Challenge 3: Sponsored Silence

March’s challenge was my most anticipated so far, purely because I knew it would be the toughest.

I am a talker, anyone who knows me well would agree that I can talk the hind legs off a donkey given half the chance. In addition, I’m lucky enough to feel able to talk about the difficult stuff despite it sometimes being uncomfortable. Talking has been the most effective therapy for me – I don’t know where I would be now if I didn’t open up and discuss the feelings I was experiencing. These feelings were often scary and voicing them didn’t give them power as some would expect, it did the opposite. It gave me the opportunity to fight them; if someone else knew how I was feeling, I didn’t have to deal with it on my own. And we are always stronger together. It gave me the opportunity to dig deep into what these feelings meant, and how I would overcome them. I wouldn’t have been able to do this on my own; the strength I have now came from admitting fear and asking for help.

The reason behind challenge number 3 was to highlight the difficulty people face when they don’t feel able to talk. In relation to mental health, keeping feelings bottled up inside can be catastrophic. It can literally mean the difference between life and death, and I don’t say that lightly. So many people, men in particular, have this idea that if they open up, people will treat them differently. And you know what? Yes they will. They will treat you with more compassion, more kindness and more respect. People have this idea that if they open up, they will be seen as weak. But some of the strongest people I know are those who reach out.

I found this challenge incredibly difficult, but also very rewarding. I learnt so much in the 9 hours of being silent. I learnt more than I anticipated and I am so glad I chose this challenge. Having said that, I most definitely never want to do it again!

Firstly, I work with 3 and 4 year olds – anyone whose got experience with this age know how many questions they can ask. My prediction is around 437 an hour! So I already knew this challenge would be difficult. Luckily, I have some incredibly supportive colleagues who helped me so much during my silence. My room leader sat all the children down and explained what I was going to be doing all day. A lot of them were intrigued, and spent most of the morning asking me questions and proceeding to laugh or look at me strangely when I made attempts to answer without words. I had a collection of photos attached to my trousers which the children enjoyed looking at, and they proved very useful throughout the day.

I was amazed to see how well and how quickly the children adapted, despite continuing to ask me questions, they also began to understand my gestures and signs. Some of them even began using the ‘thank you’ sign after watching me. This made my heart swell, and made me understand even more the important of communication that didn’t solely involve words.

However, some of the most important things need to be voiced. I could ask the children to use the toilet, to wash hands, to sit down all with photos. But I couldn’t tell them I was proud, or that I would miss them or that I was finding this so hard. Friday was my last day at work for at least the next three weeks, and none of us know if we will see the children again before they start school in September. I hadn’t anticipated that we would be in the current situation when it came to my sponsored silence challenge, and so I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that I wouldn’t even be able to say goodbye. This made Friday an even more emotional day for me, and again proved to me how my words are vital to me. I use my voice to echo my fears, my worries and my doubts. But I also use my voice to declare my love, my pride and my hope.

Being silent for 9 hours made me feel isolated, distant and frustrated. But it made me thankful for my ability to speak even more, and I hope that the money I raised from completing this challenge can be used to give people the strength to use their voice too. Or at least let someone be theirs until they understand that silence has no benefit.

Words are powerful, let’s use them wisely.

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