As I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be vulnerable, I’m realizing -for me- it keeps coming back to friendship and allowing myself (for better or worse) to be connected to other people. Oh – and it’s really hard!
One of the areas where I’ve been focusing on being strong, being an island (therefore closing others out) is with my health. About a year ago I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (although I was being followed for “lesions consistent with a demyelinizing disease” for a year and a half before that), and, at least in my mind, I was amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I had my moments where I broke down in private, but I was able to talk about it, laugh in the face of the disease, be objective, not have an existential crisis about it, take life a day at a time, while recognizing that the future might hold challenges, etc. Considering that the year had brought me: a layoff from a job that I took pride in, a milestone birthday, and the loss of my engagement ring, I thought I was doing a pretty good job of holding it together.
Having struggled with depression for decades, I was particularly impressed that I didn’t succumb to an episode in the face of all of this. I knew what depression was – it was breaking down, non-stop crying, with the belief that things would never get better. Again, I had my moments, but I was impressed with my relative non-breakdown-ness.
It was about the time I started allowing myself to connect with friends again, that I realized how not okay I was. As Beth Woolsey has written about Depression coming in disguise, I didn’t realize that I thought I was okay because I had just turned everything off and given up (except for bouts of extreme pissyness). I floundered with trying to start a business – one that I really cared about. I didn’t reach out to friends. I didn’t “suffer” from my disease because I just preemptively decided that I just couldn’t do things and participate in things because if it. No big deal, I just “can’t do that” (go on walks, go out, do things that require endurance, do yoga classes, etc.)
Oddly enough, breaking out of this “I’m fine” shell has been painful, like the pins and needles you feel after a limb has fallen asleep. My husband is doing a biking fundraiser to help raise money for MS research (you can learn more here!), so I’ve been putting my story out there. Even though I’m trying to be more open, I still falter for asking for help when *I* need it (see, the fundraising is for *him*, not me, so it’s easier than just telling people my story for my own sake). For example, I’ve been going out to more social events where people stand around a lot. When it gets physically painful for me, I just suck it up, look for a chair (and feel so embarrassed when I’m the only one sitting), or leave because I don’t want to be “that person” who needs a special accommodation.
Recently, though, I made a huge stride in that area. My friend (the same one who started my whole thought process about vulnerability) put out an invitation to a concert at a nightclub. I expressed interest without thinking about the venue, then tried to pull out once I realized that it there was no seating, it was just standing. Instead of accepting my withdrawal, she did some research on the venue and found out how to ask for seating. Within 2 phone calls, they had a plan to reserve a table for us in the mezzanine. (You know those cool “Reserved for” tables that they have in nightclubs?)
Of course, I was feeling grateful for my friends’ push and great attitude about not being down on the floor close to the stage (for which I felt guilty), when she said, “I’m so glad we have this table!” I was too busy feeling guilty to realize that the accommodation that the club made might actually be a benefit! The concert was amazing, we walked around downtown Cambridge in perfect Spring weather, and a barrier was dismantled for me. Concerts at night clubs are now something that is within my range of possible. Only now, I realize that sharing my vulnerability is what led to this breakthrough.
I still have no answer for how to positively reframe the look of disappointment on my son’s face when I try to explain to him that I’m too tired to play with him or take him to the park or why the Mother’s Day trip to the Children’s Museum made me cry because I was so tired that I was nauseated but felt too guilty not to go, but I am working on beating myself up less about it.
And look at me go! I can say it. My Mother’s Day was not “fine.” It was physically exhausting and emotionally painful. I love my son and husband, and they showered me with love, cards, and homemade gifts, but I still struggled. But you know the thing that made the biggest difference? Being kind to myself. Don’t get me wrong, being kind to myself is right up there with going to the dentist for me, but even I have to acknowledge that I experience the most amazing change in attitude when I talk to myself and treat myself as I would a friend (aka nicely), rather than my usual mode of dealing with myself (not so much).
So, my work at vulnerability is definitely being made easier by friends who are near me and help; however, long distance friendships can require some different strategies/ skills. Luckily, I also have amazing friends who live in different parts of the country. We’ve developed some pretty cool habits that make it so much easier to share when things aren’t going well and feel more clued-in about day-to-day details of each other’s lives. (More about that next time). Have you had any experiences where you’ve experienced amazing support from your friends?
Woman in Mask Image courtesy of graur codrin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net