I was filming an interview a few days back and a questions was posed about the tension between divulging personal struggles and maintaining an image as a public person. Did I ever feel pressure to present a “pasteurized” version of myself?
I rather loved that notion of personality pasteurization – a “process of partial sterilization making the product safe for consumption and improving its keeping quality.” What a perfect description.
What does it mean for any of us to be “safe for consumption”? That we fit a certain mold, that we maintain a sense of decorum, that we keep the more complex and controversial elements of ourselves out of the public eye?
And what do we mean when we talk about safety? Avoiding any possibility of offense? Negating challenging emotions? Keeping ourselves contained so we don’t spill over into someone else’s psychic space?
For many years it was difficult for me to discuss my mental health challenges. To be fair, part of that was because I was often too far into depression to be able to have any sort of objective view of myself. But a lot of it hinged around wanting to appear strong and controlled. Depression felt like a weakness, a flaw.
Although it took me longer than I would have liked, in the last few years I’ve fully accept that acknowledging every part of myself – even those parts that felt challenging, fragile, less than perfect – was critical in feeling like a complete, integrated human being. The shift was in approaching everything with neutrality, of not attaching any judgment or value. Mental illness is not a failing on my part, simply a reality, something that exists in me, something that I live with, something with which I’ve made my peace.
And so it’s become very straightforward for me to discuss the inner workings of my mind, in all of its intricacy. It doesn’t make me better or worse, or stronger or weaker. Instead, it’s utterly liberating, and I can’t recommend it enough. So my invitation for you today: dare to be unpasteurized.