When Your Words Matter

A week ago, I got an email inviting me to be a Book in Global Engagement Summit’s Living Library. I was flattered, but honestly, a little confused. The premise of this event was that people would come and check me out from the library because they thought the premise of my “Book” was interesting – but I’m not interesting, am I? What do I have to say that is valuable enough to share with a group of people whose influence stretches across the globe?

I expected to sit in my chair undisturbed for two hours. After all, the other “Books” in the library had far better stories to tell. They had made documentaries in foreign countries or been the first in their families to go to college. Nobody would want to waste their time talking to me.

I was wrong, though. Plenty of people took the seat opposite me for a ten or fifteen-minute period. Yes, a couple of them stumbled my way by accident, thinking I was somebody else, and many of them probably stopped by because all the other Books were occupied. But that didn’t matter in the end. Regardless of how they came my way, they did. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past couple of years, it’s that every accident is a wonderful blessing.

Do you know how many people I’ve spoken to, out loud, about my experiences with writing and blogging and recovering from the disorder that has torn my life apart? Not very many. I think it showed. My 1-2 minute opening “spiel” was awkward, erratic, and probably not very much fun to listen to. I felt the people across from me flinch as I said the words “eating disorder” out loud – perhaps I shouldn’t have led with such a jarring phrase. The second it left my mouth, I regretted it. “This was a mistake,” I thought. “This is personal. I shouldn’t be sharing this with the world.”

Should I?

The first person I talked to seemed rather startled by what I had to say. “Oh…” she trailed off as I waited expectantly for her reply. It took her a second to figure out how to respond. “Oh. Wow.” Not the worst response I could have gotten, but not exactly the one I was hoping for, either.

The second person I talked to laughed nervously when I told her what my Book title was. “Um, whoa.” At least the conversation moved a little bit from there. “That’s amazing. I can’t imagine going through something like that.”

I got better at talking the more I talked. By the time the coordinator sat down and said, “got time for one more conversation?” I was an expert in my own subject. Words started pouring out of me, words that I didn’t even know were true. “I have an eating disorder,” I said boldly. “And I was given this shitty, God-awful experience for a reason – so that I could share it.”

There are moments when I surprise even myself. That was one of them. Until that moment, I don’t think I fully processed that my voice, my blog, my writing…had saved my life. I don’t think I’d ever realized how much I owed Little Growing Pains, the brainchild that became the life source. I learned that I had a story, a story worth telling, a story that had the capacity to change other people’s lives as well as my own. I learned that everything I’d written was worth more than I ever could have dreamed.

I walked out of the Library that day prouder than I can ever remember being. There’s nothing quite like knowing how much your words matter.



  1. How brave of you to do such a thing! Even though we don’t know each other that well (yet) I’m proud of you for doing this. And I’m glad it was such a good experience in the end!
    Also, that’s quite an interesting project by the way, a living library. Never heard of that before!

    1. It was amazing! I really liked the idea of the living library. There were so many cool people that were a part of it – I kinda wished I could have checked some of them out!

  2. What an exciting idea – a living library. I love it! I can completely relate to the difficulty in explaining what your story is and getting that look back. It certainly does take practice to not scare someone off with a difficult subject. Good for your for putting yourself out there!!

    1. Thanks, Michelle! I think everyone should have the experience of going through a living library. Blogging library? Hm…there’s an idea.

  3. I’ve never heard of the people-as-books concept. You definitely have an important story to tell. I’m glad it was a good experience for you!

  4. Very brave of you to share your situation. I’m a wretched public speaker so I feel your pain trying to do that.
    So many girls and woman that I know fight eating disorders; it’s so heart breaking; it’s awesome that you are writing a book about what you went through and I hope to read it!

    1. Thanks! I don’t know about a book, but I’ll definitely keep going with this blog. And public speaking gives me the willies. *shudders* I just want to write it down and make someone else read it, is that too much to ask?

  5. Gwen, you have to give yourself more credit. Even though you are young you know what you want from your life, at least for now. I think I would be interested to read your “Book” You have an engaging style.

  6. Gwen – brava for speaking your truth out loud, to strangers — in person — no less. So much harder to do than to write and post on our blogs. Also – what a cool idea is this for a library? I’d love to organize it in my town.

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