Life's Lessons

Your Silence Will Not Save you

posted by Katherine Wintsch June 1, 2018 10 Comments

During my favorite weekly yoga class, I often find myself elongating my limbs next to a woman with a beautiful and bold tattoo on her forearm that reads, “Your silence will not save you.”

I love that tattoo.

I think about the owner of that tattoo a lot. In particular, I’m curious about what secret, truth or fear she kept bottled up inside for so long that she needed a permanent reminder to never go back there again.

I’m glad she did, though. Because every time I’m next to her, hanging upside down in Downward Dog pose, I’m reminded that I stayed silent for entirely too long about my insecurities and the subsequent titles and trophies  I collected like they were trading cards in order to feel better about myself.

I’ve moved beyond suffering through my struggles while staying silent – but make no mistake, old habits die hard and sometimes they show up in sneaky ways.  Like they recently did for me.

Several weeks ago, while in NYC for a business trip, I found a lump in my left breast while taking a shower just before a big client meeting. It wasn’t maybe, perhaps or possibly a lump. It was a big-ass lump.  Unmistakable.

Of course my thoughts went to dark places, but also a shockingly selfish one — convincing myself that if someone had to die in my immediate family, it might as well be me so I wouldn’t have to deal with the death of someone I love with every bone (and lump) in my body.

Charming, I know.

I immediately questioned whether to tell my husband and parents because the last thing I wanted to do was transfer the freaked-out feelings I was having over to them. Ultimately I decided to tell my husband but wait to tell my parents. Let’s just wait and see, I told myself. No need to bring unnecessary stress and pressure into their lives if everything turns out to be fine.

Insert two weeks of doctors’ appointments — a tense visit to the OBGYN, a stressful mammogram, a nail-biting ultrasound and, finally, an insanely painful biopsy where an icepick-like object not only drained fluid from my lump, but every tear from my body.

Every test said the same thing. It wasn’t a cyst; it was a tumor and all signs pointed to it being benign.  Thank God. I was close to being out of the woods, but I wasn’t quite there yet. The biopsy was done on a Wednesday and I’d have the results by Friday.

Just in time to celebrate over the weekend with tequila.

However, by Thursday, I could no longer keep my secret inside. With my left breast throbbing from being poked, prodded and literally stabbed, I swallowed my silence and called my parents to give them an update.  My fear was palpable — terrified they would stress, worry and pay a painful visit to all the dark, horrible places I’d visited in my own mind over the past two weeks.

But no such thing happened.

After stammering on about my most-certainly-benign tumor, my mother immediately jumped in to save the day. “Don’t worry, sweetie. It’s probably a fibroadenoma (benign breast tumor). I’ve had four removed and your grandmother had at least 3-4 over the course of her life.”

Holy shit.

And she was exactly right.  Within 24 hours, the doctor’s office called to say everything was fine and that the marble-like object in my left breast was, as my mother had predicted, a fibroadenoma.

See what I mean about your silence not saving you?

Out of pure fear I had assumed my pending test results would add stress and worry to my parents’ lives, but that’s not what happened. You know why? Because fear is a liar.

Opening up about my own stress and worry didn’t make my parents worry more. It helped me worry less.

In this particular case, my mother was the one person who, unbeknownst to me, could wipe all my worries away with a single sentence about her own experience. It’s not like my mother and I sit around and talk about boobs, breast lumps and biopsies, so I don’t blame her for not mentioning the lumps she had removed decades ago.

Nope, this example of suffering is on me. I stayed silent and therefore denied myself the support I needed.

That’s what silence does — it turns struggling into suffering.

I know this to be true, the tattoed woman in my yoga class knows this to be true, but none of us are immune to forgetting every once in a while.

If I had swallowed my silence and called my mother when I first detected the lump, I would have quickly discovered that between her and my grandmother, they’d had more than a half-dozen lumps removed. And I wouldn’t have worried, cried or freaked out nearly as much.

Now it’s your turn. What are you struggling with right now that you’re suffering in silence about? Say it out loud, tell someone you love. I think you’ll find, as I often have, that what waits on the other side feels a lot like relief and nothing like the disaster zone of destruction you’re drumming up in your mind.

People say the truth hurts, but when it’s your truth it feels awesome.

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10 Comments

jen June 4, 2018 at 12:22 pm

THIS!!! First, I am so happy for you that it was nothing more! Second, I had this realization recently as well! We spent the beginning of the school year getting, and then closely monitoring, Red Flags regarding my son. By Christmas break we had been given a sure ADHD diagnosis and I crumbled. I handled it as if it were a death sentence, worrying about his future in school as if he’d be the kid no teacher wanted in their class if we had special assistance in place, worrying he’d be the kid no teacher wanted in their class if we didn’t and he was distracting to all others. Worrying that his behavior in school and lack of being able to read social cues would mean that other kids don’t want to be around him, worrying that their parents wouldn’t want to encourage play dates with the ADHD kid. I kept it all bottled up, hidden all school year until recently when I started mentioning it to friends, to moms, as part of our casual conversation and you know what started happening? I found out that MANY of those we know are, or have, dealt with the same! Had I known I had this giant pool of resources circling around me, something nobody else talks about either, I probably wouldn’t have spent quite as many stress filled, tear filled days and, lets be honest – up all nights. My silence was NOT saving me. So happy for your continued good health and so happy you’re able to put things into words that I cannot!

