My “Afterlife” Series ~ How I Became Invisible

By Susan Keats, Contributor & Seize-the-Day Propagandist

The theater was dark, the movie had just started. The woman was large, slowly making her way down the aisle, popcorn in her right hand, eyes on the screen. Just as she came to my row, she started to edge her way in, then, without taking her eyes off the movie, she sat. On me.

What would you have done?

I know exactly what you are saying. In fact, that question seems stupid doesn’t it? What would I have done? I would have said something like, “Hey LADY! Get off me!” Or maybe something more polite, like “Er, excuse me ma’m, but this seat is already taken.” Am I right?

My first thought when the woman sat on me was something like, “Oh, she’ll be so embarrassed when she realizes that she is sitting on my lap. Maybe if I wait a moment she’ll realize and I won’t have to point it out to her and make her feel bad.”

A moment later, I thought,”this would be a good scenario for one of those hidden camera shows. Could I be on a hidden camera show? Nah, it’s too dark in here for that. Besides, I’m pretty sure they need special lighting.”

Next thought, “This is actually pretty funny. You can’t make stuff like this up. Ha! This big lady is sitting on me and she doesn’t even realize it!”

Then, “hmmm…she’s been sitting on me for nearly a minute now, maybe I’ll have to say something…realistically, my legs are starting to hurt and I can’t see the movie.”

Finally, I tapped her shoulder and before I could even utter an “um…” she jumped up and quickly moved down the aisle to find another seat.

invisible-painted-womanGo ahead and laugh. I’m wondering though how common is this being invisible problem?

I can trace my invisibility back to moving to a new state when I was an insecure teen, starting a new life in a new school where no one knew me, and trying to be extra nice, so that I would fit in. Part of fitting in as a teen is to try to be as much like the other kids as possible, so speaking up, being assertive, those were just things you did not do.

Without meaning to, I had figured out the formula for invisibility, so check it out and maybe you’ll realize that you can be invisible too:

Strong desire to always be nice + lack of desire to be assertive = INVISIBLE!

You too? Go figure. I’d fist bump you, but people might look.

I can also remember the day when I first began to realize that being invisible was not an advantage. I was at an amusement park. I had been wistfully eyeing the few people who were walking around the park gripping giant stuffed animals. I wanted one. (I was in my early twenties, before I knew better.) I stepped up to the crowded booth that offered my coveted prize: a giant stuffed giraffe, and all I had to do was toss the ring so that it landed around the neck of a milk bottle. I had already blown through most of my quarters trying, and I had one more shot at amusement park glory. I tossed the ring and would you believe, it actually landed around the neck of the bottle! Bingo! I danced around, thrilled to be one of the envied few with a giant animal around my shoulders.

The bored ring toss guy walked up to the bottle, removed the ring, turned his back, and continued exchanging other people’s quarters for rings. I looked around with my mouth open. No one had noticed anything. No one saw me toss, no one saw me win, no one protested that he should not have removed that ring.

I spoke up. “Hey! I just got the ring on the bottle!”
“Where?” the guy said.
“You just removed it!” I protested.
“No, that was already there” he said.

At that moment, I decided it was probably easier to just forget it. I just couldn’t imagine standing up for myself and arguing with the guy over a stuffed animal.

I can say that nothing particularly good or bad has happened to me because of being invisible, but when you can’t be seen, that is pretty much the status quo. It takes away confidence, it means navigating through life as a person who is unseen, unnoticed, unable to leave an impression on the world. Other people get the credit for what you’ve done. Other people get the giant stuffed giraffe. I’ve been giving people passes for rude behavior, speaking over me, or worse, not even acknowledging that I am present for what seems like FOREVER.

The rules are different for adults. To fit into the adult world, you must hold your own at a cocktail party, speak to what motivates you and carry on interesting conversation. These are skills I enjoy and now, after having my very life threatened with illness, I know that being invisible is no longer the way in which I care to occupy this world.

As a woman over 50, the odds of people ignoring me will apparently continue to increase as I age. Enough is enough. I’m through with being invisible. If you are feeling unnoticed, I want you to know that I actually see you. You. The quiet one at the party. You, the timid one in the class. You, the one who claims not to have an opinion. I see you and I want you to know, if your life should end tomorrow, do you really want to leave this world so opaque? Do you really want to continue to be the person who gets sat upon?

These days I speak up. It is amazing. It feels so good. I no longer put up with anyone else’s bad behavior. I don’t suffer fools gladly and I find I can do all of that and still be a nice person. To keep the process rolling, I have also signed up for improv classes which, by their very nature, teach you to speak up and speak out no matter how uncomfortable you are. The class is tricky. I have a lot to learn, but it is also very liberating and is slowly turning me inside out.

Funny moment though. When I arrived at class this week, (early as they had requested) I sat down right next to our instructor and chatted with my fellow students until it was time for class to start. The instructor had been checking off names of people as they arrived.

“Well, it’s time to get started” he said. “Let’s see, we’re missing Susan and John.”

“I’m Susan” I said, feeling that dreadful invisible feeling.

“Ah, yes you are” he said, checking my name off.

Geez Louise, I had just been chatting away with him for the last 15 minutes.

Maybe he just had a spacey moment, but clearly I’m not out of the invisible woods yet. If it happens again though, I know what to say:

“I’m Susan. Can’t you see this seat is taken!”


Susan-KeatsSusan Keats ~ In 2010 Susan received life-changing news after a routine mammogram. She had breast cancer. After plenty of tears, anxiety and soul searching, she finished treatments and is now entering a year of renewal, growth, and recovery. Susan hopes that those who are just stepping into the experience of illnesses or crises will find the same comfort and inspiration that she felt when others shared their experiences and wisdom with her. She is looking forward to rediscovering parts of herself that she had allowed to fall away. This is going to be a great year!

