Tina’s Story

At a PostSecret Live! event, like this one, Tina walked up to a microphone and bravely shared her secret. She said. . .

“I wrote my secret about my eating disorder on a postcard and mailed it to you but you never posted it up on the website or put it in any PostSecret books. I decided I needed to action on my secret myself. So I made this shirt that I’m wearing right now.”

At that moment, most everyone there turned back to see Tina and the shirt she was wearing. Tina described the hand-drawn letters on her shirt.

“The front of the shirt says, ‘20% will die from their anorexia’ and on the back I’ve listed some of the symptoms of eating disorders”.

“I decided I needed to wear this shirt to school to ‘out’ myself but Monday morning, after I put it on, my knees started shaking. I became terrified as I imagined what my classmates would think and I worried about how my professors would react.”

“Somehow I found the strength to keep the shirt on and made myself march straight into class exposing my secret. I was shocked by what happened next. Not only did my friends and professor support me but they asked me to make more shirts so they could wear them too. So now I make these shirts – and I wanted you to have one.”

Tina was one brave girl who found a creative way to share her secret in a way that brought awareness and healing to her and her community. I wonder if Tina knows that the transformative story she told over ten years ago continues to inspire others to free their secrets today.

What Is The Ultimate Secret?

When I pulled the perfect secret from my mailbox and looked at it, I didn’t understand, it because it had no words.

It didn’t appeal to me immediately because it lacked any confession that I could see. The secrets that do make the biggest impression on me are probably not what most people would expect. They can be funny and sad at the same time; they can be hopeful or reflect my own dark sense of humor. Here are three I’ll never forget.

“I steal small things from my friends to keep memories of how much I love them,” mailed on a photograph of a photograph.

“I WANT TO BE A SUPERHERO! I would use my power to take away your pain,” written in red next to a woman in an action pose.

“I hope your stupid wrapping paper collection catches fire and burns down your house,” written on a postcard wrapped in Christmas paper.

The perfect secret was not mailed to me on a postcard. It arrived as a rolled-up painting canvas, but that in itself did not make it very unusual. Even though I ask people to mail me anonymous confessions on postcards, regularly, creative people send me more like personal possessions with secret written directly on them. Among the postcards, secrets have arrived on a mask, bra, flip-flop, watch, purse, and shirt. They’ve also been mailed on seashells, naked Polaroid pictures, a Utah license plate, certificates of birth and death, a sonogram, even an uncooked Idaho potato with my home address and postage right on the skin. (The Post Office calls this, “naked mail”).

The painting of the young man and woman didn’t seem that meaningful to me the first time I unrolled the canvas. For me the most meaningful secrets come from strangers yet reveal secrets that we can see in ourselves. Maybe you have come across one of your secrets written in another person’s handwriting. Or perhaps you felt less alone when you saw a postcard you mailed on Sunday.

I have had that experience. Looking back from a pyramid of postcards now taller than me, I can more clearly see some of the reasons I started PostSecret. I used to tell people I began collecting secrets because I had a boring job. That was partially true, but there was a deeper reason driving me, one I was unaware of at the time. I was building a safe community where anyone could reveal private truths because I needed to join and unburden myself.

As months passed, I began to understand the perfect secret as being more than likable or meaningful- it was transcendent. It was a painting showing trust, vulnerability, and courage- a place where secrets lose their power over us. It’s something I can feel at PostSecret Live! events when audience members courageously transform their secrets from walls to bridges, not anonymously but publicly. I saw it in the PostSecret app and heard it as a volunteer on Hopeline. It’s an idea I see in some of the private emails people send me, like these two:

“Frank, I made a PostSecret postcard with a drawing of my fiancé asleep and a message about changing the alarm to spend more time with her. She found it before I could mail it to you and now we spend more time together while awake too. Thanks.”

“Dear Frank, I am going to buy a piñata and invite my friends to put their secrets in anonymously. Then we can blindfold each other, beat the shit out of it, watch our secrets rain down, and read them like candy.”

For me the ultimate secret is this simple wordless painting expressing that sacred place where secrets are never born between people or within our hearts.

My Unforgettable Suicide Prevention Hotline Call

Before PostSecret, I was a volunteer on a national suicide prevention hotline called, Hopeline.

One Hopeline call I’ll never forget began deep in the night with a polite conversation between a young woman and me.

The early part of the call sounds like the friendly back and forth that happens during a first date.

We develop a strong rapport.

She tells me she is hurting after a recent betrayal from a friend and feels alone.

