Extraordinary People

Why secrets can harm you: Meet the woman helping you accept your past

Helen Garlick reveals the impact of a home shrouded by secrecy

Ssh! Have you ever kept secret? Then you will know the burden it can bring as it weighs down upon you and feeds your guilt or shame of keeping it to yourself.

One woman who knows the gravity of this, is Helen Garlick, who grew up in a home where her brother David’s suicide and true nature of her mother Monica’s sexuality were kept hidden.

In fact, David’s death was considered so taboo that their father Geoffrey fought to have the verdict of suicide overturned and chose to believe he had been killed by an intruder or in an accident.

Meanwhile, only after her mother died in December 2017 did Helen find some scribblings on the back of an old envelope about her having been ‘afflicted’. It transpired that during 59 years of marriage, she was actually a lesbian and took her affair with a long-time family friend to her grave.

[Credit: Helen Garlick]

Now, Helen is putting secrets under the microscope to show how they can destroy people, having left her job in law to write her memoir in which she illustrates the power of talking.

Speaking exclusively to Uspire, Helen opened up about her book No Place to Lie and how sharing her past has been “illuminating, liberating, invigorating and healing”.

Helen said: “There is a family story that when I was three-years-old, my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I replied, ‘A writer’.

“Mum told me that I couldn’t be a writer because they don’t make any money, so first I had to be a solicitor like my father. Duly programmed, I did just that.

“I was a family lawyer and mediator for 35 years, specialising in talking solutions: mediation, collaborative law and negotiation and training others in these subjects too.”

However, her innate desire to write never went away and Helen says that writing her autobiography has allowed her to see the past differently now, with clearer eyes.

She added: “As the saying goes, the truth sets you free. There can be a superficially seductive power in secrets, though my lived experience is that holding secrets is corrosive. The body holds the score, keeping secrets very often takes its toll on your physical as well as mental health.”

[Credit: Helen Garlick]

Research shows that secrecy increases anxiety and depression, and can also impact focus and decision-making as people remain distracted by what is a 24/7 job at hiding their true self.

Helen says growing up in the shadows of truth was partly generational, with her mother born into ’the silent generation’ in 1931 when children were seen and not heard.

However, while society has come a long way from that belief, Helen feels there is still a taboo when it comes to talking about suicide and what happened to her late brother.

She explained: “There’s an underlying fear that if you talk about it, someone else is more likely to take their life too.

“Yet if you talk about the tragic and devastating consequences and also, so importantly, about how people can get help and that it’s okay to ask for help and talk about suicidal ideation, that is vital.

“We can evolve to talk more by talking more, courageously, being willing to be vulnerable and share our stories in a safe space to someone who will listen empathetically.”

Practicing what she preaches, Helen has recently launched Hello! It’s Better To Talk – her YouTube channel exploring tips and narratives about healthy communication.

Following her path to truth, Helen also quit alcohol, crediting the benefits as “tremendous”.

[Credit: Helen Garlick]

She said: “Writing the book really brought it home to me, the links between alcohol and trauma in my family, and how I wanted to break the cycle.

“My mum gave up alcohol in her 70s and my relationship with her improved as a direct result. My father never did give it up until he ended up being hospitalised and went into, in effect, cold turkey. He had a form of dementia caused by drinking.

“After I had breast cancer in 2016, and my first husband, the father of my children, died in the same year, the stakes for me became so much higher to live well and be my best self.

“I decided in January 2020 to give up. I now consider it to be my super power. Rather than thinking where the next glass of wine will be coming from, I am present.”

For a woman who has been through so much, you might wonder what motivates Helen to keep going and what coping mechanisms she taps into to preserve her own wellbeing.

And she always comes back to the magic of talking.

[Credit: Helen Garlick]

Helen explained: “I know now it is better to talk about the stuff that matters rather than hold it all inside, even though I sometimes need to remind myself of that as I still have a default mode of wanting to hide under the willow tree where I ‘disappeared’ as a child into my secret space.

“Talking is the healer, finding a safe space to talk and be listened to, to share our stories, is alchemy.

“Walking is also immensely important to me, especially in ancient woodland and fields where I feel I reconnect to the planet and my body. I always feel better after a walk.

“I am lucky to be in a loving relationship, being closely connected to someone who loves you unconditionally is such a blessing. Connection and communication are deep human needs, we need them to survive and thrive.”

Having met Princess Diana at an event in the 90s, this galvanises Helen to live a better life too.

Helen concluded: “In all honesty, meeting Princess Diana was like meeting a goddess, she shone. I don’t think I have ever met anyone else quite so radiant.

“I feel she still has a huge amount to teach us about communication, listening, having fun and connecting with others. I keep a picture of our meeting on my desk, she is a constant inspiration.”

To grab a copy of the book, click here: No Place To Lie.

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