I’m not sure about you, but just by the title of this chapter alone, I heard two things: one was Joan Rivers saying this line in her thick Long Island accent (did I just date myself?!); and the other was Tevin Campbell’s song of the same title (dangit, I just dated myself again!!). Funny how words can evoke those sounds!
So you may be thinking to yourself, “Of course, he says talking is important. I mean, he is a psychologist!” Sure, I may be a little biased when it comes to this topic, but let’s face it, talking to others is vital to your improvement, to your unstuckness. How many times have you held something in, then finally found that one person to open up to, and afterwards you felt like a weight was lifted off of your shoulders? Well, that is the power of talking in action.
So many times, we tend to hold things in, thinking that we either don’t want to burden other people with our complaints or issues, or we don’t know how they’ll respond to us. We keep it in. We stay quiet. We assume the worst in others – that they will chastise us or look at us differently if we tell them this thing that we are keeping hidden from others. But guess what? More often than not, that person on the receiving end of this newfound information will not receive this information in a negative manner. And if they do, it’s time to go to a professional who is educationally equipped to handle this information.
I thought about this concept this morning, but in a very different capacity. You see, I had a tumor years ago that eventually was removed. But that’s the short version of the story. The long version? Well, I noticed that the tumor was foreign, different, and probably not supposed to be there for a significant amount of time before I even acted on it. Probably close to two years. My thinking? “If I ignore it, maybe it’ll just go away.” Or there was “something like this isn’t supposed to happen to me, so I’ll keep on pushing on in hopes that it reverses itself.” And then there was “What if I say something to someone about this (in other words, my mom who is a nurse and would definitely spring into action hearing what I had to say) and it’s determined that this tumor is cancerous and then I’m going to die?!” I wasn’t completely comfortable with any of those options.
So where did those ways of thinking lead me? Well, initially, to do nothing at all. To stay stuck. To live with this potentially cancerous growth festering in my parotid gland all the while hoping it, wishing it away. Guess what happened with that way of thinking? Not a thing!! So what was the next option? I had to say something. I had to get this off my chest. I had to figure out what was going on inside of me, inside of my body, so that at least something could be done. And when I finally got up the courage to do this, it was like a huge relief. See, at that point, all of the worst-case scenarios had already taken place in my mind, which strangely had an opposite effect in my coping. It helped to ease some of my anxiety, because I already pictured my death.
Fast-forward to after getting a biopsy done and being told it was (fortunately) benign. Phew!! I could breathe a sigh of relief! And then we could face the next task head on, which was removal of the tumor, followed by recovery.
I tell this story to say we all have something inside of us that we’ve kept secret or hidden from ourselves and to others. We hope it will somehow magically go away. Or that no one will understand. Or that nothing can be done about it. We’ve given up, thrown in the towel. Sometimes this ‘thing’ then begins to manifest itself physically, other times it’s emotionally; sometimes a combination of the two. I know why my tumor was there at that time in my life. It makes perfect sense looking at it now. There was a lot I was holding in, and there was only one way for that energy to show up – and it did. How is your pent up energy, by not talking to or opening up to anyone, showing up in your life? Do you notice it physically, emotionally, or even in your relationships?
It reminds me of a story I watched a couple of nights ago on PBS. It was an incredible documentary about the shooting that occurred in Austin, TX on the University of Texas’ campus in the 1960s. There was a sniper atop the watchtower, who, for about an hour, just randomly shot people. It was a harrowing experience that is hard to understand what that would have been like unless you’ve been in a situation like that. It was disturbing and terrifying just to watch, and it was actually an animated film, which changed the overall tone enough to be digestible to those watching.
Regardless, there was a part of the story that was about one of the first couple of people shot. The first who were shot was a pregnant woman and her boyfriend at the time. Next was a kid, who was riding his bike near the campus as he was on his paper delivery route. He had actually stopped to pick up his younger cousin, who was riding on that same bike with him. As they were riding along (it was actually going to be the deliverer’s last delivery day), the older cousin was shot. The bike fell. They both hit the ground. While the older cousin was hit, the younger cousin was just there amidst the chaos and confusion. A man across the street in a bookstore came outside to check on what was happening, as he thought it was a fight that had broken out and a kid was badly injured from the fight. When he got there, he realized the situation was much different, much graver.
