For as long as I can remember, my thoughts have been trapped in my head. An ineffectual communicator, I always listened to others and took to heart the words they said. I never responded. I was silent.
Childhood for me was silence. I never exposed a pure thought or emotion that I was feeling. I could not find the courage, or the right words to say what I felt. As a young adult, I found myself plopped in the middle of the high stakes world of the international fashion scene. My words were a mirage. I released brilliant one-liners. Considered wildly out of control, the persona I presented was an in your face, Go f*ck yourself if you don’t like it bad girl.
It was all made up. It was a mask. It was my costume. I cared deeply about what others thought of me. I took to heart their criticisms. I believed them when they said that my opinion did not matter.
When it all became too much, I went silent again. I decided to hide, in broad daylight. My mind raged on. Feelings of wonder, hurt, confusion and lust hidden behind my clear, blue eyes. I became what was considered a cold-hearted bitch. Yes, it is true. People, some of whom I cared deeply for, actually said that to me.
What nobody understood was that I always hated my thoughts and my words. Because it always seemed to me that I could never deliver them in what was considered an acceptable way. To make matters worse, the words I chose to articulate my thoughts did not express what I was trying to convey. Filled with anxiety of exposure, I could not share my ideas without worrying about how they might be perceived.
I have lived many lives. I have lived in many countries. I have met many different types of people. The people who always resonated with me were the ones brave enough to let it rip. Even if I was the recipient of a convoluted barb, that cut me to the core, I always thought the messenger was brave. Brave, because they owned their truth. Brave, because they did not give a damn. Brave, because they said what they were feeling.
Holding onto my thoughts and my words with an iron fist has only brought me pain and groomed the demon of depression that has sat by my side every day of my life. My demon likes to tell me things. What this demon has to say is painful—taunting, tricking and blinding me. I swear this demon is trying to kill me. This demon of mine scares the shit out of me. I hate him. He … yes, he is a he. He makes me nervous. He makes me want to give up on myself. He makes me want to stay silent. My intellect knows better. Intellectually, I know that this demon is a figment of my overactive imagination, as well as my predisposition. My mind tells me to run from him.
Run fast, run far, just R U N.
Despite what my public face displays, my emotions run deep. The love that I feel is painful. Hearts that I have broken and people that I have let down haunt me. I have made many mistakes. All of those mistakes were born because of my faulty communication skills. The voice that I choked off, the one that never would squeak out that should have made an appearance. So many times, it should have spoken up and out.
Having the courage to say, “I won’t accept being treated like this or spoken to in this way” an abnormal reflex for me. My default position is to take the easy way out. Throw in the towel, raise the white flag and accept blame and the labels that others like to bestow on me. I am the first to say you are right, or I am sorry even if I don’t agree or feel the slightest bit of sorrow. I do that because of my past, because of the mistakes and my bag of guilt. It seems to be the best solution, the path of least resistance. Say sorry and then stay silent and hide my truth.
Words are weapons that have cut me thousands of times; I take other’s words as truth. I give other’s thoughts more validity than my own. When that happens, my inner demon gets stronger.
I prefer to quote some verbose prose or lyric that expresses what my heart feels. But when I try to use my words, they are lost in translation. Their meaning misconstrued, my tongue twisted in knots, and I give up. I hate the fact that I still can’t say what my heart is screaming the right way, in a way where the listener will receive my message loud and clear. Being scared to offend, too weak to fight, and utterly confounded I consistently curl up in a ball and try to protect my vulnerable heart. Isolating myself from my truth only makes the pull of that demon of depression more determined to take over.
Isolation, disconnection and not being able to express inner feelings is not my problem alone. There are 40 million Americans over the age of 18 that have one or more mental health symptoms. Roughly 80% of all health issues are exasperated by holding in and on to our feelings. Without release, we can become debilitated by depression, stressed out and even up the odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The art of effective communication is a skill that we are not born with. Being cut off from our emotions and thoughts, being rendered voiceless in most cases means at some point in our childhood we were stunted.
We were programmed by our caregivers to stop responding to our feelings. Being told to “stop crying” or to “get over it” by a well-meaning (but oh so wrong) teacher, or family member, taught us to cut the communication lines between our mind and heart. As adults, we grapple to find those unintentionally lost, core feelings. We may be verbally mute, but we did learn some stealth survival skills. The lack of connection to our inner and outer world has enabled us to cope during difficult times with family members, friends, peers and those that are in authority. Sadly, those coping skills usher in a whole range of dysfunctional behavior that can lead to addiction, breakdowns, suicide attempts, and violence.
Let’s face it the risks of exposure are great. By being vulnerable and letting go of our feelings and thoughts, we run the risk of experiencing one or all of the following side effects:
Conflict: What you have to say might trigger an argument. Who wants to fight?
Being perceived as irrational: Anger, jealousy, anxiety and the rest of the messy, emotional gang will only make those who you love reject you. Right?
Disapproval: Isolated to begin with, why on earth would you express your feelings and risk not meeting the expectations of others?
Sometimes we prefer to play one of these stereotypical roles:
Hanging on to Hopelessness: Time and time again, you have perceived that your actions have not improved your station in life or your relationship. To hell with it. Self-fulfilling your predicted prophecy is easier than breaking out of the chains that bind you.
Lacking self-esteem: Why? Because you choose to value other people’s feelings above your own.
Being a martyr: Yes, you do like to be a martyr. If you did not, you would express your sense of hurt and resentment, up front, in vivid color.
How can I, How can you change this tedious and dangerous pattern of behavior?
Recently, I came across a passage written by Dr. Brené Brown. It was about how courage comes from being authentically vulnerable. Courage. I would not mind having some of that. As far as being vulnerable is concerned, I consider myself a mascot.
Vulnerable: Capable of or susceptible to being hurt. Open to moral attack, criticism or temptation. Open to assault.
How, I wondered is being a walking target, actually an act of courage?
Courage: The quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain without fear.
“To feel is to be vulnerable.” – Dr. Brené Brown
The wheels in my mind switched gears after I read those words, and I started walking down a different path, a verbal one. So what if I wear my heart on my sleeve? I actually tapped into the core of what it is to have a meaningful, human experience. I have decided that it is time to release my capricious, provocative thoughts and emotions.
Yes, I am flawed. I am complicated, confused, prone to fantasy, up one day and down another. But most importantly, I am full of feeling. I am a work in progress. An awkward geek of a human that is just learning how to be. Most people are doing the same. It ‘s hard, painful, and embarrassing but it’s also utterly liberating to just let go, open your heart and embrace vulnerability. By owning up and embracing my vulnerability and releasing my truth, even if the words might not be quite right, I am courageous. This newfound liberation has surprised me. My voice no longer squeaks, sometimes it is a roar. I am still working on expressing myself in an efficient manner, and the benefits have already shown themselves. My demon is at bay. My chest no longer is tight, and I do believe I have gained an inch in stature. The more adroit I become at conveying my thoughts and feelings, the healthier I will be. The same can be said about you if you choose to be vulnerable, courageous and speak your truth.
Dr. Brené Brown most likely will never know this, but her words not only changed my life, but they also made my life worth living.
Like the sea, life is turbulent, calm, soothing, beautiful and dangerous all at once. I have finally found the courage to take the plunge, without fear or donning my life vest of silence.
I speak up, speak out, and I don’t get discouraged. It is hard, sometimes frustrating, but it is worth the effort. When I show up and give a voice to my feelings, I become free.
“… I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.” —Dr. Brené Brown