Photo by Kmeron on Flickr.
I am writing a book. Which is why I haven’t blogged in a while. More about that in a future post. But in the past week a few people have contacted me to tell me how much the writing I’ve shared in recent months here has meant to them — specifically, how the “radical vulnerability” I’ve written about has inspired them to follow suit, or, at least, to try. I think this post about owning up to the things we know to be true was the one that affected people most — which, incidentally, is the blog post I was the most scared to publish, in almost a decade of blogging.
Let’s back up a few sentences: I said that this blog has inspired people to be more vulnerable, or, “at least, to try.” But this is a case where “at least” is a lot. It’s not like saying, “Well, he forgot my birthday, but at least he took a dump on the floor.” (At least!)
Trying is not some throwaway effort. TRYING COUNTS. Big time. I am not saying that to put a bow on top, to make you feel better for doing something lame or ordinary. I am saying it because trying is all we can ever do, and so, it is everything.
Trying is everything. (Sorry, Yoda.)
Saying, “I want to allow myself to be more vulnerable” and keeping that in mind as an intention puts you far closer to the power of your vulnerability. The alternative: Armor that keeps you from expressing who you really are. I don’t know many instances where such a method of living led to deep happiness or fulfillment.
“Just Put Your Head Down and Get Through It”
Here’s a question: Is it a luxury to allow yourself to be vulnerable?
Click to enlarge this image
…Which is really a way of asking, Is it a luxury to seek happiness or fulfillment? Rather than just getting by?
I have a friend who is really suffering right now. A few of them, actually. And for them, this notion of “radical vulnerability” might sound like a touchy-feely indulgence. “Yeah, I’ll focus on letting down my guard just as soon as I get back from chemotherapy, or as soon as my shitty ex-husband stops sending me abusive texts, while I’m trying to raise our child and stay on top of a demanding job with its stream of endless deadlines.”
We need our guard to get us through these times. Right?
I don’t know.
I understand why we put our guard up; I do it, too. I am unlearning a lifetime of acting as if I’m ok, when I’m not ok.
So, while it’s human and understandable to put our guard up in hard times…is it necessary?
Does it serve us?
I have another friend, someone who had been living in survival mode for a really long time. “Just put your head down and get through it,” was her motto. I saw her earlier this summer and she looked old, and grim. We spent half a day together, and I don’t think she smiled once.
Later in the summer, she reached out to me because she was having severe panic attacks. I urged her to seek help, and, thankfully, she did, speaking to my therapist and ultimately going on medication. It’s not without its side effects, but when I saw her in September, it was like I was beholding a different person. There was a lightness about her. None of the external circumstances of her life had changed, whatsoever, but her perspective, her outlook, was completely different. She looked ten years younger. She seemed like HER again.
The Power of Asking for Help
This is not a blog post about the power of anti-anxiety medication or therapy, though both are things I heartily support. (Heartily. I have been in therapy, sometimes for years at a stretch, and am currently on Prozac. When I started taking medication in my late 20s, both my husband and my parents said, “It’s like we have Amanda back.” That’s how I feel about my friend.)
But like I said, this isn’t a post about getting help for mental illness. It’s about getting help, period. Allowing yourself to ask for it.
Because what my friend did, when she reached out to me over the summer, was:
She made herself vulnerable.
She admitted there was a problem.
She asked for help.
Maybe you aren’t having panic attacks. Maybe you’re just living in a dark, stressed-out fog, where it feels like all you can do is put one foot in front of the other and live for that 5pm glass of wine, that vacation next summer, or whatever it is you look forward to. Maybe you’ve told yourself there’s no escape from the fight-or-flight survival mode that your life has become. Maybe you’ve even told yourself that you’re ok with this. That it’s part of being a grown-up. That “them’s the breaks.”
What I want to say is, I think there is an alternative.
And I think that allowing yourself to be vulnerable may be an essential part of that alternative. As dopey as it may sound. As much as you may resist it.
“Allowing yourself to be vulnerable,” as in:
- Asking for help, from friends or family, from a therapist or a doctor or a support group
- Telling the truth, when a friend asks how you are
- Writing down how you really feel, if saying it out loud is too scary right now
- Letting yourself cry
- Submitting to therapy, whether it’s talk therapy or massage or acupuncture or anything that might break through your defenses and touch some real emotion that you’ve been wanting to hide away, that is becoming toxic as it festers, neglected, inside you
Earlier, I asked, “Is it a luxury to allow yourself to be vulnerable?”
What if it is?
Don’t you deserve luxury?
If it’s a luxury, it’s one that only you can purchase.
Buy yourself some happiness diamonds.
Think of people who have lived through similar kinds of suffering and stress, or far worse, and who did not allow their circumstances to limit the expression of their spirit.
Do not compare yourself in order to beat yourself up over your perceived “failings,” rather, do it to find inspiration and strength and comfort.
You are allowed to thrive, not just survive.
It is NOT easy. But, let’s be honest: neither is the alternative.
Sharpen Your Pencils
If living in repressed, bottled-up survival mode is so unpleasant, why do we stick to it, rather than choosing to soften or open up into the alternative?
We fool ourselves into thinking it’s easier, or that it’s our only option.
But we have the power to write the script of our lives. We have the power to choose to let magic in (hat tip to Elizabeth Gilbert, whose book, Big Magic, and related podcast, have had a huge affect on me this Fall).
We are allowed.
We do not have a cure for cancer (yet), or for keeping assholes out of our lives. For chronic, unrelenting pain, or for loved ones who disappoint us or load us with unfair expectations. For shitty bosses, for the stress of parenting, or for assholes who cheat their way into billions of dollars. For injustice. For hate.
But we do have the power of choice. Even if that power is constrained by external circumstances — by lack of time, lack of money…lack of hope — you can choose, for example, to meditate for five minutes a day, to create a feeling of spaciousness inside you. You can choose to spend time with people who energize you, rather than those who drain you. You can even choose to disappoint someone, if it’s what you need to do to allow yourself sanity. Everything you do…it’s all a choice.
Too often, we feel like we are locked into a script. But truly, we are not. The script is in your head.
You can write a better one.
Remember: Trying is everything.