The Gift of Stories

By Edith Kembabazi, Uganda

I am a bibliophile, what the wordsmiths define as a collector and lover of books. In my formative years, reading was my first love and writing, a very close second. As the years went by, I grew to love writing more and more until there came a time when I couldn’t read without writing my thoughts down afterwards. They always came hand-in-hand, and as soon as I was able to, I started blogging. It was vital for me to be relatable and approachable, especially in my writing. Like every human being on the planet, I desired to relate and connect. My medium just happened to be through writing. I have always believed that when someone else can say, “Oh my goodness, you too? I thought I was the only one,” and find some comfort and a healthy way forward in that, my work on planet earth will be done. Unfortunately, the writer’s block hit me about seven years ago, the result of a tragic shift in my psychology. I became a shell of myself and among the things I lost was the ability to focus and with it, the desire to read. My ability to write coherently inevitably disappeared as well.

Four years later, I created a blog in faith that I would finally be able to write again. I thought it would be about returning to one’s element, centred around mental health and self-care. Gradually, other stories filtered through my brain and tried to force their way on to the blank spaces on my computer. They dared to jump from the inner pages of my journal and on to that public space. I expected that I would only go so deep as to share my journey as I re-learned and struggled with memory and words. I struggled to find the balance, to maintain the purpose of the new thing I had created and not turn it into an unhealthy version of my journal. Still, with every piece I tried to write, it set either of two extremes – dry, impersonal and stilted or too personal, the perfect example of an “overshare”. It was everything else but who I am. So I stopped writing. Again. Each time I dared to write, I froze and pushed it further away to the back of my mind because it reminded me of the enormous work I still had ahead of me. I needed to make whole and coherent sentences. I needed to focus enough to regain my first love. I needed to learn to love reading again. It was slow and gruelling work, and with every book I tried to read, I was reminded of the damage to my memory, words escaping my brain as soon as they came to me.

I am no exception to the rule that we all ask ourselves “what if” questions related to our past at some point. I have struggled and still struggle with thoughts about how I would live my life if I knew I would never be able to write again. There was a point in time within those seven years when that was a very likely reality. I struggled with having to deal with the things that reminded me of the damage I had suffered, gifts that seemed to have vanished along the way to writing again. The things which, like a baby learning to walk and talk, I found myself having to re-learn. I was afraid to dive deep into the dark well of the loss I experienced. Losing portions of my memory alongside lessons, I could have written about, not being able to live life and yet life was all around me. Still, it was from these recesses that I hoped the wealth and richness of my writing would come.

I have laboured and endured and still labour and endure to this day, working towards reading without much frustration. Throughout this journey, I have learnt that strength presents itself in many forms, most of them in ways that we least expect. It is in laughing with and enjoying the company of a crowd of people knowing in the midst of that you might tear up or break down from the weight of your silent and hidden struggle. It is in allowing yourself to be vulnerable with your pain to courageously find healing. It is also in facing head-on and choosing to deal with the anxiety the vulnerability brings. It is in mustering the courage to step outside your comfort zone, see and experience life even when there seems to be nothing to live for. Again, sometimes it is in waking up in the morning and daring to breathe. Just. Daring. To. Breathe. And if in the midst of that, we fall into silence, or tears suddenly rise, if at that moment we become the person for whom uncomfortable glances were created, it is not awkward. Because we see and we know, and we feel and this too shall pass and that we fall to rise another day. Finally, it is in knowing that there is complete freedom in the honesty of our emotions. In coming to a place where we can dare to face the most uncomfortable and discomfiting things about ourselves and journey to be better.

We must give ourselves the gift of stories. Stories of overcoming and triumph, and of the bravery of a scrawny hunchback. We must gift ourselves and others with the writing and the telling of these stories. There is no fairytale without a tale of struggle.


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