On living inside and outside lives: why I listen to podcasts

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately.

Mostly, these are not podcasts for learning, or developing a new skill. They’re podcasts featuring fictional or true stories. I have heard stories that suck me in and sometimes leave me emotionally affected for days afterwards. Stories are great for helping you to learn about people’s inside lives. They take what we believe about ourselves and others and begin to poke little holes in them.

I have always believed in the power of a story to change opinions and ideas. More than that, I believe in the power of a story to comfort, console, and make you feel like you’re not alone.

One of the worst things about feeling alone is the belief that you are not understood. That there is perhaps something inside of you that is fundamentally impossible to understand. If you are not a words person, this can be particularly punitive. You cannot say what it is that you need someone else to understand.

Sometimes feeling alone is linked to an experience you feel someone cannot understand, or that is too terrible you hope they won’t. You don’t wish to burden someone else with the weight of your story, so you bear that weight alone. Perhaps they’re linked to shame, embarrassment, a feeling that you are different or strange or unlovable.

Maybe your friends just seem like they’ve got it all together and you feel like you should be there already, that they will judge you for not being there. Maybe you’ve been lying to or about yourself. Maybe you’re too scared of the truth. It’s possible you just feel like sometimes you’re too much.

You continue with your surface-level happy outside life, whilst your inside life is an unstable, a fickle friend at best. Sometimes your inside life takes over your outside life and you stay inside in bed and can’t go out until you reach an equilibrium.

Storytelling podcasts allow you to hear about the experiences of others, and oftentimes generate empathy for them. You hear about a person who has made the same mistakes you have, has been forgiven, or has gone on to thrive. You hear about flawed, regular people who live in the same crazy world that you do, and about the possibility of love or happiness or even just enjoying sadness for what it can teach you.

Storytelling is about empathy. Sometimes a story can allow this empathy to extend to yourself, the listener. The stories of others teach us that our inside and say ‘hey you, you’re normal, or at least normalish.’

It’s one of the reasons that I started the My First Time project six years ago. I wanted women to read the stories of others and feel like they were not alone. That there was someone out there who had gone through something similar and come out the other side. Someone whose inside life might feel a bit like your inside life. Listening to podcasts makes me remember that if we let down our guard, and tell our true stories, we can change our feelings about others and maybe about ourselves. Try it.