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Katherine Wintsch June 6, 2018 at 6:48 pm

Hi Jen – Wow. What a beautiful story. You’re so right. By default we seem to believe that if we keep our problems to ourselves that they will magically disappear. But the opposite is true – the more we open up the more love and support we receive from the very people we need the most….the mothers fighting the same battles! We’re blessed to be born into a generation of mothers who are more open and honest about the highs and lows. Now it’s up to us to be vulnerable enough to admit we (and our children) are flawed. Keep up the awesome work and look under rocks in other areas of your life to see where you can be more honest and get the help you so radically deserve. Thank you for sharing your bravery with me and the other mothers who follow this blog. We can learn a lot from each other! Much love.

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Natasha Morgan June 4, 2018 at 8:27 pm

I love this! First, congratulations on your diagnosis. Second, I was ready with some advice I’d just listened to an a podcast, “Everything Happens,” with Kate Bowler and Feinberg, who talked as cancer warriors how so few people know what to say. No advice, more like, “You are loved and are beautiful. I am here for you and with you, for the long haul.” Last but not least, we aren’t battling cancer in our family but we did just decide to send our fourteen year old son to a residential therapeutic boarding school last week. It has been heart wrenching and full of feelings of fear and failure and financially crippling, but reaching out showed us very quickly that we’re not alone in it. We just need to be careful about shouting it out because it’s his story, not only ours.

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Katherine Wintsch June 6, 2018 at 6:42 pm

Hi Natasha –
I love the idea of not giving advice and just telling cancer warriors that they are seen, loved and beautiful. I’m going to remember that! It is often hard to know what to say and that’s truly beautiful – and ultimately more helpful than outside advice for sure! I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been through a gut wrenching journey with your son. Feelings of fear and failure can be crippling and it sounds like saying some of your struggles out loud has provided the support that you need and dearly deserve. As mothers, we’re on this journey together – slaying one battle at a time – since you’re well on your way, don’t forget to encourage other mothers to do the same. The more we open up, the more love and support we receive. Hugs!

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Austin Higgs June 5, 2018 at 12:48 pm

This post was exactly what I’ve needed in a lot of ways. I’m going through a few life crises and I can definitely say I’m being silent on a few things…I just so afraid of losing my emotional footing while climbing up this insanely steep life-cliff. Thank you for this article, I’m so glad I stopped and read it. You are a fantastic role model and for that O want to thank you as well.

Warmth and love,

Austin

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Katherine Wintsch June 6, 2018 at 6:38 pm

Hi Austin –
Thanks for opening up. Perhaps even typing the words “I’m going through a few life crises” will be the door opener you need to start saying some of your struggles out loud. In my experience, it’s all about baby steps. First, you privately think about it or write about it in a journal, then you slowly but surely let the truth start slipping out until the day comes that you’re no longer embarrassed but proud to talk about your broken bits. While you might think you’ll lose your emotional footing, I speak from experience when I say that talking about your struggles will only provide you with MORE emotional support. It’s a journey, so go easy on yourself. But know and trust that you have nothing to hide – we’re all broken, we’re all flawed and we all deserve for the world to see those bruises and still love us. You are no exception to that rule. Sending you love.

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N from RVA June 13, 2018 at 6:46 pm

Love this post ‘Your silence will not save you”.is a mantra to act (in any number of situations–political, personal, social). Echoing Austin, it is timely for me (not for health reasons but related to life challenges, growth and change). Thanks for sharing your story.

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Katherine Wintsch June 13, 2018 at 9:11 pm

Happy to hear it hit home for you. Thanks for offering the perspective of it being a mantra to act in other situations beyond personal. I hadn’t thought of it that way! Much love.

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Amy Askin July 2, 2018 at 9:59 am

This makes my day. Thank you for your helpful reminders here. First and foremost, I am delighted to hear your results were benign. Not only is your message critical for our self-care and improvement, but the eloquence with which you write carries your message with courage, truth and grace. Once again, you are my hero, Katherine. Thank you for bringing a lightness of being to our world. Blessed Be.

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Katherine Wintsch July 2, 2018 at 9:50 pm

Why you gotta make me cry? Amy thank you so much for your ridiculously inspiring words. It’s a gift to be able to see your work through other people’s eyes. Bless you for taking the time to share. Now you made MY day. We’re even!

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