On What We Do Not Say

I was quiet, but I was not blind.

Jane Austen

Social media, for me, has been mostly a blessing. I started more than a decade ago posting photos of my children and updates for my family, but it quickly morphed into a tool used to reconnect with friends I’d lost touch with in the past. This included people from elementary, junior high, and high school, as well as college and coworkers along the way. I have rekindled relations with my best friend from college, whom I’d lost touch with for almost 2 decades, and also my freshman college roommate, with whom, because we’d been involved with the same man (different times!), I had unresolved issues that we resolved decades later to recapture our original closeness. Today, she’s one of my sounding boards whom I admire and love very much. I even found two aunts I hadn’t been in touch with for more than 3 decades. I’m in a few group chats: other parents, political discourse, and one with a mix of friends that usually is “just fun,” but occasionally slips into discussing more serious life matters. Last night, among our hilarity, the tone turned solemn as I told of some of my challenges at work. Things I usually do not say.

Even though today I feel I am open about many things, I’m not really that open about many things. Some experiences are so personal I keep them locked away, perhaps to be brought out and understood at another time, or perhaps hidden away for eternity. I usually try to be positive; for really, life can suck in so many ways, for us all, and I have spent so many years in the gray focusing on the bad that I neglected to see the beauty just beyond. Why stay in the rain when you can step into the sunshine? Last night though, the gates opened just a bit with my group of friends, and things I usually do not say tumbled out. The not so nice, not so easy things, the things that are tainted with the ugliness that we each encounter in life in various grades. I conveyed some of my experiences as a woman at work in a field that’s dominated by men. Things I usually try to brush off when they happen, for are they that bad? In comparison to things that could happen? The things I know happen to many people, not just women? The advisor who made advances, using his position of power to try to make me feel I had no options; the visiting scientist who got grabby one night and I had to fend him off; the incidence just a couple of weeks ago, where a consultant made marked comments on my attire and felt he could take liberties with “friendly” hugs and touches that others might feel was okay, but made me feel uncomfortable and marginalized as a contributor. There’s more, sadly; I’ve been alive a few decades, and these things happen often. Boys will be boys, right? But in a #metoo culture, I wonder if I should have said things, did more things, that I was not brave enough at the time to do. How I have contributed, by not always speaking out, to those things that still live today. I realize I still have trouble articulating the not so good, the things perhaps I should say but do not say. Because of fear, embarrassment, shame, indecision. And that troubles me.

So today I sit and I wonder about all the things, like these, that I do not say. The past few years, I have lived my life with the notion of saying things I may have not said before. In the past, being very shy, I usually didn’t offer my opinion about situations, or if I saw a need, I was unsure if my help would matter. It was a time when I had low self esteem and social anxiety and I would think to myself, what could I offer? Would I even make a difference? The only place I have ever truly felt comfortable and sure is in my work, which is my passion that drives all the insecurities from my mind. It’s a mission that calls me to give my all and pushes past all my fears to do what needs to be done. I’ve described before a bit of my journey, and there’s more, but needless to say I decided to start living outside of myself instead of inside my walls, the ivory academic tower of my own construction, and my whole perspective changed. Instead of being self conscious in offering my thoughts, I started to say things. Lots of things. My usual shy demeanor changed. I would speak up and offer my analysis at work, not just when it was prompted, but proactively. I would ask friends “how are you, are you okay?” instead of waiting for them to offer up their thoughts. I would respond on social media to others, especially those who were hurting, because in many cases I’d think, it’s not always the words but it’s the action of reaching out that perhaps can offer some small solace to those in grief or pain. And there is so.much.pain. out there. One might observe that I may be too open now in sharing my thoughts these days….but then I think of the invaluable conversations, so many wonderful people I’ve met, and that I’ve learned so much about others and the world by opening myself. Today, my life is about connections, creating more than the whole through interaction. Lifting up, if possible. But connections are not just made by sharing the positive, they’re made by sharing everything, good and bad.