that it was more important to belong to myself. I quit my job at the Channel Nine television station in Australia and enrolled in an intensive writing course with a bunch of complete strangers in a foreign country. These strangers quickly became friends as we bonded over the shared experience of writing our life stories. Together, we encouraged each other to stretch our comfort zone and embrace our vulnerability.

I stepped on stage to show the world the real me

My turn came to step into the limelight, but this time, I wasn’t escaping into fantasy. I no longer had armour, no costumes, no masks, nothing. They all stopped working when I made the choice to show the world the real me.

I stepped onto the stage, cleared my throat and began to speak…sharing this piece I had been working on in class:

When I close my eyes at night, all I see is the pain
The flashbacks, the memories, that I try hard to escape
I struggled to say no. I was running your race
Set to your pace. In a prisoner’s base or maybe outta space

I was confused, not a mental case
Just frozen stuck in a hiding place
I’ll take you to court, you’re nothing but a fraud
You don’t follow the laws, you just start the wars
Stop it, rewind, fast forward, press pause
I’m over this world, I want a get-out clause

Complicated. I remember you saying
As I was sitting in your office on my knees praying
Stuck there with my mind replaying
I’m robotic; my life was chaotic
Here take this pill cause you’re fucking psychotic

It was clear cut; my thoughts were obsessional
I couldn’t take it anymore
I didn’t want to hear another decibel
I arched up. I became defiant
Then you made me a guinea pig for science
Because you had the almighty power to make me silent

I was stuck there idling with no one to confide in
I didn’t give up trying; I just needed a little guiding
To take a risk homie and come out of hiding
My head it was a mess, my body it was broke
I was trying to fit in with not my folk
Wearing an invisibility cloak

I’d wake up sedated, like a zombie deflated
‘But I’m a human being’, I’d scream
‘I can’t be calculated’
It’s complex, just trying to illustrate it
I’m alone and isolated,
Suffocated, agitated
I can’t even leave my home,
Everything’s contaminated
In a world that’s populated
I’m alienated, separated
Needs and wants debated
Thank my lucky stars
I was never incarcerated

Facing the pain was no easy task
My eyes were fucking bleeding, seeping through the mask
I couldn’t speak my truth or let myself feel
Because if I said it out loud then it all became real

I desperately needed help, to quiet the noise inside my head
In all the quiet moments, many tears were shed

I was full of fear and terror, I was so damn fucking scared
So what I did was makeup lies instead
To bury my darkest secret, wishing I was dead

The world around me became black, it was no longer beautiful
A coffin, a burial, a vision of my funeral
I was bound with shame and no longer renewable
My outlook on life was bleak and indisputable

It felt as if nothing was left but scattered debris
If only I knew that honesty was the key,
And that’s all that was needed to set me free
Was to take off the mask and just be me

It all began to clear, the blizzard in my brain,
The emotional blackmail, the abuse, the pain
What happened to me is almost crazy to explain,
My story, my history it would blow your brain
I have so much shame, they labelled me insane

I grew up in a world where I had no choice but to conform
To wear a disguise in order to belong
I managed to survive but now I’m wanting to transform
This path that I am on has been worth it all along
The insight, the wisdom, and a voice to inform
That it’s more than okay to live a life on your own terms

My life derailed and blew up in smoke
But going off track was a masterstroke
The pain, the darkness, I’m bulletproof
Now I know my purpose is to walk my truth
The pain, the darkness. I’m bulletproof
Live life freestyle. Live a life you choose.

The shame that had kept me silent lost its power

I didn’t walk off the stage into darkness alone. I walked off stage into the light, connected. Someone in the audience approached me with tears in their eyes and said, “Thank you for being so vulnerable. I’m so grateful to be here tonight, to see that what I want for myself is possible.” That moment has stayed with me. The shame that kept me silent began to lose its power instantly through spoken words and self-expression.

I thought the only way to win the fight against toxic shame was to never step in the ring, but that night, I learned the opposite to be true. It was being in the ring itself where I came to a place of self-acceptance, and this gave me the gifts of compassion, kindness, resilience, forgiveness and human connection.

Storytelling can help us to heal us from the inside out

When we share our story, we give our strength and hope to another person, and in giving, we get it back. It acts like a boomerang. Storytelling has the power to heal us from the inside out. We often search for answers outside of ourselves, but connecting with our inner experience reminds us of who we truly are at our core—perfectly imperfect, and that who we are is always enough.

In the presence of authenticity, something magical happens – we feel the loneliness, the shame, the pain and the despair, but we are also gifted with connection, strength, hope and humility. We begin to see ourselves in a different light.

The meaning of life is to find your gift.
The purpose of life is to give it away.

Pablo Picasso

Reece (he/him) is a speaker, writer and passionate advocate for inclusivity and intersectionality. Reece endeavours to use his professional and lived experience to amplify marginalised voices, destigmatise mental health issues and promote social change across healthcare services, within systems and in broader community contexts. Reece is a peer worker for the Butterfly Foundation (Australia), where he utilises his lived experience of anorexia and complex mental illness to foster hope and empower others in their recovery. As a man of transgender experience, he has a particular interest in exploring the complex relationship that individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ have with their bodies. Reece believes that the process of recovery is about embracing authenticity and returning to inherent worth.

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