Choosing To Be Vulnerable

Everyone makes mistakes in life.  I’ve made too many to count.  We all have, haven’t we?  Heck, even in the last few months with just this blog, I’ve posted things I shouldn’t have posted, shared TOO much at times.  That turned out to be a mistake…it makes people uncomfortable.  Discomfort isn’t always a bad thing, but if I am generating that discomfort, I want to do so on purpose and with a goal in mind.

I thought that my purpose and my goal was to create conversation about things people usually avoid talking about.  But if the discomfort is TOO high, people will just shut down and leave.  There needs to be a control valve, even when being vulnerable.  Too vulnerable is just too much for some people to handle.

My problem is that I never learned how to be vulnerable at all, really.  I spent most of my life trying to NOT let people really see how I felt about things.  To be totally honest, I usually failed at that.  I’m not nearly as opaque as I would like to be.  BUT – it was my goal – keep those walls up and present a certain kind of image of myself to the rest of the world.  So when I decided to let myself “be seen”, it was like opening a leaky flood gate.  Choosing to put it all out there, rather than having it leak out against my will, was a good thing – but it all came rushing out without any restraint.

Turns out I overshared a bit…just a bit.  😉  Nuance and editing are good.  I did a sort of “all or nothing” thing, and now I need to figure out balanced vulnerability.  I don’t want to go back to “nothing”, but maybe go forward without putting SO much out there that people can’t handle it.  Not everyone needs to know every detail of every story.

When we choose to be vulnerable, to let ourselves be seen…how do we figure out how much is too much? 

How Much Is Too Much?

I’ve put it out there that I was abused, that I’ve been raped, that I have mental illness, that my brother was a sociopath, and that I struggle with physical disabilities and chronic illness.  I’ve told everyone that reads this blog about my worst things, sometimes in painful detail.  I’ve not wanted to hold anything back, because I’m tired of trying to hold EVERYTHING back.

Most of the things I’ve shared here are things, in the past, I would NEVER have told anyone but my very closest people and maybe my dog.  One or two friends, my husband, that’s it.  I walked around the world trying to appear a certain way, thinking that I needed to seem happy and healthy to warrant having friends or garner any respect from clients and colleagues.

I have always been the listener and the counselor, and I only shared information about myself strategically.  I wasn’t false, so much as I was hidden.  It’s easy for me to hide.  I can pull back from connection and erect walls faster than most people can blink.  I can help people keep their focus on themselves, so that they leave a conversation feeling heard and comfortable and not even realizing that they know next to nothing about ME.

I’m Not Sure I Know How To Balance

Deflecting focus away from me and keeping the people around me focused on themselves is one of my super powers.  However, if I want to choose genuine connection, then I need to choose genuine vulnerability.  I’m at my best when I am curious about others, so it is actually easy and genuine for me to keep people focused on themselves.  Talking about myself is a lot harder.

I always feel like I’ve been hogging the conversation if I talk about myself with friends or family, even if for a short time.  I feel I then owe them at LEAST equal time, if not a lot, LOT more.  I’ve been trying to work on that, but I fear I might go too far in the other direction.  I honestly don’t even know how to figure out what is “right” or balanced.  It’s like everything is an “on/off” switch for me.

You know what’s weird?  I spend most of my time in my own head, looping around and around, thinking and rethinking SO many things, yet I have more questions and doubts than I do answers.  Part of that is because who I am and what I want changes so drastically, depending on my mood and my brain chemistry.

Hard To Pin Down One “Self”

It’s not that my different aspects aren’t aware of each other, and I don’t view them as “different personalities”.  It’s just that how I’m feeling dictates my reality, and it’s very hard for me to feel connected to anything different.  So when I’m happy or in a “mini-manic” phase, I believe I can do things and accomplish things.  I make plans, I think I’m “getting better”.  Then I crash, I fall into depression, and I believe that THIS is reality – I’m alone, I’m worthless, life really isn’t worth living.  When who I am changes, then what I want changes.  Sometimes I want things that are polar opposite one another. 

