Aboard the Ship Self-Help 2: But won’t being vulnerable make me really vulnerable…?

A grey stone rests on fabric with a floral pattern. There is purple writing on the stone which reads, to live is to be vulnerable.

I’ve just finished reading the introductions and first chapter of Rising Strong, and listening to the corresponding episode of the podcast Big Strong Yes. It’s really an introduction to the whole concept of what Brené Brown calls ‘rising strong’. What she’s talking about is how you get up again after a fall. Even a really big one, the kind where you’re bloodied and bruised and broken.

The thing that caught my attention was all her talk about vulnerability. It wasn’t the first thing that sprang to my mind when I thought about getting up again, but as Brené Brown points out, being wounded makes you vulnerable. The bigger the fall, the more vulnerable the fall-ee. And to get up and try again with the blood still running down your face and the dust in your eyes and the people around you watching… yeah, that’s a vulnerable thing.

Here’s the thing. I don’t like being vulnerable. It’s no fun. Being someone who’s always felt slightly at sea in the world, I learned that the way to stay safe was to keep my head down, follow everybody else’s lead, nod and smile, and hope for the best. As Dawn says in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “My advice to you is do exactly what everyone else does, all the time… Do what everyone else does, wear what everyone else wears, say what everyone else says… People may say something to you you don’t understand. Just don’t be afraid to keep your mouth shut and pretend like you know what they’re saying.”

Having said that, these past few years I’ve been making myself a bit more vulnerable. I’ve made new friends – not many because that’s quite hard when you can barely leave your own house, but some. That takes vulnerability, to start caring about somebody when you don’t know whether after a few weeks or months they’ll get bored or fed up and leave you hanging just as you’ve started to show them your heart (“That’s beautiful. Or, taken literally, incredibly gross.” – Buffy.). I’ve joined new online support groups, and while joining them is easy, actually taking the plunge, making posts and talking to people is not so easy. I’ve had to be vulnerable.

So I know I can do it. I know this process will involve some very different types of vulnerability: somehow accepting that this is my life now, facing up to other truths about myself and my life, and actually trying to make things better. It isn’t that I haven’t been doing that, exactly, but there is a safety in what I’m familiar with. It may be miserable, but at least I know what to expect. Taking steps to change myself? I’ve no idea what to expect. The stakes are high. If I fail I’ll feel even worse than I do now, which is an alarming prospect.

But I also know that I have to try. To go on the way I am now would be intolerable. In the last three and a half years my health has got gradually worse and worse and worse and I don’t know when it’ll stop, assuming it does. If I’m going to learn to have happiness as well as despair in my life, now is the time to hunt it down. I’m not bedbound, although I’m pretty much housebound. I’m able to think and process things, if a lot more slowly than in previous years. And I’m capable of making changes which might become harder if I get more ill.

There was one thing I recoiled from in these first chapters of Rising Strong, though, and that was Brené Brown’s notion that rising strong is a spiritual practice. What she says she means is: “Spirituality is recognising and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to one another by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and belonging. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.”

Now I actually agree that a lot of what she says here is really important, but I completely disagree that this is all connected to some higher power. I think it’s simply about being human and being connected to humanity: “Humanity is recognising and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to one another, and that our connection to one another is grounded in love and belonging. Practicing humanity brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.” There you are, Brené, I fixed it for you!

Now, this self-help journey is all about actually doing things and making changes, so I’m going to try to commit to some action, small or large (probably small!) each time I write one of these posts.

Writing all of this down has made me think about vulnerability in slightly different ways. The thing is, when you make yourself vulnerable, and when you put yourself out there and try to do something new, you’re inevitably going to fail. And that hurts and is frightening and difficult. So what I want to do next is to have a serious think about what I’m going to do when things go wrong. When, perhaps, I feel even worse than I do now. What will I do? And how will I make sure I remember to do it?

All best wishes from the ship Self-Help, which currently isn’t quite sure where it’s going but is at least 70% sure it wants to get there!

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