*Originally Posted by ASTOLDBYALI on MAY 27, 2018

If you continue to swallow your words,
you will drown


Whenever I am uncomfortable, I am tempted to go back to my old way of being, that is based in fear and trauma. But when I find myself wanting to retreat back into myself, I think of this poem I wrote and I don’t. The funny thing is that I wasn’t always like this. There was a time when I was the boldest person I knew.

When I was younger, I was not afraid to speak up. I was not afraid to stand up for myself in any given situation. You could say I was fearless. I remember standing up to my grandmother when I was about six years old and using HER phone to call my mom to tell her what I had said, right in front of my grandmother. I had that kind of spirit.

When I started hearing comments like, “Your voice is too loud”“Please shut up”“You’re so full of yourself”, it began having an effect on me. I decided to lower my voice to speak softly. At times when I would go back to ‘Loud Jenai’, I would be reminded of that and would immediately stop talking. When I was 14 years old, I stopped speaking for two days. I didn’t say anything! But, Monday came and I had to go back to school. When the teacher is speaking to you, an answer was required. I thought well if I’m too loud, I just won’t say anything. There was clearly no balance in that approach.

From ages 12 to 17, I was around people who were at least three years older than I was. They didn’t want to hang out with me and didn’t want to include me in things. I felt left out a lot. So I hoped if I just didn’t say anything, they would be more willing to have me around. That was when I first moved to America. I had no friends at first and although I eventually made some friends at school, those friendships never left the classroom.

I began to speak less and less. I didn’t want anyone to hurt my feelings because of something I had said or how I had said it so I just “sat there and ate my food.” I was also afraid of looking stupid or unimportant. I was afraid that what I said did not matter. I was afraid of being viewed in a way that I didn’t want to be viewed. I was afraid of being wrong even when I knew the right answer. I was scared that somehow I could be wrong and would end up being embarrassed. There was and sometimes still is this voice telling me, “Who are you to be speaking on that?”“What do you know?”“You’re not that smart.” So most times, I would just listen and observe. I just wanted people to like me.

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It has taken me some time to unlearn those habits that make me feel less than. It has taken me time to re-love those parts of myself that others thought were too much, but I am learning to be patient with myself. Because in truth, I am an intelligent and passionate person with something to offer the world. I have the right to speak. I am learning that even when I am afraid, I cannot allow my fears to stop me from living my best life. What I have learned is that there is a time to speak and there is a time to listen and observe, and I will know when it’s time to speak by paying attention to how I feel. If my reason for remaining silent is out of love and respect, I honor that and remain quiet. However, if my reason is based in fear, I force myself to speak because that is when I need to speak up the most. Lives have been saved because of someone’s decision to speak up. That is how important it is. It reminds me of a poem by Nayyirah Waheed that says,

“when i am afraid to speak

is when i speak.

that is when it is most important.


— the freedom in fear”

Do not be afraid to use your voice and even if you are afraid, use it anyway.
You never know who is listening.