My whole body shaking, sick to my stomach, anxiety paralyzing my back and my upper arms, tunnel vision, closed throat. My breathing becomes labored, I can’t concentrate to express myself well. No, it isn’t a saber tooth tiger attack, it is my body’s response to a simple email. Some words on a screen. I can turn off the screen at any time, hit the delete button and decide not to care, I can just go on with my life, especially since I know I haven’t done anything wrong. And yet, I am frozen, reading and re-reading words that someone throws at me like stones. My brain starts the endless loop of rumination and I am having conversation after conversation in my mind. On and on and on and on… .
It is not the first time I receive a message from this person that is rude, accusatory, untrue and unjust. The advice I receive from the people I go to for council is always the same: be the bigger person, let it go, be wiser, don’t engage. And my brain understands the words of these invitations and the rationale, but my stomach is still sick and I am still trembling and feeling like I am on a roller coaster.
Two days ago, upon receiving a similar email and the same advice I got sick again. This time I also decided to pause to sit with the sickness and see where it is coming from. Injustice. The idea that even though I am not responsible I am the one who gets to step aside and not react. The idea that I have not done anything wrong yet I get to not defend myself. And I sat some more and allowed my mind to take me where it will.
It took me to my childhood home… I am the oldest of four children, the only sister to three brothers and if I am to recite phrases I learned when I was a child or a teen, few come to mind immediately: I expected more from you, just let go, you are older, be wiser. Setting the scene. Check!
It took me back to this difficult summer … A little less than a year ago my ex husband passed away. We had been divorced for a decade when it happened and, yes, we shared a beautiful son but … that was about all we had in common. I had left the home I built with him with just my clothes and my child, suffered through terrible bullying from him on text, phone and live for a decade, and never retaliated because … there is a child involved. He decided life was too hard to live and when he passed, it suddenly became my responsiblity not only to bury him but also to bear expenses I could not imagine (like buying a grave for my bully exhusband with the money my partner and I were saving, working hard, to buy a house). And all because you are the bigger person, you are wiser, do the right thing. No wonder I was sick to my stomach, not sleeping and shaking for a week straight. Setting the scene and reinforcing the message. Check!
Today I find myself in a similar position. Someone attacks me and because they are loud and play the victim, the advice for me is to just shut up, take it and turn the other way. Because I know better, because we don’t want to fight, because … because … because … . And my body cannot be fulled and for the past week she has been yelling, hell no!
So, what is the solution? I know I don’t want to get here again but do I not get close to people? Do I stop being kind for fear of being taken for a fool? Do I continue to close my eyes to bullying? What is the path? The Radical Candor podcast put in front of me another vision: care personally, challenge directly. Something that I am making the intention to try in the latter part of my life.