Silence will not protect you

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall”—Nelson Mandela

Giving up is difficult. Contrary to well-versed adages, ceasing to believe in yourself, someone else, an initiative, or goal is not simple.

Throughout childhood and adolescence, perhaps there is a shift in the context of ‘giving up’. As a child, perhaps an activity or learning objective seems impossible to comprehend, so we ‘give up’ on either homework, class participation, or caring about the concept overall. As children, we have the freedom to do so without innate shame. As an adult, decisions, tasks, appointments, and various other responsibilities, especially opt-in opportunities, we feel obligation, adherence, and confinement. As adults, we do not (easily) have the freedom to release ourselves from situations and responsibilities without a pervasive and profound near-instinctual shame. Why does such an invasive notion of indignity wash over us when, as adults, we decide to abandon something?

True, there are myriad lessons, ideas, methods of growth, etc. that stem from resilience, perseverance, and tenacity; however, the message is muddled and severely skewed. For example, we are intermittently taught to learn to ‘let go’ of toxic relationships, maladaptive coping mechanisms, and situations which we cannot change…But why are we told to stay dedicated to some things and not others? Why is sticking to an initiative or project that causes deep emotional distress better than staying with a person, job, or institution that causes deep emotional distress? Especially in the context of other extenuating circumstances, for instance, COVID-19, national lockdowns, bereavement, social isolation…

Is it shameful to feel constantly overwhelmed? Is it then impertinent to cancel plans or become increasingly absent? Where is the line between holding yourself and colleagues accountable, and commiseration with the human condition? Is it unprofessional to put your well-being before your qualifications? Before your vocation? Before your opt-in opportunities?

Messages regarding the importance of ‘sticking to it’ has a time, a place, and a function; yet we over-generalise and over-apply messages of ‘not being a quitter’ in various situations in our lives. Is this the price we pay for aiming to achieve our goals? Is the truth we adhere to ‘be someone’?

“If you cannot fly, then run. If you cannot run, then walk. If you cannot walk, then crawl. But, whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward”—Martin Luther King, Jr.

In my experience, I know I am scared if I try I will fail. I have a dream, but most of the time I am too scared to fully realise it. Every waking moment, my anxiety locks my motivation in the basement of my mind. I desperately attempt to control my thoughts, but I constantly self-sabotage…At times I beg for my ideas to dance just one more time, for my head to unlock my lips, for my genius to race to the tips of my fingers, for my self-loathing to stop harassing me…

I do not want to be a’ quitter’. I do not want to appear an ‘entitled millennial’. I do not want to sacrifice any notion of happiness to achieve any marker of ‘success’. But how do I juggle wanting to complete the compulsory steps of academic and professional development and maintaining mental wellbeing and health? Currently, I do not have an answer for this question. Instead, I reflect on some of the times I have fallen, but also leaned on myself for support. Like perhaps many, I am accustomed to feeling pushed around—if not by others, by myself. Despite fake smiles and chronic perceived inadequacy, I know I am the one that creates my reality. Is everything I do a let-down? Am I living by fear?

Have I lost my magic?

Or must I learn new coping mechanisms and ways of interpreting both personal and professional interactions?

I am not the only one with multiple wars waging in my mind. I am not the only one who cannot run away from my fears. I am not the only one frozen by both pain and expectation. I am not the only one who becomes silent when feelings come rushing in. I am not the only person who doubts, exiles, and silences myself.

Many things can exist in silence. In my opinion, silence gives me wings to fly away from myself. Silence blurs unpleasant memories. Silence searches for a place to begin when I ask, “Why am I here?” Silence prevents people from knowing how low I feel…

Silence is my dysfunctional ‘invisibility cloak’.

I shroud myself in silence when I am stuck with myself. When I hate myself. When I love myself. But, despite success or failure, life or death, I will always be myself. I cannot change. I cannot control life, but I can control the silence. I must become friends with the silence. The loneliness. The self-criticism. The detachment. The insecurity…

I must become friends with me…  

“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other[s]…”—Audre Lourde

 

If you are experiencing some of the same doubts and concerns, please take a look at the following UoE support services:

IAD: https://www.ed.ac.uk/institute-academic-development/postgraduate/doctoral

The Advice Place: https://www.eusa.ed.ac.uk/support_and_advice/the_advice_place/

Student Counselling: https://www.ed.ac.uk/student-counselling

And a national suicide prevention charity:

Samaritans: https://www.samaritans.org/

Additionally, if you are in Scotland and experience low mood, depression, or anxiety Breathing Space can provide additional assistance in times of difficulty by providing a safe and supportive space to listen, offer advice and provide information.  

 

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