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16 Responses to My “Afterlife” Series ~ How I Became Invisible

  1. Holly says:

    Oh my that is Funny! I don’t know that I would have been able to sit there the whole 60 seconds waiting for her to notice she was sitting on me! I think I would have burst out laughing LONG before then.

    I usually like being the one blending in with the wallpaper, but when I decided to be seen…there is no missing me.

    I hope you lose your invisibility soon. Great story!


  2. Sheryl says:

    Ha! I know the feeling very well. Fortunately, those moments become less and less as I become bolder and less afraid to speak up. But I can so identify with so many of your experiences that you’ve managed to write about so well.

  3. Chris says:

    WOW – I’m looking forward to taking an improv class someday, too.

  4. Merle says:

    Great article, as always. And just FYI, when I first met you in acting class, you were always visible. Not everyone was, but you were.

  5. Margaret says:

    Susan!! Oh Susan! I’m laughing and crying! I think every one of us can relate to this article…..feeling invisible and unseen, unheard is a most heartbreaking experience….but….no more! We light up the room!
    by the way, from the moment I met you back at yoga and seeing you at tai chi, I thought, She really lights up the room!

  6. Good job!!! And you explain this well, my friend. Can’t say I have been there, as you know I am one that has always made myself be seen… but I have a comment about the big lady. Imagine how bizarre her world is that she can sit on someone and not notice. She is so uncomfortable in her body that she did not realize she was sitting on another person! We need to feel sorry for those people. And your teacher, imagine how terrible he felt when he realized that you were there. (you always saw the invisibles…)
    Being invisible, may appear to be painful… but the people that don’t see you are the problem, not you.
    In fact, sometimes, the ability to be invisible is a talent an advantage. One that can serve you. Imagine being able to surprise the conversation, to stay away from the pettiness.
    As a loud present person i can tell you, that I now work on being invisible. Then I take my invisibility cloak off when I want to— that is the trick.

  7. Aileen says:

    sister awesome article. I think the “invisible” thing plagues many women because in very indirect (and sometimes very direct) ways we are always told to “be nice, don’t make a fuss, put others needs first” etc. That’s a great formula for being invisible! I say we start a revolution where women become LESS invisible as they age. Let’s make a pact ladies, that you have 49 years to figure it all out but by 50 we let our crazy lady flags fly! I’m ready!

  8. Hello there! What a wonderful post about a problem that is unrecognized, many times, by even the invisible themselves. Thank you for sharing. I have put a link on Facebook. Much Love, Fondly, Robin

  9. Elaine says:

    This is priceless! I couldn’t stop laughing then it made me want to cry. I was that invisible girl long into my twenties, to shy to speak up, to afraid to rejection to assert myself. Then in my overcompensation to be seen and heard I became quite obnoxious and my attempts at assertiveness came out all wrong. Am I finally getting it right now that I’m 50? I think so. I can be kindly assertive, get what I need and I am definitely NOT invisible. Keep up the wonderful stories. You should have stayed in L’ville with me and we could have kept each other visible!!

  10. Judy B says:

    Loved it,
    It appears that the older u get the more assertive u become

    Usually other people think u are “cute” or eccentric.
    Grandchildren admire u, probably because u are a role model for becoming less invisible.
    Keep on writing; don’t let anyone sit on u.

  11. Isis says:

    Being invisible (I know if you check out my website you’re likely to tell me it’s impossible!) has long been an issue for me. I have literally been walked on top of because I was so invisible, nearly run over, too! Now I’m a bit more colorful and vibrant, people seem to go out of their way to meet me no matter where I’m at. I think you are absolutely right about your equation – which hits on a similar thread I talk about in one of my more recent podcast episodes. Thank you for reaffirming some of my own experiences out in this wacky world of ours. 🙂

  12. Holly Goldberg says:

    Hi Sue- So funny- Here’s my story on invisibility: I was standing on line at the Trenton, NJ JCC, waiting to pay my daughter’s nursery school bill.I was leaving a bit of space in between the customer before me, who was chatting with the clerk. I had my newborn with me, in a stroller, along with several inflated pool toys. Just as it was my turn, another member stepped in front of me, actually pushing my stroller out of the way, and stepped up to the payment window. I interrupted her and said, “Excuse me, I’ve been waiting in line.”Her response “I didn’t see you”. Mine: “I guess I must be invisible” Her snotty answer, as she looked me up and down: “I guess you are!”

  13. nancy says:

    This article was so funny and charming! You write with warmth and draw me in. Although I am not an invisible person and I never have been, you should realize that I notice I am drawn to the sensitive, empathetic, funny, supportive, quieter people in the room quite often. I think that you are the most empathetic, sweet and caring soul for not wanting to hurt that lady’s feelings. I think that sometimes we all feel invisible one time or another. If one has touble standing out in a crowd, I feel that it is because one’s inner voice is criticising one’s self. Indeed, it is probably in our own heads… So I want that critical bully in your head to stop and be nice to such a nice, insightful, and charming human being named Sue.

  14. Sue,

    This is nothing short of an inspirational story. I think mostly because the challenge of stepping out of your comfort zone to be seen, is something that so many of us deal with constantly. I love this piece because it’s something that nestles itself so closely to my heart and my life. I’m learning each day to be noticed- and each day I take baby steps closer to the goal that we all share: to break the barrier of invisibility and find comfort in your own shoes.

    Thanks for sharing this story. I still can’t believe someone sat on you and didn’t even notice.


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