Learning To Participate

‘You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand’.

I never related to a character more than I did to Charlie in Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower. In my memory I’ve always been shy like him, but my parents have a different opinion.

They tell anecdotes involving me being the centre of attention: the other children at playgroup sat around me while I told stories, talking eagerly to adults at parties and not afraid of being centre stage. Like most people I think, this changed when I became self-aware.

The older I got, the more I shrank inside myself. It wasn’t as if I was crippled with shyness and anxiety. Part of me still loved to be in the limelight and to perform my stories; now it was just to my small groups of close friends. I was confident in small settings, but I didn’t need the attention. I was happy to disappear.

I became an observer in life and in doing so, I learned. I can sense the slight shift in atmosphere when someone’s feelings have been hurt. I hear the unspoken words communicated between two people’s gazes. I see when you stop talking when you realise the rest of the group isn’t listening.

As a result of this people tend to confide in me. They tell me things that sometimes I wish they didn’t, but that’s become my role in life. During a meeting about other things with my personal tutor, we got on to this conversation and my thoughts about it. “It seems like you get your validation by being that listener. Almost like a counsellor” she suggested. “It’s your way of feeling important and needed”. I hate to think she may be right.

So when I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower I got it. Charlie was another observer of life: seeing things and keeping quiet about them. Every thing that happened to this character resonated with me, and I felt every emotion Charlie did.

It opened my eyes.

‘You can’t just sit there and put everyone’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love.’

I always thought that I was being the person everyone needed me to be, but maybe that’s not the case.

So, I’m changing things up. I’m still quiet and I know I should talk more. I still revert into my shell in group settings, and I still rely on other people to fill the silence. I can’t stop seeing the unseen things around the room, but I can stop letting them consume me. I’m no longer an observer. Like Charlie, I’m learning to participate.

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