The posts in this blog are like a map of my moods.  Weeks when I write a lot, I’m more manic.  Those posts tend to be a bit more positive.  The next week, I might not post at all – that’s when the depression is in full swing.  One moment I am sharing horror stories of my past and thinking that THAT is a good thing, total honesty and vulnerability can only be GOOD, right?  The next, I don’t want anyone to know anything about me, and I want to be the expert, the authority on SOMETHING…the boss of the universe.  Both aspects of myself are real.  I’m not being fake or disingenuous when expressing either side, yet they seem incongruous to me.

The trick for me now, for this next phase of my life, is to figure out how to be ME in a balanced way, and not find my identity in my mood or my brain chemistry or my physical disabilities.  Not even my behaviors.  I am not my mood, my illness, or my behavior…I am the being HAVING a mood, feeling an illness, or expressing a behavior.

In choosing to be vulnerable, how do I monitor and manage all of the things that are NOT me, but that are simply the outfit that I’m wearing at the time?  How do I move forward being genuine and honest, without feeling like I’m puking my guts out on the sidewalk in front of every person passing by?

What IS Vulnerability?

Vulnerability is about being honest with my true self.  Not calculated and not prideful.  As my separation from my husband careens toward divorce, I find myself hiding behind pride with him.  Not wanting him to know or see my feelings, or ME, for that matter.  Keeping him as “the bad guy”, and focusing ONLY on the things I don’t like or that he has done “wrong” over the years.

I don’t want to be fair.  I don’t want to be honest.  I don’t want to be vulnerable.  Yet, no matter what happens in the future, if I am less than honest now, less than vulnerable, then I set myself up for a very bleak and lonely future.

When we get divorced, and I move on, I need to know without question or doubt that we were clear and honest with each other.  That pride and hurt feelings didn’t dictate our choices.  That there are no more questions, and we are both acting in accordance with as clear a TRUTH as we can muster.  We both need to be willing to be vulnerable, so that we can move on and create better lives for ourselves.

I’m trying to navigate this while in the midst of one of the worst years of my life, when my physical health is at an all time low, and my mental illness is in FULL swing.  All I want to do is pretend that I’m fine and project the message that I am better off without him, and will be happy and productive and live a wonderful life going forward.  In reality, I’m scared.  Very, very scared.  I’m not scared of being alone.  I’m scared that I won’t be able to take care of myself.  That I won’t be ABLE…able to work, able to pay my bills, able to get my own groceries. 

I’m scared that my daughter will feel so obligated to take care of me, now that I don’t have a husband, that she’ll be trapped by my disabilities.  I’m scared the the death knell on my marriage is truly the end of my ability to live a somewhat “normal” life, and I’ll end up on welfare, in government housing, unable to function…and I’m scared that if it comes to that, I will stop having the will to fight depression and stay alive.

That is the hard, raw truth…that is my biggest vulnerability right now.  At a time when vulnerability is the MOST important choice, it is also the hardest.

Being Vulnerable Means Being Brave Enough 

The times when it is the most dangerous and difficult to be vulnerable, are often the times when it matters the most.  That’s always true, though, isn’t it?  Otherwise, it wouldn’t be vulnerability!  Letting ourselves be seen when it’s safe is easy.  Letting our feelings be known to someone who we KNOW will receive them and honor them doesn’t really take much courage.  It’s when we don’t know, and we choose to be strong in that way, that we are also vulnerable.

Time for me to be courageous, and be vulnerable, so I can really, truly KNOW myself and have the best chance of creating a new, good life.  Not just with “soon to be ex” hubby, but with myself, with friends…even in making choices about work and health.  Honesty has to include vulnerability, tempered with enough (but not TOO much) information.  *sigh*

I wonder whether I’ll figure it all out.  I realized this morning that the most foundational part of my life, the thing I thought would never change, has changed drastically.  If that can happen – if a marriage I thought was forever 6 months ago is DONE now…well then who the heck knows what will be true in 6 more months!  

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