Recently, I have started putting myself into situations that make me feel deeply uncomfortable. Nothing exciting is happening, merely taking on a bit of a role within my church community. It’s minor, but it makes me feel deeply uncertain of myself.
Basically, I have a chance to have a voice, to say what I see maybe needs to change and to have influence. Normally, when I speak out, it’s just about myself. No one can say I have got it wrong because only I know what I think and feel. I am an expert on myself.
However, this has become my defence. I am passionate about so many things, but I don’t write or speak about them outside the safety of relationships with those who share my passion. I don’t want to be seen to make waves because I don’t think I deserve a seat at the table.
If my experiences help people put their own into words, that’s great. Beyond that though, I have never felt brave enough to step out of my own story and I am fed up with that.
I want to teach my children, my daughter in particular, that her voice matters. I have a unique position, in that I have had a platform to speak based largely on who my dad is. This has meant that I have had opportunities to speak into the ongoing conversation around mental health and mental illness, but I don’t feel I earned it. My expertise in the area come solely from my own experience, as well as from the hundreds of conversations I have had with people with similar experiences.
This though, is my expertise in everything. It is story based and, hopefully, can offer pause for thought and signposting to where people could learn more.
Hearing peoples stories is important. It helps us see we are not alone, and I am very pleased to have been able to share mine and create an opportunity for those who may not have felt heard or seen to know they have enormous value. However, I can’t help but come back to the fact that the basis for my platform has nothing to do with who I am. It is all about my dad. I have this handy surname, which, although isn’t partnered with the first name ‘Justin’, can still add something to a line up.
I am tired of telling my story. Or, more to the point, I am tired of needing my story to say anything. I understand many of the issues around mental health without needing the disclaimer of ‘im depressed so don’t argue’. I am so so much more than my depression and anxiety and my experiences within and without the church of how that has been received.
I care deeply about developing inclusive, welcoming communities. About the climate crisis and seeing how I can lower my carbon footprint and encourage others to lower theirs, about mental health, faith, parenting, feminism… All of these things and more are things that I have read on, experience in (story led again) and want to share.
However, if this week is anything to go by, the slightest dipping of my toe into a place where I can be more than my story, where I need to be more assertive on the needs I see before me and take more of a leadership role, is going to send me into spins of despair.
I honestly seem to believe that I have no place or right to be at the table. That, if my dad wasn’t my dad, none of these opportunities would have presented themselves. If this is true, then what possible right do I have to take a seat now? There are so many people around me and further afield who are doing amazing things and deserve the opportunities more.
The sense of being an imposter is overwhelming and I don’t know how to face it other than by pushing myself forwards.
So, I am. I am pushing myself to continue with being involved in these new roles at church, I want to start writing more broadly than just about how I’m feeling (clearly not with this post) and maybe, just maybe, I will start to feel more like I have a voice worth listening to.
I have just finished Michelle Obama’s book ‘Becoming’, it was inspiring and powerful. One thing that struck me, was that even when she got to the White House she still had to ask herself if she belonged. All the way through her life, this extraordinary woman, who went to some of the world’s best University’s and had a huge impact in whatever role she took on, doubted her own value and worth. Doubted her place. Whilst I may be no Michelle Obama, maybe I need to push through too. Keep challenging the idea that my value is limited to my parentage and start finding the courage to be more than ‘the depressed daughter of the Archbishop of Canterbury’.