Keeping secrets is too stressful

Columnist Claudette Sandecki searches for column topics without divulging family secrets

If you need something to be kept secret, please don’t share it with me.

I don’t want the responsibility of withholding sensitive information from anyone. I have trouble recalling if it was a blanket ban or who I was told not to tell the secret to.

Is the secret to be withheld from close family only? From certain acquaintances though not necessarily others?

Is there a cutoff time after which the secret can safely be shared far and wide with no harm to anyone? If so, do I have that date written down where I can refresh my memory of it? Fretting over the date would add stress.

Does your secret touch on a sensitive family situation, which if divulged to an inappropriate relative would heighten an already tense family conflict?

Perhaps employment could be jeopardized if the boss or a certain fellow employee were to learn the secret.

I particularly shun secrets concerning legal situations – buying and selling properties, divorces, wills, engagements, and financial deals of any description if telling anything to the wrong person could topsy turvy the desired outcome, lead to court proceedings, or years of animosity among siblings or other relatives.

There was a simpler time when fewer secrets came my way from fewer people with less touchy connections. My range of column topics was limitless.

Today I’m bombarded by secrets until drafting a column has me feeling like a spy trying to send a message in code.

When I began writing this column 28 years ago, I wrote on a typewriter. My husband delivered my copy to the newspaper’s office on his way to work.

Our family lived in Terrace. My siblings and other relatives lived in Saskatchewan or farther east.

They never saw the Terrace Standard. I could write on any topic from my own childhood antics to our individual growing families without them becoming aware.

As a rule, readers lived in Terrace. I recall being flabbergasted the day a Safeway shopper told me she’d read my column while visiting Quesnel.

How did that happen, I wondered. I figured someone in Quesnel had to be a Terrace Standard subscriber.

Today it’s not unusual to receive an occasional handwritten note or email from a reader elsewhere in Canada, and if my column is reprinted by a publication devoted to a lively controversy such as guns or defective cars, it’s possible to find comments from readers in the U.S. too.

When I upgraded to a computer with internet and submitted my column by email, suddenly my topic range telescoped.

Two brothers began reading each column as it became available. Word got out to other family members that I might be writing about them.

I had to be more selective about topics. Whenever the topic mentioned them or involved their share of my family history, I began asking them to read my copy for accuracy before I submitted it to the newspaper.

For years family had been after me to get out and meet new people, do new things.

All of which should inevitably offer a broad range of new topics.

So I tried that. What resulted was more private conversations, more divulged information, more secrets to keep.

In desperation, I’m thinking of choosing from one of those lists teachers hand out in September to their returning students with innocuous topics like “How I spent my summer vacation”. Or “A new sport I learned this summer”.

Or “Exciting sights I photographed while on a family trip”.

Even an object as mundane as a clothespin could inspire a column.