The bravest thing you could ever do is face vulnerability. Sit in it. Writhe in it. Feel the fear and pain wash over you until you’re raw, but clear.
But we don’t. We’re so often faced with situations that make us want to have some kind of emotional response, but we swallow it like an ambitious mouthful of rice without water, clumping and sticking in our throat.
We’re not at fault. It’s what we’ve been taught.
I was told and shown (like most of us) that strength is being a stoic, silent sufferer. No matter what, she smiles. When I learned how to be that—perfected it even—I was proud. I was finally that girl who you’d never know was struggling with a host of mood disorders.
I’d heard intermittently from brave souls that letting the emotion come and being open about it was the only way for the pain to move through (and out of) you … which sounded great. I just had no idea how to do that.
My tools were these: “shut your mouth” and “smile.” I never learned any others. Plus, they seemed to be working for everyone else, so why not me? Why was I the only one who was still bothered by her locked-down pain? Using the only tools I had in the only way I knew how was enough to fool friends and family for years.
But then, I started having fantasies of passing out randomly in the middle of a workday or when I was out with my friends. I imagined everyone flocking to me in surprise, worrying, and dumbfounded.
And in these dreams, I found solace.
Physically crumbling under the weight of my mask would show people how much I was truly hurting without breaking my oath of sucking it up. Without having to say a word, they’d know. In this make-believe world where I’d finally reveal my inner turmoil, I wouldn’t have to sacrifice my “strength” to get relief from the burden of “staying strong.”
Periodically, I would break down—physically and mentally. The wall can only withstand so much pressure before it breaks. And every time it broke, I felt guilty. Weak. Pathetic.
Why couldn’t I just suck it up and pull myself together?!
The most recent break happened last year; I hit a new bottom. I was powerless, lost, and afraid that I’d be stuck there forever. It was too much to ignore until it went away (like I used to do), so I opened up to a mentor who recommended—more or less—to start dealing with my sh*t.
Hearing it from her—a person who knew and cared for me—finally turned the light on.
I’m a runner … and not in the marathon sense. As “strong” as I am, I’ve never been one to deal with emotions. Any emotion that threatens to rock the boat—good or bad—I escape.
I ignore. When that doesn’t work, I deny. When that doesn’t hold, I fight. And when I’m finally busting at the seams, I self-medicate. This neutralizes the intensity for a while until I get distracted by something else, leaving the issue unfelt, unaddressed, and festering in its hole, growing more rancid in its darkness and waiting to pounce on me at the next trigger it deems fit.
When I finally took my fingers out of my ears, I realized what would be necessary: I’d have to go deep, look at my actual issues, and feel.
I went back into recovery for issues I’d never fully addressed. I started pouring my heart out to people I knew I could trust—namely professionals and very close loved ones. I journaled like I had a deadline, the only goal: to get to know myself better.
It took a few months back in recovery of changing my default from the “I’m okay” girl to the “let’s be real” girl, for me to start even being able to see what I’d left unfelt for so many years. As prepared as I tried to be, there’s no pamphlet for coming face to face with vulnerability. No one can truly warn you how it’s all going to feel.
This time, I didn’t run. I stood in the chaos of emotion that I’d refused to face before. I begrudgingly invited it to come full-force, then let myself get torn apart by it. The fear that it would come and never leave screeched at me to shut it down. But I stayed; eyes open in the terror of it.
And then, after addressing the need that brought the emotion up in the first place, it left. Just like that.
Unlike any depressive episode I’ve ever had, it moved through me with excessive force, and then woosh, out it went because I actually looked at the root need of it. It was shorter than I’d even believed was possible.
It was a miracle. A miracle I had to work my ass off to create.
The more I healed, the less limited I began to feel. Creatively, I found freedom. I was able to be there for my clients in a deeper, truer way than ever before, which translated into their accelerated healing. I dove into self-care with passion and finally realized the benefits because I let myself be loved by me for the first time without judgment.
As I continue to recover, I realize that the people I look up to are no longer the silent, stoic sufferers. They’re the open, raw, honest people who admit they’re human, deal with it, and then do incredible things to help the world heal from what they’ve learned about themselves.
Danielle LaPorte. Gabrielle Bernstein. Brené Brown. These are my heroes. These are the women who stand up for humanity by showing that success and strength doesn’t come from sucking it up. They come from being real with whatever is, letting it out, learning what it came to teach them, and then using that lesson to move forward all the wiser.
When I feel looming depression, I no longer dread its appearance. Fear still comes because a part of me thinks it will be like it was when I didn’t stick it out: long, teeth-gritting, drawn-out breakdowns-in-the-making. Every time I face my darkness, I prove to myself that I’m strong enough to stand in the face of it. Every time, it gets a little less frightening.
And every time, I come out of it with more to give.
That’s why I wrote this for you. In the hopes that I could help you see that:
What you fear only holds power if you don’t take the power for yourself. @StrongInsideOut (Click to Tweet!)
The only thing you need to do to take back that power is to realize it’s already yours.
Being vulnerable is a strength. It’s the ultimate compass for your life. But most of us are too scared to read it. Don’t shy away from what your heart is trying to teach you. Stand in it. Breathe into it. And then, rise from its ashes.
Amy Clover is the force behind Strong Inside Out, a site that inspires you to overcome any kind of struggle through fitness and positive action. After struggling with depression and suicide, Amy turned it all around with the help of consistent movement and adopting a proactive mindset. She created the Strong Inside Out Bootcamp workout program to help people with depression and/or anxiety get — and keep — moving in a struggle-specific, supportive environment. To learn more about Strong Inside Out and get a FREE 10-minute workout to lift your spirit and your butt, click here! You can connect with Amy on Twitter & FB.
Image courtesy of Jeremy Thomas.