7.5 Editor's Pick
August 29, 2023

Discretion doesn’t equal Repression: Why I No Longer want to be Constantly Seen or Heard.


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As a queer, disabled woman, I agree with and have always understood the urgent necessity of visibility for vulnerable demographics.

Representation matters.

Having a seat at the table and using your voice and having that voice validated is a genuine struggle for many and a personal battle I found to be a worthy but ultimately unsatisfying personal cause for decades. But these days I’m finding both solace and satisfaction in the low-key existence middle age has ushered into my life, and I am reveling in the beautiful side of invisibility.

All of my life there has been an increasing social pressure to speak up, to open up, to disclose and to share—in particular, the raw, unfiltered messy bits as a female writer in extensive narrativizing of personal trauma, as a person formerly seeking substance abuse recovery in 12-step programs, and as a former public speaker whose actual vocation was rehashing the details and circumstances of intimate tragedy to an unforetold numbers of strangers.

I was convinced that exposing my vulnerability en mass, online or onstage or in church basements, was infinitely brave and philanthropic. That oversharing was, in fact, the gold standard for helping other humans.

I also believed that I needed to be recognized, witnessed, seen. As in, “I feel seen,” along with “I feel heard.” And “I need more of this constant external validation and if I’m not getting it, somehow, I’m not real or cared for and respected properly or making my mark.”

Or something…

What I was was emotionally drained. What I am is tired. What I want is to wrap my sweaters, blankets, and layers around me to make up for the skin I’ve compulsively shed in layers for people I never knew well, and sometimes not at all, nor whom earned my trust, to shroud myself in dark sunglasses and oversized ensembles like an Olsen Twin, to back away from the light like it contains starving poltergeist rather than personal or universal redemption.

It is possible to write non-fiction without writing a tell-all. There are other things to talk about than trauma, which is a paradigm-shifting concept for me being as my official title was at one point “trauma-informed trauma survivor.”

I’ve been in therapy for five years—and that’s the channel in which I’ve chosen to not only share my trauma but to heal it.

There is a quote from Haruki Murakami that I’ve come to love:

“We cannot simply sit and stare at our wounds forever. We must stand up and move on to the next action.”

And we cannot sit and stare at me staring at my wounds forever.

It’s okay to keep my mouth shut if I have nothing to say, or if I do have something to say but I just don’t want to talk about it. I used to think not disclosing and communicating about everything painful meant you were repressed, in denial, and in need of intervention. But it was really just an internalized belief system that I unconsciously thought was superior and ultimately “correct,” relative to other forms of coping with and processing pain.

My 21-year-old son hit the nail on the head when he said, while experiencing grief his partner wanted to verbally process with him: “I just deal with loss differently.” That’s okay. That’s a boundary and a personal choice.

If I want to be alone, like Greta Garbo, it doesn’t mean I’m isolating in a toxic way and need to be pressured or roused to socialize. One person’s uplift is another’s overstimulation. There is no one-size-fits-all medicine, pharmaceutical, herbal, or lifestyle.

If I don’t wear a big honking flashy ring or wake up to decadent floral arrangements on my porch or post pictures of me making out in sharp focus with my lover on the deck of a ferry with the skyline in soft focus and the sunset behind us, it doesn’t make our relationship less real or valid.

If I choose to process a recent tragedy with a few close, trusted friends and family members as I do my best to resume my routine and regain a sense of normalcy rather than post it online for all of my friends to offer sympathy and support, that’s okay too. Discretion and privacy do not equal deception or repression. And it doesn’t have to take a village to work through everything that occurs in my personal life but if that works for you, then by all means, keep doing you while I do me.

I experienced continual re-traumatization and self-betrayal in the extensive years that I believed my emotional life was supposed to be a public event and that giving it all up was the key to my catharsis, and maybe other people’s as well.

If I process my pain with one or two people and gain insight, relief, and comfort, I’m under no obligation to keep regurgitating it to increasing amounts of people, both known and unknown.

I internalized a fragmented, moralistic version of pop psychology to the extent that my inner world and intimate relationships became content to consume rather than fleeting personal experiences in a diverse and complex tapestry of life just being life. I wrung each broken heart, unjust trauma, minor infraction, uncomfortable conversation, and friendship gone sideways dry, milked it even, until my bones were bare and bleached in the glare of over exposure.

Silence is golden, and sometimes I just want to walk on the beach with my thoughts, or cry in a friends nonjudgemental embrace without tagging her in a post, or write about the beauty of privacy rather than present all of the hairy details about the things I’m choosing to be private about.

I am not as sick as my secrets.

I’m emotionally safe when I choose who is worthy of my trust because my internal landscape is valuable and I do not have to hand out all-access passes to everyone.

Emotional walls have gotten such a bad wrap in pop culture—but why? Why is vulnerability the new commodity?

This is my secret garden. I planted and nurtured it for me and my family and close friends to enjoy, and it’s mine to build a wall around. And it’s just as beautiful even if I don’t promote it or enter it into competitions or show it out. It’s my personal narrative to define and cultivate as I choose, not according to anyone else’s agenda or belief system. It is my meaning to make.

Sexuality and its expression is a personal choice. And I applaud and appreciate people who experience empowerment from making porn or other sexually driven content, sex workers, exotic dancers, or even people of all genders simply showing their bodies online in a bikini, or anything else at any age or weight, because that feels brave to them—but we wouldn’t and shouldn’t expect that level of physical revelation from everybody so why would we expect the emotional equivalent? Why is someone’s emotional visibility, transparency, and desire to bare all personal information used as a barometer to gauge their personal well-being?

“Full disclosure” is contextually necessary in certain relationships, both personal and professional, but it is no longer something I inherently believe is mandatory or even appropriate in every interaction across the board in order to be a “good” person. I want to deconstruct where these popular beliefs originated not indulge in divulging my origin story ad nauseam.


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