While this bookstore owner sprang into action, he eventually was the one who made it to the top of the tower to help the cops take out this sniper. In the meantime, the kid who was shot was eventually taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital. He was saved. It was miraculous, scary, and traumatic. His cousin was present the entire time, watching his family member writhe in pain and unsure of whether or not he was going to make it.
Fast forward to the present day, and here they were (unanimated) telling the story. The younger cousin (who was not shot but witnessed his family member wounded) began to say how he had never spoken about this incident with anyone after it happened. Not even to his own cousin who was a victim of the sniper’s bullets. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “How have they not even spoken to each other about this event?? They both went through it together, yet after all of these years have been suffering in isolation, not saying anything to each other.” I was slightly dumbfounded. Their interview on TV for this documentary was the first time they spoke about it loudly, let alone together. While I was on one hand baffled, on the other hand, I realized that this is probably more the norm than I think or would like to hope it actually is. How many people have been traumatized, walking around with the memories of the trauma haunting them, yet never say anything to anyone, even someone who went through it with them? I’m guessing there are a lot. Who knows what emotions lie behind that lack of saying anything? Guilt, shame, embarrassment, or fear? My guess is at least one, if not a combination of several or all of these. Perhaps, the younger cousin felt like, “It’s done; it’s over with. There is no sense in bringing it up now.” Maybe there was a sense of denial in terms of the overall impact this incident had on his functioning. Or possibly there was a worry that if he brought it up to his older cousin that the older cousin would have a negative response, such as a flashback or anger? There are so many ways the thinking could have gone.
However, what I flash to is the sense of relief the younger cousin had when on camera. He admitted that this was the first time he talked about it publicly and acknowledged it out loud. They both laughed, looked at each other, and eventually embraced. It clearly was very cathartic for them and needed to be expressed. Imagine the freedom that they now have to discuss this event with each other moving forward; the freedom they have knowing that they have not been alone in their suffering all these years. I am ecstatic for them for that reason. That they can share their story not only with and amongst themselves, but with others in hopes that by healing themselves they can also help heal others.
When I discuss the importance of talking to others, I mean talking to those closest to you. Those you feel connected to, safe with. That could be a family member, a good friend, a confidante, a pastor, or maybe even a mentor or a teacher. Open up to them. They could help you overcome so much, or at least help you feel heard and understood. After all, that’s what we all want. We just want to be “gotten,” to be acknowledged, understood, and listened to. Once we find that one person, it can be such a huge relief.
If speaking to someone who already knows you doesn’t necessarily work for you or feel like a good fit, then reach out to a professional. Whether it’s a counselor, therapist, or psychologist, look someone up in your area and ask if they have openings. Find someone you’re comfortable with and shop around until you find that person. For many of us, opening up to a complete stranger (though we all start off as strangers, truth be told!) is more inviting and comforting than talking to someone already in your circle. Honor whatever works best for you.
And if talking to someone in person (i.e., going to their office space) doesn’t work for you or your schedule, then there are plenty of alternatives nowadays and, thus, no need for excuses. There are so many online therapy platforms; it’s hard to keep up with them all. There’s Amwell, Startlivehealth Online, Ringwell, Talkspace… I could go on and on, but it seems like there’s a new platform coming out each week. If going in person doesn’t seem feasible for your life and schedule, then reach out online. And if online doesn’t work, telehealth services (talking over the phone) is also a thing too. 1-800-273-TALK is a 24/7/365 service that is primarily for service members, but anyone can call, text, or reach out at any time if and as needed. So you have no excuse!! Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
It’s time to start letting go of the stones that you have accumulated over time. The stone analogy is essentially based on the fact that we are each born with an empty, or near empty, basket. As time goes on, that basket gets filled up with little stones, pebbles of “stuff” that begin to add up. Some are small and barely noticeable when they make their way into the basket. Others are much bigger and clearly weigh down the basket much more. The longer you go without getting rid of some of those stones and pebbles, the heavier that basket becomes over time. Even if nothing is added for a period of time, holding that basket still remains heavy and becomes heavier as time passes. Do yourself a favor and start to throw those stones out… Just not at a glass house!