I’m 32. I waited 22 years to speak about it.
So. When people began saying things like “why did she wait so long” or “she’s just looking for attention” at a national level, my immediate reaction wasn’t to remember studies on PTSD or statistics on false allegations or the typically negative impact felt by victims coming forward (I started therapy for PTSD earlier this year and these are items we run through to remind myself it wasn’t my fault). Unfortunately, my reaction was to revert back to feelings of fear, confusion and shame. It’s comically frustrating how little progress I’ve made. I’m the product of a Tiger Mom so…overachieving is ingrained in me.
I had a panic attack the Friday after the Kavanaugh hearings. I started a new job and I wanted to focus on studying and learning new material so I actively tried to stay away from the news and/or any conversations involving the case for weeks. And yet, I found myself walking away from a laptop screen and notebooks that remained annoyingly blurry all morning and came to in the middle of tears on a busy sidewalk. I forgot how to breathe.
I got angry with myself. There’s no time for this. I need to focus. Get over it. There are deadlines and emails, and the world is still spinning. No one else cares and everyone else is functioning. Figure it out. It’s just you.
But it wasn’t. These past few weeks I’ve stayed on the other end of the line with women who are rockstars at their jobs expressing frustration with themselves. They work at hedge funds, startups, nonprofits, hospitals. They can’t concentrate and there’s no time for this. THE EMAILS!!! Why is this happening.
Or at least it starts out that way. All of a sudden there’s heaving on the other side. She’s crying uncontrollably and I know…I know her body is doubled over in pain trying to control herself. She forgot how to breathe.
Had I not started therapy, I might have found the idea that anything happening in my personal life connects to my professional life connects to conversations happening on a national level totally ludicrous. Had I not started therapy, I might have found the idea that a topic I had actively avoided could take over my body absolutely absurd. Even having started therapy, I am angry with myself for not being able to compartmentalize.
Yet here we are. 22 years later. 2 weeks later.
There’s this idea in psychology that our brains continue to unconsciously process. Brain imaging research shows that thought processes occur on clearly differentiated pathways for the conscious and unconscious. We continue to process information and be affected by it without necessarily being wholly cognizant of it. In other words, for the purposes of what I’m trying to say, we might try to ignore and compartmentalize a specific situation/feeling/information, but that doesn’t mean our brains and bodies aren’t still internally processing and externally reacting.
I have a feeling the reactions I’ve described above are happening to more people than I can even bear to think about. I want you to know this is normal. And it’s OK.
Your physical safety was compromised. Control and agency over your own being ripped away. Your body will always remember that. Let it process the way it needs to. Let it survive. You do, after all, need it to get that email out.
For those who may not necessarily be affected this way, or are perhaps annoyed with the conversation at hand altogether…we don’t need to talk about it. But since we don’t, we never know who might be affected, right? Maybe it’s naïve of me to think this, but a little bit more kindness and softness, even at work, really never hurts any situation.
We talk about diversity and inclusion but it would be foolish to think identity can be reduced to just race, gender and sexual orientation. This too…for better or worse…is a part of being able to bring one’s whole self to work. I know I’m lucky and it’s certainly a privilege that I am all too aware of that I can even say this. But if you can take a moment, if there’s any chance that email can wait an hour, please take it. Please breathe.