What does vulnerability mean to you? For me, it’s stepping out of the shadow and removing the “perfect” mask to expose my full, authentic self. And it is both terrifying and amazing.
Vulnerability does not come easy for me. The diagnosis of two mental health disorders battled fiercely with my perfectionism. And my concern regarding the lack of awareness and compassion for those with mental illness created a fear in me that grew big and bad over the years. And that big, bad Fear Monster turned into a bigger and badder Shame Monster. And that Shame Monster started scratching through my “perfect” exterior, and once it got inside it planted hate and disgust into my perceived self-worth. Do you know what it looks like when the Shame Monster grew so large and intolerable that he bursted out of my body, leaving me in a million pieces on the ground, pieces of myself that I didn’t even recognize as ‘me’ anymore? It looks like a two year old having a temper tantrum because you said ‘no’ to that piece of candy. No, really, that’s what it looked like. It’s screaming louder than I knew I could because I hate that I have to manage a lifelong illness and I just want to fix it. It’s beating my fist into my pillow with more power than I knew I could muster because life isn’t fair. It’s crying more tears than I knew I could cry because I’m so tired of holding it all together and I just want to give up. But then? Then it’s calmness. Then it is the voice of my inner wisdom telling me that it’s time to send the Shame Monster on its way and find the willingness to pick up the pieces.
In the timespan of a few weeks, my therapist suggested I work on radical acceptance, my psychiatrist recommended a group therapy program in which I met strong and courageous people who were struggling, and Brené Brown* taught me the power of vulnerability. She summed it up best when she shared that “vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.” Suddenly, my call to action was so clear that there was no turning away from it.
“There is something wonderfully bold and liberating about saying yes to our entire imperfect and messy life.”
This blog is something I have wanted to do for a long time, but couldn’t seem to find the courage. I’ve been slowly sharing pieces of my story to one person at a time. But sharing my story in a more public forum? I’d be lying if I said it didn’t scare the hell out of me. Each time I hit the “Publish” button, there is an old voice inside my head screaming ‘Are you sure you want to do this? Remember how much easier it was to hide??’ Instead of humoring that voice, I practice effective re-thinking; I breathe in and tell myself ‘this is really scary for me’, then I breathe out and say ‘but I can manage it’. The small pang of terror I feel hitting that button is nothing compared to the ever-growing compassion and grace I will be able to give to myself and others in the long-term; and it is nothing compared to the honor and joy of being a small part of spreading awareness about the struggles of mental illness, and giving hope to those who need it. If we can learn to be more vulnerable with each other, I believe we will create greater purpose, love, and connectedness in our lives.
If you want to take that leap of faith and share part of your story through this blog, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Together we can build a community of courage, compassion, and hope to end the stigma of mental illness. Let’s be vulnerable together.
*Brené Brown, research professor, University of Houston, is a shame and guilt researcher, turned vulnerability researcher. Her story is empowering, and quite humorous. If you are interested in this topic, please watch her TED talk called The Power of Vulnerability. You will not regret it.