When I was in elementary school, I remember one particularly cruel recess period when almost all of the girls in my class decided to form a not-so-secret club, but they wouldn’t let me join. It was pure, adolescent meanness for the sake of soothing the aching uncertainty of puberty. Nevertheless, I remember sobbing next to the sink in our classroom and one of my classmates, who had barely spoken to me prior, feeding me paper towels to wipe the tears off my face.I was so hurt and so grateful at the same time. Hurt because deliberate cruelty, in the words of Blanche Dubois, is unforgivable. Grateful because it had prompted such kindness out of another person.
It sometimes feels like these little emotional injuries that we receive as kids never fully heal. Today, I struggle with feeling accepted just like I did when I was nine years old – fortunately, to a much lesser degree, but the struggle is there nonetheless. For me, the sensation, when triggered, gives me a feeling of profound powerlessness and aloneness. Much like shouting in the middle of a crowded room, but not being able to get any sound to come out of my mouth.
These days, my feeling of exclusion and invisibility often comes when I’m in Brazil. In terms of cultural knowledge and language know-how, I’m probably the rough equivalent of a young teen in this new country. I find myself angry, in full-on reject mode in an attempt to make myself known and find my identity. Yet as a thirty year old woman, these coping mechanisms don’t seem to fit me any more. Instead of feeling like I’m making progress and self-discoveries, I mostly just feel tired and angry.
As a result, I often shy away from social situations, preferring to be in the smaller company of people I already know and who have proven themselves to be trustworthy to me. Yet no woman is an island and, as much as I may try, there’s no way to run away from my feelings of rejection and being an outcast.
Lately, this most often comes up in Crossfit, in scenarios where I don’t get the feedback or praise I desire, even when I know I’m putting in the work. When others chit chat after class, I find myself standing awkwardly alone, retreating to organize my things in order to not feel so vulnerable and in the spotlight. Nowadays, even when I see people writing short sentences in English as a joke, I find myself enraged. You spoke English this whole time? Where is the adult version of my elementary school classmate to give me tissues and tell me reassuring things in broken English so I can say thank you, in kind, in my broken Portuguese?
The feeling can be overwhelming at times. Once, I described it to Gustavo as if I were standing outside saying, “Look at the blue sky!” And instead everyone kept coming back to me saying, “Dude, what? The sky is green.” Feeling alone is one thing, but aloneness without validation feels like insanity. Sometimes it’s hard to reality check yourself. As a result, there are times when I drown in the emotion and can’t see clearly beyond it. It frustrates me, because I know a dose of perspective would snap me out of it, but I don’t know how to bring myself there.
It got me thinking about the importance of seeing and being seen. As much as I aim to validate my own feelings and experiences, I also struggle to deconstruct them from my past experiences in a relatively more privileged position as a white woman from a first world country. Most of the time, in my life, I have been seen – at least, on a larger, societal level. To feel like I have no voice and no larger group to validate me, I feel lost and invisible.
The more I sit with the feeling, the more I understand that the validation and visibility I desire needs to be given to me by myself first and foremost. Until I see myself, until I honor my own experiences, until I tell myself that I am worthy of praise, even when it’s not given to me by others, is how to get out of that space. I tend to think that all the things we believe we lack need to first come from within before we can ask others to give them to us. That includes friendship. You have to be a friend to yourself first.
Lately, whenever I find myself feeling bad about it, I find this little phrase rising up in my mind: make yourself seen. If you want to be seen, make people see you. If you want to be heard, make them hear you. It all starts by believing you have something to show, something to say. I keep telling myself that.
There’s no time to waste waiting for others to prove what you already know is true.