Remember the days when you’d go to a restaurant and while you waited to meet your friend, you’d order a drink, look around and watch other people? Then you’d feel weirdly uncomfortable and awkward because you were alone — yes — without your smartphone, and therefore, had to sit idle. As I reminisce on these pre-phone days, I recall looking around and watching other couples in conversation, studying the meals on the tables, scanning the apparel and shoes on those around me, or even the decor of the restaurant, all while giving the server a polite smile and say, “I’m just waiting for a friend.” At that time, every minute I checked my watch felt eternal because I was alone. Rather than swiping, liking and scrolling on my coveted phone, I was forced to deal with myself. Crazy right? Eventually, I’d accept the discomfort of sitting idle and having to just think, daydream, and as we see it today, “do nothing.”
Rather than swiping, liking and scrolling on my coveted phone, I was forced to deal with myself
I also remember when I used to wait for the train from New Jersey to Manhattan and while I waited, I watched people, tossed out “good morning!” to strangers and talked to the familiar faces that were “regular” commuters who like me, waited for the same train on a daily basis. When the crowds subsided, I would fidget with my outfit or lip gloss and just kept checking my watch for 7:14am to come around. At some point, I’d eventually let my mind wander while I admired the sunrise or studied other commuters.
In today’s world of smartphones and hyper-connectivity, (read: when you text your friend before a date with a “be there in 2 minutes” or “parking the car,”), there is no time for awkward silence, nor daydreaming. In fact, I embrace the extra few minutes to fire out one more email, check instagram or squeeze in a quick phone call. Like most people, I find the need to be productive EVERY MINUTE of the day. The same situation applies for when I’m waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting for the barista to prepare my latte and heck, even if I sit in the car at a red light too long, I feel productive taking a quick scan at an email or text.
This article was originally published on thriveglobal.com
My phone has become my security blanket, my partner, my accessory, my prop, and my “I can’t live without you!” I surveyed some of my friends and we all agreed that whenever we have any “dead” time or have to sit idle, we are instantly commandeered by our little rectangular blue-light companion that comforts us and gives us something to do when we need something to do, or makes us at least look like we have something to do. That’s kind of messed up, right? And is this good or bad?
It’s discernibly good because we are “getting things done,” however, when I reflect on this, I consider it to be not so good. Why? Because it was during those quiet times of observing and mind wandering, when I did a lot of thinking, when I paid more attention to details and when I use to memorize things I saw or heard such as songs or billboards on the subway, and even people’s names! I would walk down the Manhattan streets and look at birds, make eye contact with people, notice new storefront windows and creatively think about what I wanted to accomplish. Today we see people walk down those same streets, hijacked by their cell phones, and typically head down and headphones in. But what about that awkward silence at the restaurant? Have we forgotten how to feel awkward and just deal with ourselves?
My phone has become my security blanket, my partner, my accessory, my prop, and my “I can’t live without you!”
In 1670, French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensées, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Psychologist Timothy Wilson backs this up in 11 studies proving that people did not enjoy spending even short periods of time in a room, with nothing to do but think and daydream. The participants preferred listening to music, being on their smartphones and even giving themselves mild electric shocks, as opposed to being left to think.
When I remember those non-iPhone days, I recall things that I never even pay attention to anymore and I feel grateful for having lived a smartphone-less childhood, well into my early 20s. I spent more time thinking inwards, visualizing goals, smiling about past moments and meditating. Sadly, the digital distractions, apps, emails and alerts on my phone now replace this time.
So here’s the challenge — try it; make a date with someone, arrive early and Just. Sit. Idle. Might you feel awkward, uncomfortable, inefficient or fidgety? Absolutely. But within that awkwardness, you may discover the magic of kicking up a conversation with the bartender, or even better, daydreaming and allowing your mind to wander. Studies show that during this brain’s idle stage of thinking is in fact, anything but idle. The brain uses this quiet mode of processing for “self-awareness and reflection, recalling personal memories, imagining the future, feeling emotions about the psychological impact of social situations on other people, and constructing moral judgments.”
Empowered with this knowledge, I will certainly rethink the incessant social check-ins, unnecessary “I’m sitting at the bar” texts, and obsession to be “always busy,” to once again, accomplish true mindfulness and a stronger sense of self. In other words, I may just have to deal with myself, but this time, I’ll enjoy it.
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.