Somehow, over time, I became a little mouse. I scuttled around people, spoke quietly and, in my little mouse brain, prioritised other people over my own needs. I was particularly mousy when I felt I didn’t bring value to the situation, so I double, triple guessed everything before I said it, if I even said anything at all.
At university, my psychology lectures had over 300 people in them. I didn’t need a voice; we listened and took notes. I remember one lecture where the professor wanted to attempt a more participatory approach so he threw a plastic squishy brain at people to get them to answer questions. When he threw it at me, I refused to move my arms and catch it, so unwilling to respond in front of everyone. The brain just kind of bounced off me, which in my mind was a less embarrassing option than catching it and speaking in front of everyone.
When I went on to do a Masters, I was thrust into the seminar setting where part of our grade was based on our participation. I could no longer get along by just writing essays and exams, I actually had to speak up in each class. The professor would not be throwing a fake brain at the class, but the prospect of a lower grade was highly motivating for me. My physical reaction to this situation was a racing heart and unhelpful thoughts whirring around my mind. The longer I had to wait to speak, the more rapidly my thoughts and heart went. Whether I spoke or not, the come down after this was difficult to manage and completely distracting, as my heart rate returned to normal and I either thought critically over my contribution, or alternatively felt an engulfing wave of disappointment and shame that I hadn’t said anything.
Since completing my MA, I have continued to experience this anxiety, which is particularly highlighted in work settings. I have gone through CBT for a few months, and I also completed a speaking course (both of which I will write about more in future posts). Through this process, I have realised that a lot of this fear is based around saying or doing things which reduce people’s value that they attribute to me. For example, do they think I am intelligent/useful/valuable in this setting, and will I lose out on future opportunities because of this judgement? If I don’t speak up in at an important event, will I be invited to them in the future? This underlying fear is what causes me to freeze up, the irony being that by saying nothing, I am more likely to lose out.
I really worry about “saying the wrong thing”. A huge amount of wasteful energy is spent on this. I might worry before a meeting, during a meeting, and after a meeting. This is obviously a huge fucking waste of time and energy – there are loads of better things I could be spending my brain power on, rather than this frankly boring, self-centered drivel! But here we are, and I am working on it.
The good news is, I don’t feel stuck like this. I have started a change, a shift. I am going through uncomfortable and clumsy experiments, which aren’t easy, but I really think they are helping push and challenge me in a useful way. It is scary to share this – I am scared of the implications of someone reading this and judging me, but I am taking the plunge anyway. Here’s to being less of a mouse.
Thank you to Ruby for proofreading. Go and look at how great Ruby is.