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I recently met a published author. Without a word, she reassured me that I want, and need, to write a book. Everyone has a story.
Laurie is a downtown ambassador for the city of Missoula. Her entire job revolves around guiding lost tourists and keeping the homeless population off the sidewalks. She is a glorified tour guide.
Laurie has lived in Missoula, Montana for nearly her whole life. Her sons and grandchildren all live close by and the townsfolk greet her by name. We walked around the town streets for hours with her and everyone we passed would smile and wave to Laurie. She loves her city and her city loves her.
But this full time hourly job isn’t her passion, and not just because she patrols the streets during frigid Montana winters.
Laurie also has bipolar disorder. I would feel awkward telling you that, but she wrote an entire book exposing her struggles with mental illness.
For nearly thirty years, her condition went untreated, as her moods would swing from manic to depressed. I’m not exactly sure what that looked like, but I’ll be reading her book to learn more.
Laurie’s passion is mental illness education. Since writing her book, she travels to universities, schools, and churches to give talks about mental illness. This is her calling and her true passion, even though she spends 40 hours a week, year-round befriending the homeless and meeting the people of her city.
But first, Laurie had to actually write her book, which much to my chagrin, she said is the hardest thing she’s ever done.
In her autobiography, I Am Laurie, she tells the personal stories of how her illness changed her life. As you can imagine, these are not all positive stories. From fighting with her sister-in-law to the death of her infant son, Laurie put her entire life on paper.
But in her first call with her editor, before she could even ask his opinion, he said this: “What did you leave out?”
She tiptoed around the hard stuff. She shared her stories with great vulnerability, but she dropped details and masked drama for the benefit of everyone else. She worried what everyone around her would think and she didn’t want to ruin relationships. She didn’t want to expose too much of herself.
With the powerful nudge of her editor, she expanded her first draft with more detail and more emotion and uncomfortable vulnerability.
Laurie doesn’t have an easy story to tell. Most people, myself included, aren’t particularly knowledgeable about mental illness. She could be called crazy or dramatic or seeking attention. Indeed, those are the words I fear being called when I write.
Regardless of everyone else’s opinions and regardless of how difficult writing her story was, she wrote it because it needed to be written. Months after publishing, she received an email from a woman she didn’t know, thanking her for her book. Without it, she, also suffering with bipolar disorder, planned to take her life.
If you keep your experiences in life locked away in your heart and in your head, you do the world a terrible disservice. Everyone has a story. It took nearly three hours of walking around with Laurie talking about her town and how she ran a marathon last week in 4 hours, 1 minute, and 13 seconds before I heard this part of her story. If she had never written her book, she would just be that nice woman I met once in Montana. She is more. You are more. I am more.