Words are such a vital component of our lives. A necessity. They are how we communicate everything from our most basic needs to our heaviest emotions. Whether spoken, written or signed, they are essential to the human condition. For me, words go far beyond a necessity. They serve as an incredible tool. A vessel for the inner workings of my mind and my heart. They allow me to better communicate what might come out as a giant mess if I tried to articulate it in person. They allow me to share my struggles and my successes, here, in the hopes of helping others feel less alone. They’ve been a gift. A blessing. And though greatly cathartic, they can also be incredibly imprecating.
We seem to write everything down these days. Long gone is the instinct to pick up the phone and physically speak to the people in our lives. I literally talk to 4 people on the phone. My mom, my sister, my husband and my best friend. I inherently panic when anyone else calls me. Naturally my mind jumps to the irrational conclusion that someone must have died. #anxietygirl
So instead we text. We tweet. We DM. We blog. We share. We like. We react. Emojis might actually replace words one day if we continue on the path we’re on. And while you can remember and reflect on something that someone told you in person or over the phone, you can read it over and over again when it’s written down. Forever.
Sometimes this is great. It can be difficult to speak the things we really want or need to say to someone. Writing it down allows us to be speak our truth in a way that might be more comfortable or manageable. And having things written down can be helpful, even healing. Maybe a loved one sends you something meaningful that you can reflect back on when you’re having a bad day. Or you get instructions on something you need to reference again.
When things becomes troublesome though, is when the written words have the power to bring your world crashing down. I’m talking about the texts or emails or DMs (direct messages) that make your stomach fall to the floor. Maybe it was something you were expecting – a response to your own poor choice of hurtful words. Or maybe it was unexpected, blindsiding you in the worst possible way.
As big of a gift as words are, they can also be our biggest weapon. They can cut as deep as a knife and leave us flat on our backs, gasping for air.
While I try and use my words here very intentionally, to create awareness around mental illness and personal health struggles – and pride myself on my ability to communicate what others cannot – I’ve also used my words for worse reasons. Hurtful reasons. One of the cons of being a highly emotional and reactive person is the sometimes not so nice words that I release without fully realizing the implication of the meaning behind them. Give me a phone or a computer and I’m able to release those words out into the world with no ability to take them back. Very quickly at that. Well, sh*t. So many times have I clicked enter or send and immediately regretted it. And as much regret as there can be, there’s also almost always a morsel of truth.
We try to pretend there isn’t. “I didn’t mean it,” “I was just angry,” “It was taken out of context,” and so on and so forth. But words give us the ability to express our most visceral emotions. And with visceral emotions and reactions, often comes an incredible amount of regret. They may not be things we truly believe and/or wish to put out into the world for all to hear or read, but they are raw and very real in the moment we say or send them. And when written down, they become permanent.
Our words have serious consequences. In the swoosh of a sent text message they can damage or destroy trust. They can end relationships that we’ve spent decades building. They can quite literally mean life or death. Especially for those of us who read so deeply into their meanings and the assumed intentions behind them.
I hurt a friend of mine earlier this week with my words. And this friend in return hurt me back. The knife so deep it evoked one of those visceral reactions. Our words were driven by anger. By frustration. And though I truly don’t believe the meaning behind what I said, or what they said, we put them permanently into the universe and must live with those consequences. We can apologize, we can forgive. But for those of us who overanalyze, worry and ruminate in self doubt – it’s almost impossible to forget.
We can all collectively do better. We have to. Words are starting wars. They are fuelling bullying. They are spreading hatred online, our global stage. It can feel helpless to combat it and easy to ignore. It can be easier to be angry than to be truthful and vulnerable. But we can use our words for more good than we do bad. Truth is, we all need affirmation. To be encouraged. To be asked how we’re doing. To be told we are loved. To be told we are appreciated. And words give us the ability to do just that. To give one another the benefit of the doubt before pulling out our written artillery. To take care of one another. To be there for one another. To share our love. And what better gift can words give us than that.
Title Song – “Knife Going In“ by Tegan and Sara