Last week, had someone asked me, “What do you have planned for Wellness Wednesday?” I never would have guessed that I’d write about what I did, let alone choose to share it publicly. Tuesday evening I had decided to write about The Five Second Rule by Mel Robbins. That was my plan. However, I quickly found myself struggling to write about it. I kept rereading my draft wondering why the overall tone sounded flat, and impersonal, like I was simply saying, “Hey everyone, I tried this new self-help tool last week, and took back my mornings. I feel great! You should try it too!” And while that was kind of true, and while that may have been enough for some to read on, it made me think more deeply about what I was really trying to convey. As I got clearer about the answer to that question, I began to realize that talking about my challenges with mental health was really what I was trying to share.
“Yikes!” I thought to myself.
“Am I really going there?”
“I guess I can share a little bit…writing it out doesn’t mean I have to send it, right?”
I still don’t know where I found the courage to get real, or how I came to the conclusion that that was what I was choosing to do. It’s as if my heart knew what needed to happen before my brain could fully comprehend the new game plan. That’s probably a good thing, because had there been more time for my brain to figure out what was going on, I know I would have likely talked myself out of sharing. Now I’m not going to pretend that the idea of aborting the mission hadn’t entered my mind. In fact, the idea got louder with each paragraph I wrote, but so did my desire to share more deeply, more truthfully, more authentically. Those feelings of being scared and fearful of what others might think were totally there, but so was my desire to be vulnerable. The desire to let people know me a little better, and allow myself to be more fully seen. Maybe it was the fact that I’ve recently started rereading Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly, which is all about the importance of vulnerability. In her book, Brené explains why it’s hard to be vulnerable since it makes us feel so emotionally exposed, which is why many of us avoid it (myself included!) in an effort to protect ourselves from potential hurt or criticism. This strategy makes sense. However, the complexity of this protection prevents us from truly connecting with one another when we’re not fully sharing who we are. A lack of vulnerability may feel like protection, but it’s simply camouflage for isolation. It leaves us feeling disconnected and alone.
This vulnerability paradox is something that I’ve been learning to better understand over the last few years, mostly through individual therapy, group therapy and reading books on the subject. The nerd in me loves being able to curl up with a book and process my thoughts. That’s always been a safe place for me to gather information. Putting my vulnerability skills into practice? Now that’s a whole other ballgame. When I finished writing the final draft of my post last week, the push that ultimately helped me hit send was the overwhelming feeling of butterflies I felt swirling in my stomach. I knew I had to do the thing I didn’t really want to do – flex my vulnerability muscle – and hope that at least one other person would reply with a “me too! I’ve so been there” or better yet “I’m right there with you, right now. Your share makes me feel less alone.” That would make it all feel worth it….I thought. Fingers crossed!!
So I held my breath, hit send, and gave myself the rule that I wouldn’t check my email or social medial till later that evening. I wanted to make sure I would be home in my safe space to field any responses, or even worse, deal with my vulnerability hangover if no one seemed to connect with my story. That was what I was also afraid of…that there might be crickets in response to my share. Gulp!
A few texts started to trickle in. Oh people have actually read my post, cool! Then a few phone calls came, then a few more texts asking, “have you seen what people are saying and how they’re reacting to your post?!” At that point I gave up waiting to check social media and my email and immediately burst into tears (the happy relieved kind). The shear volume of responses took my breath away. I was overwhelmed with the amount of people who resonated with my story, and how much they appreciated my share. Many expressed how normalizing it felt to hear that I, too, struggled with depression, anxiety and the dreaded snooze. It was a helpful reminder that we’re not as alone as we may often feel, and that by doing what feels counterintuitive – you know, flexing that vulnerability muscle – we get to feel heard and seen.
I had friends I hadn’t spoken to in years reach out and share personal stories with me that I had never know about. I had patients say that I was the last person they would have ever thought who would suffer from these feelings, but that my share made them trust me even more. I had another friend who said my story encouraged him to call his psychologist and schedule an appointment he’d been meaning to do for weeks but kept putting off. My share created a domino effect that left me feeling so full of gratitude for the deeper connections I now had, and the community that blossomed as a result.
Over the last few days, I’ve been reflecting on what last week’s share helped me learn. It was an important reminder that we’re all carrying stuff, most of which we don’t let others see. But what if we did? We’re all doing the best job we can each day, and we’re all figuring it out as we go. No one has it all figured out, and that’s OK! Another friend pointed out to me so eloquently, “We all have cards we’ve been dealt, and we spend our day deciding how we want to play them. What might happen is we chose to reveal what we have in our hands vs. defaulting to our poker face?” The metaphor really struck me. What happens when I choose to show my cards? I get a whole lotta love, belonging, and connection. I also help cultivate a safe space for others to do the same. Need to tuck that important reminder in in my back pocket, permanently.
It takes one person to lead first by vulnerable example in any relationship, but once that happens, it becomes so much easier to keep that momentum going. I’m going to work on being that person in more of my relationships. I never said it would be easy, but then again, neither is keeping up that poker face, xoxo.