Walk Don't Run 9/22/15



Last year I came across a letter that wasn’t intended for my eyes; a letter written about me. I am the type of person who feels the less I know about what people think of me, the better. I prefer to be blissfully unaware. But this letter had my name written all over it and naturally when you see your name you stop and take notice.
To paraphrase, it was said that I was an embarrassment to my family, dumb and a joke. It was an attack on my work and this column. The wind instantly left my lungs as I tried to process what I was reading. I was embarrassed, sad and wounded. Each word was like a fresh stab wound to my body. Once I reached the bottom, “Sincerely yours,” was neatly printed followed by a name I had never heard. This person who said they were personally offended by me was someone I had never even met; yet they felt they knew me well enough to call me dumb. I tossed the letter in my purse and waited out the clock. I breathed heavy the last 10 minutes of the day just willing back the tears that kept forming in my eyes. As soon as the clock hit five I ran out the door and as soon as I sat down in my car, I cried uncontrollably. The rest of the night was spent on the couch crying. I read the letter over and over until I believed everything that had been written. I was far too dumb to be a functioning adult. This column was probably a joke that I wasn’t in on and I had been an embarrassment to my family. I was so ashamed.
The next day I sheepishly walked into work. I didn’t want anyone to know I had read the letter because the embarrassment over what had been said about me was so overwhelming. I quietly did my work as I do every Friday and made a decision to first pull the column and never write again; then I’d quit the Journal, move away and work somewhere that I could go unnoticed.  For three agonizing days I held on to that letter as if my life depended on it. I had stopped reading it after that first day because it was too painful to even open anymore. But I knew what it said and knew that someone out there really disliked me.
Writing this column is a lot like public speaking. It’s terrifying to put myself out there for everyone to see and judge. I have received letters or e-mails from people who may respectfully disagree with me on a certain parenting style or topic (and I enjoy any feedback because that’s how I learn; from you, the readers) but I had never received anything that attacked me as a person. I hadn’t prepared myself for such a letter. I know looking back that I should have prepared myself the day I started to put the details of my life out there but honestly I was too excited and loving it so much that I overlooked that major detail.
The following Monday I decided to tell my editor my decision, which was to stop writing the column. To my shock, I ended up getting some of the best professional advice I had ever received. He said it was my choice, I could run and hide from this one person who didn’t really know me or like me; or I could go do my job better than I had ever done it before and prove that I’m not too dumb to write and I’m not an embarrassment or a joke. After a few more words of advice and encouragement I went to my desk to write my column for the following day. I sat for hours putting it off. I was wounded and didn’t want to put myself out there. So I wrote about Netflix and cable television. There was nothing personal about it; it was a safe column that couldn’t be mocked. I needed that week to hide from that one person, that one perfect stranger.
We teach our children not to bully because it leaves scars that may never heal. We often see stories of children being bullied so badly they decide that suicide is the only option. I’ve prayed that Alex will never know what it’s like to be bullied and as a parent the thought of your child being hurt by sharp words is crippling. I never expected to feel bullied or scared as an adult. How was this person to know my personal mental state? Had I been in a dark place in my life could this have been the final straw? The old saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never kill me,” is by far the biggest lie ever repeated. Right now if you were to ask me whether I’d rather be hit with a stick across my face or read that letter, I’d beg for the stick to the face every single time. The pain from a stick to the face would fade away over time while the words will hurt forever. Every week I think about this one person and wonder if this column is an embarrassment or joke, and that’s a heavy burden to carry.
Days after I found the note it suddenly disappeared. I have a feeling Brian destroyed it because I was using it to emotionally cut myself. The name that was foreign to me has long been forgotten and I was never able to consider responding as I don’t remember to who I would respond to. But I’ve always wanted to ask this person so many questions and here over a year later, thank them. I had to really grow up the moment I read those words. I had to see the world for what it’s not and it’s not all smiles, sunshine and rainbows. I’ve always worked hard on this column and other things I do for the paper but now I work harder than I ever thought possible. I strive to be a better employee and I strive harder to be better for our readers. Each week I’m out to prove I’m not a joke.
This experience also taught me to more carefully consider my words: something I had not done so much before. I was often fast and loose with my tongue. Now I choose my words wisely, or try to. If there’s something I don’t like or someone who has angered me, I consider the fact that I have no way of knowing how my sharp words would affect them. Could you say the absolute wrong thing on the worst possible day thus sending them into a tailspin? We can’t see the burdens people may carry on their shoulders in their day-to-day life. That smile could hide immense pain, you just don’t know. It’s something to consider. Words didn’t kill me but they did have me considering uprooting my life to go into hiding. Words nearly took away something I truly love.
Sticks and stones may possibly kill you, but words, well they can possibly kill you too-and if they don’t they may just scar you for life.
By sheer will, determination and the encouragement of Jason and Brian; I clawed my way out of that deep hole of despair. And this spring when my column won an award, my first thought (sadly) was of this stranger. What did she think of this embarrassing joke of a dummy receiving such a tremendous honor? I’ve never worked harder at anything in my life than I have this column. I will continue to push myself to deliver the best I can, every single week, and it would take an Army to stop me from accomplishing that; heck, even pneumonia couldn’t keep me from this space. As long as you read and enjoy my column; I promise to continue delivering it. I won’t scare as easily now and my first instinct won’t be to run-but to push myself harder.