By Mala Mansukhani
I discovered the power of speaking my heart out long ago when I lost my husband. Due to circumstances, the people around me were not supportive, some of my closest friends distanced themselves from this “divorcee” who was also a widow, my financial situation was tough… I was in pain, and, like some weightlifter, I was carrying it around with me all the time.
Imagine a ball of string that is all knotted up, tangled, twisted and knotty, a large mess whose ends can’t be found, and unravelling and opening it up seems like an almost impossible task. That’s what our mind is like when we are agitated, upset, or unhappy. Our thoughts tear around chaotically in our heads, one crashing into another in the darkness, bumping and dashing, like trapped birds fluttering frantically to be let out of the cage of our minds.
And then, sometimes, either out of anger or out of sheer frustration, our hurting hearts voice themselves. And then the trapped bird is out, the tangled ball of thread is unravelled, and relief floods your body. Speaking up helps.
Speaking up is a powerful act. Most of us go through life with our feelings bottled up, and the reasons are many. It could be the fear of losing your job, it could be the fear of hurting your near and dear ones, it could be because your elders expect you to take it lying down – and this applies more to women.
Traditionally, women are expected to be meek and subservient wives and daughters-in-law, and they keep on accepting their burdens until they eventually break. A lot of women believe that good moms should dance to the tunes of their children and, in the process of going out of their way to please them, they end up spoiling them. Newspapers are replete with stories of spoilt grownup ‘kids’ who are not used to hearing ‘No’ because mom didn’t put her foot down in time.
The most difficult word in the world for a woman must be ‘No’.
“No, I won’t do it.”
“No, I can’t do it.”
“No, I don’t feel like cooking an elaborate meal today.”
“No, I’m tired, I need to sleep.”
“No, I don’t like to wear this.”
This inability to speak up hurts both your soul and your body; it is common knowledge now that a lot of our health issues are psychosomatic.
I realised that I could put the weight down. I could speak about it. There was no need to carry it around. I could speak about it to the few people who loved me, to the friends who cared for me. Everybody has someone who cares for them, but we often hold ourselves back because we fear our pain will be trivialised, we will be laughed at, we will be considered weak.
And everybody goes around pretending to be The Rock while hurting badly inside. But if we are willing to be a little brave, if we are willing to laugh at ourselves, if we are willing to admit that, yes, I’m human, and sometimes I hurt, then it’s possible to open the gates of the dam.
Speaking up set me free. All those birds trapped inside me flew away into the skies, the ball of thread was open and unravelled. I became happier and healthier, things became clearer, and I became free from the prison of my past.
Pain is nothing but your truth unspoken, said a wise one, and it’s true. I decided then that I would try and make it possible for others like me to speak their hearts out, to heal and liberate themselves, to emerge from the darkness.
Men too find themselves at the receiving end. I suspect men find it more difficult to speak up than women do, because, as hunter-gatherers, they have always been required to not give away too much. But speaking up is gender-neutral. It works for everyone.
That’s why I started my venture SPEAK UP. In the course of working with senior citizens, I dwell upon this issue and encourage women to speak up. One of my clients, a retired teacher who was loved and respected in her school, was reduced to a non-entity in her own house by her family members who failed to appreciate the sacrifices she had made for them.
I coaxed her out of her shell when I saw her sinking into depression. She sobbed and cried her heart out, and after the caged birds in her head had flown into the skies, she started to write poetry. Her book is now available on Amazon.
So let’s learn to speak up. Let’s speak up politely but firmly and claim what is ours – our lives, our time, our happiness, our health. Let’s speak of our pains and passions, aches and ambitions, wounds and wisdom.
Most of us have to learn to speak up. Of course, there are many who need to learn to shut up, but that’s another story!
Mala Mansukhani is the author of the book Grow Younger, a motivational speaker, a mother of three and grandmother of five.