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Words Matter

Let me tell you a story. It’s a story of tiny, baby K.C. doing triskills back in primary school. Triskills was my absolute favourite thing to ever come out of school (I then went on to study circus arts for about ten years). Now, during one of these triskills sessions, I began to feel a headache coming on and I got a little worried.

This is going to take some backstory. Ever since I was 4, I suffered from chronic migraines. The kind of migraines that had me hospitalised at least twice, and when I was older I had to have CAT scans and EEGs to make sure I wasn’t having small strokes. Suffice to say, they were BAD. So when I say I got “a little worried” when I got a headache, that is a massive understatement. I wasn’t sure whether it would go away of it’s own accord or whether I would end up vomiting and crying for three days.

I was also a debilitatingly shy kid. The kind of kid that would sit there not understanding something but would be too afraid to ask questions. The kind of kid that would wet themselves because they were too scared to ask permission to go to the bathroom. I was also really bad at articulating my thoughts and found it hard to effectively communicate with people.

So, the fact that I asked one of the trainers for help is pretty big, especially as they weren’t someone I already knew and trusted. In fact, I believe she approached me. I must’ve been looking a bit off because she came up and asked if I was okay. I remember making some kind of affirmation on reflex before checking myself and responding honestly: “I have a headache, and that’s bad because I get migraines!”

The response I received has always dumbfounded me, even as an adult. She looked at me and in an incredibly snarky tone she said “So do I. In fact, I’ve got one right now!” before walking away. As a child, it was completely shattering.

But why am I bringing this up now? Because I’m sitting here, at 11pm almost fifteen years later, and I start to feel a sharp, stabbing pain behind my eyes. I’ve learnt by now that this is just a headache most likely caused from fatigue, and that it’s unlikely to turn into a migraine. But the feeling sends me right back to that day and suddenly I’m a child again. I’m a child who’s scared, who is just trying to take care of myself but am too shy and inarticulate to express what’s wrong. I’m a child who doesn’t realise there are varying degrees of migraines/pain in general, who only knows what I’ve personally experienced and assumes everyone else has had that same experience. I’m a child who was already mistrusting to begin with, who’s just reached out to an adult and been humiliated in response. 

And I know I’m not the only one who has had an experience like this. We all have those moments that seem insignificant in hindsight but at the time affected us in a very real and lasting manner. Those tiny events that burn themselves into your memory so that decades later you will still have flashbacks, sometimes for no particular reason.

My point is that if you’re a person who believes your words don’t matter, that a throwaway comment can’t or won’t be harmful, that children are too young to understand or remember, then do me a favour and never speak again. Afterall, if your words don’t matter, then neither should your silence, right?

Written by K.C.

Illustrated by Charlie Osborne