Thursday, May 30, 2013

#464: How Much is TMI?

TMI? Too Much Information? For someone with an exhibitionist streak as wide as mine, it's a more difficult call to make than it should be. How do you know when you've said too much? More importantly, how to install a filter that will keep those nuggets of TMI from escaping into the air or the blogsphere in the first place?

There are some easy cases. Does sharing the information violate a trust or an assumption of privacy? Is the information yours to share? Does it belong to you, or was it given to you in confidence. Even if it wasn't intended to be kept between you and the giver, is sharing it going to do harm to your relationship? My training partner might share something personal with me on a run, but  "My friend Julia says that running in cotton panties always make her crotch break out in a painful rash," is probably not something she intended to read about on my blog.

Another easy case: Is the information appropriate to the audience? A personal blog offers a lot of latitude. People come to FMR expecting to read about fitness, running, mental health, cancer, and the kind of sentimental jibbering that is sort of my specialty. I'm not sure where the line of inappropriate content might be here. We've covered a lot of ground together over the years. I hope most readers know that going in. And there is also the very important fact that it's easy to stop reading if you want to. Walking out on an after dinner speech or a eulogy at a funeral because you don't want to hear f-bombs or a the details of a recent colonoscopy could be tougher to do, and I think a speaker should take that into account.

There are times though, when the ice gets a little thinner. What if sharing something could harm your reputation? During my treatment for cancer, I could say just about anything. For one thing, people cut you a lot of slack when they think you might be dying. I once wrote a post about admiring women's bodies on my way to my daily radiation treatment that would be down-right creepy in any other context. Since I've starting writing about my mental health, I have to be more vigilant than ever about the shades of gray in this area. I might be having a bad mood swing one morning when I sit down to write, and people will think that I'm tumbling completely off the deep end toward suicide. I have invited my bosses at the Y to use these posts as a barometer of my ongoing healing, and that has backfired sometimes, too. I know that people worry about me because of many of the things they read here. I understand that. I worry some myself. I wonder if I would be better off if people knew a little bit less about my illness and my struggles.

There is one final case that springs to mind, and it is the only one that has lead me to actually censor myself by pulling down posts that I had previously published. There are times when information is true and important  and maybe even valuable, but sharing it is harmful to someone I love. If people judge me because of something I write here, that's their problem, and maybe mine. But if by sharing my own pain, I expose someone I love in a way that is humiliating or embarrassing or just unkind, than I have crossed a very important line. Though I don't think I have ever written anything here with the intention of hurting anyone, I know that people have been hurt. I don't mean they were insulted or offended. I mean, they were treated with disregard or disrespect. That has happened, and I regret it. I have taken the steps I felt were necessary to make amends, including pulling some posts off the blog.

A few days ago, I wrote about conversations I've been having about professional/personal boundaries. How much is TMI when the context is a professional relationship? One of my friends was a little upset by the things I said. She felt that my cancer story was in important part of who I am, and a very valuable way to let clients know that I understand their struggles from a point of view that is much like their own. I have to admit, it's something I'm still struggling with. When am I sharing to help make a client's training more effective, and when am I sharing in hopes that a stranger will trust and like me? I think that's as good a description of the boundary as any. But it's hard to recognize when I cross it sometimes.

I think it's a struggle that I'll continue to have: learning what's appropriate and what's TMI. It may be that only the experience of getting it wrong a few times will teach me how to get it right. In the meantime. I'll do my best to be as open and as honest as seems necessary at the time.

But you might have to wait for a while to read my illustrated guide to missing toenails. Sorry to disappoint.


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