“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength”- Criss Jami
Those who know me well know that I talk a lot but I find speaking from the heart, really talking honestly about my fears and problems, very difficult, as a lot of people will understand and share. I hide behind my jokes, my subtleties and my not so subtleties. My family, close in our own way, are often all speaking at once, each engaged in our own conversations and listening to no one else. I chose to listen from a very young age. I listened to friends, listened to strangers on the bus, listened to everyone. I didn’t feel good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, or just enough enough to have my own opinion, to stand up for myself or just to talk about my own issues that troubled me.
Silence is what allows shame to fester and grow. As I entered my twenties, I became very depressed, buckling under the façade I’d created for self-protection. Nobody knew how I was feeling and I did a very good job of pretending that everything was ok. I had a great set of friends, good job and was in college. Things were ok, but I wasn’t at all, really. The first person I confided in walked away, no interest in what I had to say. I tried to explain to other friends how I was feeling, and they listened, but were ill equipped with what to do with the information. I kept afloat with their enduring friendship, but also kept silent about my real feelings. I became very good at being the person I thought others wanted me to be, rather than just being myself. I threw most of my efforts into work and finishing my degree, which I achieved despite many missed lectures due to days where I couldn’t drag myself out of bed, amid tears and suicidal thoughts.
Eventually, enough was enough. After I graduated college, I began to experience panic attacks, which I feared daily. Going to public places were wrought with anxiety. I cancelled so many nights out and events with friends, as I couldn’t leave the house at times. I felt guilty for stretching myself too thin between everyone, and guilty for letting everyone down. Getting the bus was a huge feat at times and learning how to drive was a sheer test in my resilience. After a huge panic attack in my car, where I nearly crashed and then sat on the side of the road, hyperventilating, I knew it was time to do something. I sat in front of a doctor, sobbing uncontrollably and she prescribed me antidepressants and an antipsychotic (!) drug for when the panic struck. It wasn’t enough.
The week of my 25th birthday, I treated myself to my first counselling session. Talk about a pity party! I smoked outside the building nervously, and gave a short, dark haired woman a light. I didn’t know she was the woman I was about to sit in front of and cry for 50 minutes with. Once I started talking to her, I couldn’t stop. I outpoured years worth of memories to her, things I thought never bothered me. I cried for the remainder of the session, left with my head down and my face streaked, and vowed never to go back. It was too difficult, I decided. I was better off behind the wall I’d grown to protect myself, despite the fact I was attacking from within.
A month or so later, I decided it was worth another try. I contacted another therapist and began my journey in therapy. It was difficult. My therapist, gentle and considerate, stayed silent when I resisted, prompting me to fill the void. It was a learning experience in many ways, but fundamentally, I learned how to talk for the first time, uncensored and unabashedly. I was listened to and felt understood. For one hour a week, I could say anything without fear. It poured out into what I call, the real world, too. I finally began to stand up for myself and speak out, hesitantly at first.
It ebbs and flows. When I have bad days or weeks, my first instinct is to retreat into myself and withdraw from the world. Sometimes this is a good thing, but I find it more beneficial to just talk it out with someone. I have created, over the years, a network of people with whom I can talk with. My friendships have grown in strength, and my new friendships are based on congruence and trust. I’m no longer afraid to talk about my experience with depression, or my feelings as they are in the present, or the worries of my future. It’s a constant learning process and I am constantly testing myself and challenging myself. Where I can’t talk, I’ll send that difficult email or text; not ideal, but it’s still words. The worst responses I could ever imagine receiving, I have only ever heard from myself.
I write this article, not because I have conquered my fear of talking about my vulnerabilities, but because it still sits beside me on a daily basis like that person on the bus you hoped would sit somewhere else. On my first day in my Diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling class I wrote, anonymously, that I was terrified of speaking about myself in front of the group for fear of being judged or that my experiences, issues and fears would not be taken seriously. I was not the only one in my class with that fear. I still see a therapist on a regular basis, as it is a course requirement, but I would still see her even if I were not studying the subject. My friend Roisin calls it “The Chats” and we believe that EVERYONE can benefit from them. It’s never a bad thing to have someone around that always has your back. It’s expensive but for me, it’s worth every penny.
Give it a try. It doesn’t matter if you think others have more important things going on, or bigger fish to fry; if it’s worrying you, or important to you, then say it. Find someone whom you can trust and share what’s on your mind. Ring the Samaritans or email Aware, contact Pieta House, or the countless other organisations that offer support and information. Talk to your GP. Counselling services are out there, and they are not just for those who have been bereaved, or have experienced a significant trauma. It’s good to talk, those BT adverts have told us, but you have to listen too- to anyone who chooses to confide in you and to yourself too. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you aren’t enough and don’t be afraid to talk, be more afraid of staying quiet.
– Ana Reynolds