I listen.

That’s the most important thing we learned during Hopeline training:
don’t judge,
don’t try to be a problem solver.
Create a safe space where a person can feel free to say anything,
Speak with a voice of compassion, and listen.

Then she tells me, like she’s whispering it in my ear,

“I’ve been thinking about killing myself.”

Do you have a specific plan, I ask.

“Yes,” she says.

I hear her walking around her apartment.

She tells me she’s not drinking or taking meds, but her words are slurring.

Suddenly, I hear a loud thud.

I ask her about it.

She tells me she just slammed her sliding glass door shut and now she’s on her balcony, sitting on the ledge.

“How many floors up are you?”

“Seven.”

I try to keep my voice calm and reassuring,
but my vocal cords are tightening and my pulse is racing.

“Will you promise me you won’t take your life tonight?”

She doesn’t answer the question.

I write down a request for my hotline partner to call our shift supervisor and 911.

Minutes pass, and I feel like we’re making progress when suddenly she sounds scared and angry–someone’s pounding on her front door

I tell her it’s probably the police.

“I sent them to help you. Is that okay?”

She stops talking to me.

I feel like I’ve betrayed her and lost her trust,
like I’ve lost her.

My partner is in direct contact with the police, and tells me that because she isn’t opening the door, the police are going to force their way into her apartment.

I tell her what’s about to happen.

I hear them pounding . . .

I hear her sobbing . . .

I hear muffled voices that I can’t understand.

My hotline partner hands me a note that reads;

The police are in the apartment looking through a locked sliding glass door at the girl sitting on the ledge.
She’s jammed the door from the outside.
Get her to open it!

I can no longer hear anyone on the line but I start talking on faith.

“I can feel the ledge you’re sitting on because I’ve been there too.
I understand why you don’t want to unlock the door.”

I tell her about the insomnia that pushed me to plan my death.
I describe how hard it was to open up to a psychiatrist and share my secret.
I explain how I was able to find my way through the pain.
And that talking to her, right now is, part of my healing.

I tell her, “you’re saving me.”

I ask her to stand up off the ledge, and as I say it I feel myself standing up from my chair.

My partner relays the information from the police that the girl is standing too, facing them, and walking back to the glass door.

A PostSecret Christmas Story

—email—
To the person who feels horrible for telling their child there is no Santa. My son just wrote Santa last night asking for that special present. And I didn’t have the heart to tell him that “Santa’s” back injury has kept her from waiting tables these past two weeks, and with no child support check these past 7 months, all the other bills are adding up too. And the local charity is saying the application deadline is past, and they can’t guarantee anything specific.
What’s my secret?
I wish Santa Claus was real, so on Christmas, no child would have to go without, and no parent would have to feel like they failed their child.
-Amber

—email—
Hey PostSecret,
I just read the response the woman wrote about not being able to get the “special present” for her son. I know I can’t do this for every child out there, but if you’d tell her that there’s someone out there willing to try and buy their son that gift, then I’d appreciate it very much. I’d have to know what the gift is. I’m a college student with a limited budget, but I don’t want her to feel like a failure for having an injury. It would be a lovely Christmas present for me if I were able to put a smile on the faces of two strangers on Christmas morning.
-Molly

—email—
Hi Amber,
If you set up a PayPal account, I’ll contribute to it, and invite others to also.
-Frank

—email—
Dear Frank,
First off let me tell you how thankful I am to you
and your wonderful offer. I was not in any way expecting any sort of help. I just wanted to let this person know that they’re not alone. I did set up a PayPal account under this email address.
Gratefully yours,
-Amber

—email—
Hi Amber,
Thanks for providing us with a way to help you give your son the Christmas all children deserve. I just made a contribution for you and expect that you might get a few more from other PostSecret visitors.
Happy Holidays,

-Frank

—email—
Hey Molly,
Check the website again. You can help,
-Frank

—email—
Dear PostSecret,
I made a donation, and I was surprised at how good it felt. You don’t have to be a millionaire to feel the joy of being generous.
-Molly

—email—
Frank,
Santa Claus is real,
and alive and well. He lives in you and others like you all over the world. I’m overwhelmed by the love and generosity strangers have shown my family today. I never would have imagined it would get as large a response in such little time as it has. Not only will I be able to afford the present he asked for, but clothes and other necessities I’ve been putting off. I’ve got what I need, so please remove my PayPal account from PostSecret, and I urge anyone who wants to help someone in need to get in touch with their local charities.
Thank you for making my wish come true,
-Amber