Note from the author:
Today’s blog post is hopefully the beginning of Being Real: a series on sharing the hard stuff, being real about it and opening up about things that make life hard, great, exciting, scary, challenging, inspiring and confronting.
I won’t be giving you twelve steps to nowhere or encouraging you to ‘be your best self’ and all that because this is the raw stuff that I hope opens up the complex social world we live in and provide a safe space to discuss these issues we all face.
I’d love to hear your stories too so please leave your comments at the end of the blog and let me know of topics you might like me to share about.
Girls should be seen and not heard
When I was a kid I was opinionated. Like, obtuse-opinionated. I was loud, passionate and vocal about what I thought and believed and ready for an argument at 10 paces.
As I got older I found myself getting into hotter water though, and my close relationships suffering. I couldn’t understand why – because I thought it was important to stand up for what you believe – but try as I might to explain myself, I just ended up with more arguments, less friends and fractured family relationships.
When I was 16 I moved from Canberra to country Victoria, and spent the next two years living with my lovely grandparents. As an emotional and difficult child I pushed up against my parents and siblings a lot, and the consensus was that it would do me good to have some isolation, get away from it all and just focus on the last two years of school.
This had mixed results, which I won’t go into, because it’s all ancient history now, but suffice to say I found a way to make friends, allientae less people and muddle my way through year 11 and 12. Or so I thought.
Things were going relatively well. I made friends, scored myself a lovely boyfriend and thought I had finally found a way to navigate what I found to be a very challenging and confusing time in my life. But one day, I got to school just like normal, and without explanation the group of girls I had been friends with ignored me.
They turned away when I sat down in our common areas. They refused to answer my hello’s and queries about their weekend and became completely and frighteningly disconnected.
I couldn’t work it out – and my boyfriend, bless his cotton socks, seemed clueless about it too. After six long and awful months of exclusion I finally had it out with the six or so girls I had thought were my friends.
Turns out they were tired of hearing about my life in Canberra.
I had moved to country Victoria, to a timber town of 3500, many of which I discovered I was related to by marriage – and to a high school of only 1200 from year 7 to 12. This meant everyone was either in the crowd or they were not.
Clearly I was not part of the crowd.
We all want to be loved
I argued with them, pleaded with them, tried to reason – of course I talked about living in Canberra – I grew up there! To be honest, I was so confused. I didn’t understand that my attempts to relate to these country girls were coming across as patronising and grandiose.
And even though their group behaviour was childish and downright nasty, they were not entirely wrong about how I made them feel.
At the time I didn’t understand, and it’s only now that I can see with clear vision what it must of been like for them – all growing up in the same farming and small town environment, knowing the same people from preschool, being surrounded by the familiar and inevitably sheltered life experiences.
Gosh I must have come across as a total know-it-all.
But I was so dreadfully lonely. In Canberra I had a bunch of friends. I had a church where I was not the only teenager and a community I felt safe in. Whilst living in the country was safe, and I had the love of my grandparents, I was painfully isolated and very alone.
So I changed. I withdrew my thoughts and opinions. I built thick and sturdy walls around my heart so only those I let in could see the real me. I purposefully missed opportunities to speak up when I got the chance, knowing full well the hole this left in my heart when I really felt my perspective was worthy of being heard.
Fear held me back; it’s all there is to it. Fear of rejection. Fear of ridicule; of feeling dumb. Fear of having to defend my point and believing I didn’t have the intellectual sophistication to convince the other party of my view.
To say 'I didn't get the opportunity to say it' = 'I didn't have the courage to say it'.
My rocky relationships at home and in my pre-country life convinced me that the best and only way forward was to just stop speaking up, agree with the more vocal around me and keep the status quo.
Keeping the peace almost always backfires
When I moved back to Canberra nearly two years later, I was so far in my shell that I didn’t really recognise my own mind anymore and so began the long and fluctuating road of mental illness and the long climb back toward my faith and a healthy mind.
I learned to keep my mouth shut and not rock the boat. I learned to defer to the opinion of those around me who carried more authority (perceived and not) and I taught myself how to navigate complex relationships by positioning myself in a way that the speak felt I agreed with them, even when I didn’t.
And all this did was make me miserable and highly anxious. I spent more time worrying about what other people’s opinions were than I did caring for my family, pushed myself into tailspins trying to please everyone and ended up a total mess.
The good, the bad, and the ugly make us who we are
I tell you these things not because I desire pity or concern. These are just some of the things that make up who I am. No one person bears the fault and I do not regret the journey despite the times of pain and anxiety, anger, confusion and self-loathing.
In fact, who I am today is as much a byproduct of these negative experiences as the positive ones – marrying my childhood sweetheart because the loneliness drove me back to Canberra after year 12 (25 years now, can you believe it???), then raising two extraordinary sons and now being a stupidly proud mother-in-law and grandmother to the sweetest darling girls heaven ever sent our way as well as creating multiple variations of music, art and written expression that encapsulate the journey, warts and all.
Fast forward to 2020, and at 45 I have come to accept that not everyone is going to share my opinion and I am okay with that. I do share my point of view with people who I know now I can trust to respect it and who also give me the freedom to express it even when we both know we won’t agree.
And I think maybe I have learned how to navigate tricky and prickly conversations in a way that is less inclined to offend the other party, giving me time to reflect on their opinion when I don’t agree, and time to conclude my own opinion before choosing whether or not to share it.
I’ve done this by acknowledging their point which generally seems to show that I have heard them. I might answer with things like, ‘you could be right’, ‘I hear your point‘, and ‘I see where you’re coming from‘, and this seems to have a much better effect on our exchange than me fumbling around trying to put together an argument only to find that they’ve moved on anyway!
Frankly, who is to say they are wrong and I am right, anyway?
Not all is what it seems. There are two sides to every coin and sometimes three. Never assume you know all the sides or even that only two exist.
But despite this, sharing my opinion with others, in particular when I disagree with their point of view, remains a stumbling block for me. I still feel that familiar and unwanted rise of panic in my chest when I know what I have to say will ruffle the feathers of the person I am saying it to – and so I just don’t say it.
The raw truth is that I am often scared they will turn from me, and I will be right back at the beginning, right back on that quadrangle in that little country town, feeling more exposed than any time in my life, drowning in confusion and grieving my perceived shortcomings.
Sharing the hard stuff doesn’t come easy
As this year has been playing out and the imposed isolation has provided much time for reflection and self-analysis, I have had time to consider all that is going on in the world (and the total craziness of it all!) and I suppose I share this as a way to open up, just a little more.
I have shared many things here about my mental illness battle, my growth, my faith, on relationships in general (and let’s not forget food!) but I have held back on what I believe about society, politics, religion, sex, abuse, poverty, greed, and so on.
I realise that not every writer needs to talk about these topics but I actually do want to – it’s just super scary 😀
Let’s face it: these are hard topics. They can be polarising and as I’ve just explained, this is where my heart turns in on itself and all my words run for the hills. And once I do muster the courage to share, I fear readers will box me into that view and I’ll be known for ‘that’ opinion, instead of being known as a writer who desires to explore all kinds of ideas without fear of retribution.
I have no idea what I will share, just for the record and I do hope to bite the bullet, pull my big girl pants on and write often about hard things, but it may be months before I speak up on this virtual paper with some of these prickly subjects.
And I hope that when we do, even if we disagree, we remain friends.
Have you had a situation where you’ve felt it just better/easier/wiser/less of a struggle to not share your thoughts?
Or maybe you’ve been here and have found a way to express your opinion and still maintain your relationships – I would love to hear your stories and ideas, so leave a comment below.
Thanks for reading.
Stay strong, live well, love much,