BABY Reindeer is the nickname given to Donny, lead character of the Netflix sensation of the same name, by his stalker, Martha. Soft, frightened, vulnerable, unsteady.

These are the words the name brings to mind, and which encapsulate Richard Gadd’s performance of this fictionalised version himself. created for our TV screens. It’s not always a flattering depiction, and it’s all the more resonant for it.

Offering an unflinching insight into the effects of sexual violence, stalking, and mental ill health, Baby Reindeer is a powerful piece of art — but at what cost?

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Most of us will never touch the kind of public attention Gadd is now facing with regards to the most intimate and shattering details of his life and, indeed, his very psyche.

However, his example is illustrative of both the potential and the risk that can come with sharing your personal experiences on the public stage, be that on social media, in the news, at a public policy event, or in an international streaming smash.

In the three weeks since the release of the seven-episode series, written by and starring Fife comic Gadd, it has reached the coveted “most watched” spot on Netflix in the UK and the US, gained critical acclaim – and attracted controversy after some viewers took it upon themselves to investigate in the hopes of identifying the real identities of the stalker and rapist portrayed on screen.

Billed as “a true story” from Gadd’s life, curiosity was piqued from the outset about the facts behind this sort-of-fiction, and without too much trouble it seems that fans and tabloid reporters have managed to track down a woman who claims to have inspired the character of “Martha”, and is now threatening to sue Netflix.

Meanwhile, others incorrectly identified a TV writer as Gadd’s abuser, forcing the comic to speak out to clear the man’s name and prompting the man in question to involve police after threats were made against him.

You could hardly make it up, but truth is stranger than fiction, and perhaps that’s exactly why audiences devour stories like Baby Reindeer and pick at their bones for days.

The era of “true crime” has brought with it some troubling questions about where the line is drawn between informing and entertaining, between concern and voyeurism.

Stranger still is that nothing about Gadd’s creation is a “mystery” to unpack. Instead, it lays everything bare about his experiences, his trauma, and his mistakes. But therein lies the contradiction of confessions – the more you reveal, the more other people feel entitled to know.

There is, of course, a great power that can come from telling your story. Whether in a fictionalised format, or in a documentary, news feature, or Twitter thread, being open about traumatic experiences can help to lift the social taboo on discussing these topics.

It can offer a light at the end of the tunnel, a message – “you are not alone” – to those who have faced similar challenges. And it can plant the seeds of understanding and even empathy among those who haven’t.

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Gadd’s series has certainly pushed the issue of stalking, particularly against men, into the spotlight, and many male victims of sexual violence have been moved by how “Donny’s” experience and its reverberations chimed with their own.

At the heart of this “true story” though, are real people, and the impacts of all of this for them are unlikely to be so straightforward.

In a few weeks’ time, the headlines will move on, and most people will forget all about the night they spent binge-watching Baby Reindeer. But Richard Gadd won’t forget. Not the true events behind his work, nor the reactions to it – the good, the bad, and the downright weird. His cast of “characters”, too, will likely hold onto the memories long after the series drops off Netflix’s “trending now” list forever.

IF that sounds like a daunting prospect, it might be worth asking ourselves whether due consideration is given, in the many more everyday instances where people choose – or are asked – to share vulnerable parts of themselves and their pasts, to the costs and benefits of doing so.

Gadd is by no means the only one opening his wounds for public inspection in the name of connecting, raising awareness, understanding oneself better – or maybe, just maybe, doing something that makes it all worth it. That’s an incredibly human impulse, and it’s not always one that’s wrong, but it’s also not always right – and in a culture which increasingly demands and expects this from people, it’s worth remembering that both of these things can be true.

Darren McGarvey, author of the best-selling book Poverty Safari, which combined explorations of some of his own traumatic experiences growing up alongside incisive social commentary, is currently working on a new book and an upcoming Fringe show on what he calls “the trauma industrial complex”.

In a podcast on the topic, McGarvey explains his concerns about what he calls “catharsis culture”, in which people – usually those who have “lived experience” of multiple traumas – “are encouraged to almost commodify, in a sense, painful experiences that have happened in our lives”, with insufficient regard to whether this will help or harm them in their recovery.

Watching Baby Reindeer and seeing Gadd literally re-enact some of the worst moments of his life, it was difficult not to wonder whether he and everyone involved in the series had made sure this process – and the public consumption of it – was something he had the support and the resilience to contend with.

In the most difficult episode of the series, Donny reflects on how he struggled to make sense of his sexual assault through anonymous, reckless sexual encounters.

His hope, narrated by Gadd over a montage of glimpses of his character in the midst of various sex acts, was that “if I’m passed around like a whore, I might at least shed this idea that my body is part of me somehow”.

This struck me as a profound way of expressing something that many people in similar circumstances have surely felt. Yet, on some level, isn’t the excruciating honesty of all of this another iteration of the same pattern?

The notion that if we speak our truth loudly and frequently enough, the emotion behind the words will be rendered meaningless, and our personal suffering might be severed from ourselves and belong, instead, to the world?

None of this is to say that people should stop sharing, that artists should stop creating, that journalists should stop asking questions, that charities looking to shine a light on the systemic issues their service users are facing should stop providing the platform through which people can speak out about their truths.

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All of these can and should be vehicles for change, and for healing. That has certainly been my hope when I have asked people to share their experiences, or shared my own.

Instead, I mean this as an invitation for all of us to engage in a meaningful conversation on the messy subject of when sharing becomes oversharing, and in whose interests it is being done or requested.

If there is one “lesson” I have taken from Baby Reindeer, it is that we must remain acutely aware of all of the complications, risks and contradictions inherent in revealing the darkest parts of our lives and ourselves in search of light.