I’m ready to talk about my feelings


Rachel Choi

Illustration by Rachel Choi

By Meg Richards, Staff Writer

Throughout my life, I’ve let some questionable shit happen solely because I was afraid that I was feeling my feelings too intensely, even though all the signs were there.

I’m typically characterized as being overdramatic, highly expressive, and hyper-sensitive—which makes me feel like my emotions are always too much: i.e., they don’t matter. But they do. Because sometimes they’re the only cue that something is deeply wrong.

When I realized this self-gaslighting was programmed by societal sexism, I found myself asking, “why are women conditioned to dismiss their feelings?” Whether it’s in a doctor’s office, crying over a breakup, or reporting sexual harassment, this train of thought makes frequent stops in Meg Town.

Recently, this suspicion has been heavily reinforced. The good news is that, after five years of trying to identify this creeping feeling that I know all too well, I’m finally getting better at articulating it. A better, clearer question I’ve considered is, “why are girls conditioned to dismiss their feelings?”

When I was fifteen, I described the feeling as moths in my stomach and broth in my brain. Insinuating that my stomach was too rotten a home for butterflies, and my thoughts too sour to count as anything other than chicken stock. 

I talked to my roommate about it—she described it as feeling ugly.

“Even if I was never touched, even if nothing sexual was said, it still felt just…ugly,” she said.

Ugly is right. Not physically ugly, but internally. Nasty and vile. Rotted from the inside out. Sometimes, you’re the only one that picks up on the fact that something is wrong. The way he looked at you wasn’t right. The way he said that word flags something in your brain. He’s obsessed with how young you are. He grows temperamental when you set clear boundaries. Something feels wrong, and you’re the only one who knows.

Even worse, sometimes something wrong happens and your brain isn’t developed enough to process it. Recently, my dance teacher, a childhood mentor to both my sister and I, was arrested and charged with indecent liberties with a minor. Translation: child sexual abuse.

It was a hard pill to swallow. It took weeks to grieve. It will take months to heal. Let me be as loud as possible: it is not just men. Women do this too.

Grown women who Snapchat you when you’re twelve. Women who force your sister to wear a tampon on her first period because she must go commando for her dance. The costume just won’t look right otherwise.

She never touched me. And unlike my sister, I was never an individual recipient of her emotional abuse. But when I found out, there was one thought I couldn’t get out my head: 

“I feel ugly.”

I trusted her. I trusted her with my childhood and I trusted her with my baby sister. Every memory I have with her, seven years of mentorship, is tarnished by the thought of “What were the signs I missed?”

No, I was one of the lucky ones. I got away without a scratch. But my friends weren’t as fortunate. And now I live with the guilt that I should’ve known. I could have done more. I should have paid more attention. I should have looked for the signs. It doesn’t matter that I was 12. I should’ve known better.

My mom survived a physical and emotionally abusive relationship from the ages of 14-18. It happened to her, and she made it out. She couldn’t have married a better man, mostly because it’s not him, but also because my dad is the best she could’ve asked for.

The other day she told me that she always wanted to write a book for young girls to know the signs to look out for. 

“Maybe you can bring my dream to life,” she told me. 

I’m eighteen. The age she was when she escaped. At eighteen, now, I can’t even begin to recognize some of the signs, despite feeling the feelings. 

I’ve dealt with sexual assault and harassment since I was thirteen. It’s safe to say I know the feeling. 

If she would have told me a month ago that she thought I could spread awareness, talk about the signs, and bring her dream to life, I would’ve jumped to say yes. I would have told her she couldn’t have asked a better person.

But now I’m eighteen and all I see around me are missed signs. Every friendly exchange with my former dance teacher, someone I held near and dear to my heart, is one huge red flag that I missed. Not to mention how disheartening it is to combat this harassment in person. As a freshman in college, I’m pursuing a Title IX report against someone and the process—for those of you that don’t know—involves a lot of second-guessing both yourself and your feelings.    

Mom, I would write that book for you. I’d write a million if it meant preventing what happened to you from happening to me or anyone else. But how am I supposed to know? How am I supposed to know when my own experiences have left me without a semblance of a vocabulary, knowing only how I feel. And I feel ugly, rotted, corroded. 

Maybe that’s what needs to be taught. If you feel ugly, if you feel like your stomach is a rotted, moth eaten, used-to-be living thing, and it aches enough to keep you awake, those are your signs. It’s all about your gut feeling. Trust your intuition. Even when others tell you it’s not a big deal or you’re being overdramatic, “he just wants to make friends,” or “welcome to being a woman”: ignore them. You only need to listen to one person—yourself.

Well, maybe two if you count me. If something is telling you that the look that man gave you wasn’t right, that the way your dance teacher touched you felt weird, if the way that guy spoke to you made you feel a certain way, listen to yourself. 

That’s the only sign I can tell you to watch out for.