Speaking in public used to paralyze me. Of course, this is really quite strange when I think about being a teacher and I essentially speak in public every day. But, back then, I would physically seize up as a wave of panic hit my entire body causing a fascist coup of form. It took control and there was nothing my mind could do.
This one particular pivotal moment established a cascade of similar moments which abated but which surfaced for some time. Until they didn’t anymore.
I used to work for a provincial government agency and I was one of a few female managers attending a seminar on leadership; I think I was the youngest, too. I was a fairly recent undergraduate with an English and geography major who’d risen through the ranks to a role in management. I had a broad background having studied the Sciences before switching to the Humanities. But, I had no skill in politics or diplomacy. I had no role models nor mentors. And although the memory of the actual event is vivid only in sense, the content and facts of the situation are just murky memories.
I am centre stage, imprisoned by high backed Black leather chairs around an oversized faux mahogany boardroom table. Someone has just reminded me of a recent event back in the main office, one in which I was publically undermined by a male colleague. ( Insert flashback to my youth, when my feminist mother was trying to point out how patriarchy works, and I missed the lesson.) I am completely naive, probably more so than the average young woman (Insert self blame here for resisting mother’s lessons.) All eyes fix on me and wait for an explanation. I feel it rushing fast, my blood filling my face and through hyperventilating words, I push out a heaving explanation too incomprehensible.
I name it, outloud, thinking this will pass. “I know that I’m not being clear.”
I wait for the breath to come, for someone to drop the airbag from the ceiling of the cabin. I see their eyes widen, mouths drop a little. I did not think of this at the time, but no facilitator steps in, no colleague steps up. Instead, around the large table, all sit as bystanders to the body-snatching with no attempted to aid the suffocating.
The response is tattooed inside me, always just beneath the skin. It was awful and it’s still there under the surface whenever I feel my emotions rise in a group leadership meeting.