Silenced by Circumstance

Yesterday I posted a fragment of my life as a young woman, just starting out, in Japan.

That was so last century (literally) but something still holds true.

The concept of silence by circumstance.

If you’ve ever read my Huffington Post profile, you know that I treasure my freedom of speech. My voice. And lifting up the voices of others who have also been silenced.

But what of the times when we are silenced, not actively by others, but by wider circumstances?

When we choose to be silent?

That is what I did when I returned to Canada from Japan.

Traumatized, exhausted, and now unemployed, I needed to secure a teaching position. Quickly.

No one wants to hire a traumatized, exhausted person, for any job. So I pushed my feelings deep down inside (masking), the way I had learned to from a lifetime of experience, and I landed two back-to-back temporary full-time positions, then a full-time contract position with the local school board within the year.

For that first position, which was about seven months in duration, I went to the school daily at 8 a.m. I often left the school as late as 8:30 p.m. I picked up my late supper at the drive-through McDonald’s. I rented a room in a chilly basement apartment, so cold that when I took my evening shower I had to put a hat on my wet hair right away, and go to bed.

Meanwhile, old friends did not know the depths of my traumas from my time overseas. How could I explain? They did see that I did not give much time to them.

I had only myself to protect me, to provide for me, to look out for me. Getting an employment foothold in my field of study was the only thing I knew, and I threw everything I had into it. I also fundamentally needed to belong, and to contribute to the world.

The sensory overload of work was often tremendous, but if I took my ibuprofen to deal with constant migraines, limited time talking to people on the phone ( as I have an auditory processing disorder, a common co-occuring condition in autistics), turned off the overhead fluorescent lights, set up the classroom environment for smooth instructional flow, and had friendly colleagues available to help me understand perplexing things (and I am so grateful to countless people for this), then I could do it.

I could be the teacher I wanted to be. I could also independently support myself. I could be free.

But it hinged on my silence.

I could not tell anyone, really, what I had experienced because there was both no one who would understand, and who on earth would take care of me if I completely fell apart? I could not afford to process all the things from overseas and all that came before, in my life. So much pain and so much trauma.

How many things in life are like this?

Sometimes we silence ourselves.

And maybe, one day, we can speak up and let others know that we understand things that they may never have considered. And others suffering in silence may feel less alone.

Sometimes silence makes sense.

For the time being.

I hope that you will take three things away from this story.

Firstly, to those of you who have experienced secret trauma in your life, I hope that you will know that you are not alone in your suffering. I can not make it better but I can sit with you, in silence, with your grief. There are many things in this world that are very painful, which can not yet be spoken and indeed may never be, and I understand.

Secondly, I am in no way holding up the model of working oneself into a state of sickness as the model of how to live life. I am now recovering from cPTSD. Many significant traumas came before and after the incidents overseas. I did the best I could at the time in the late 1990s, and this is simply my story, not necessarily a model of how to live life. Indeed, I advocate for systemic change from within groups of people like teachers, because there are common problems that we all face, regardless of neurology (autistic or allistic), and regardless of mental health status (cPTSD or otherwise).

Thirdly, I hope that you can understand yourself better than I did, at an earlier age. I am autistic. I have a different neurology than most people. I loved teaching with all my heart, but I often found myself in situations that were contrary to my well-being. I hope that you are able to both understand yourself, and find others who are responsive to your needs as well, no matter in what manner you serve in this life.

I am still figuring this out, myself, and finding kindred spirits along the way.

My fellow Wonderers.

Thank you for reading.

[Image: A smiling young Caucasian woman wearing a white top, hair pulled back in a bun, kanji writing in the background]