Or In Which I Learned That I was Ahead of the Game All Along
I cannot tell you how good it feels to be back on board with my weekly mindfulness challenge. And I cannot tell you how much all the skills I have learned in the first five weeks of my challenge have helped me get through the last month.
But not telling you things somewhat defeats the purpose of having a blog, so let’s crack on with the things I can tell you.
Embrace vulnerability by trusting others- and yourself
If you’ve been following me on this journey, you’ll know this was another one of Dr Goldstein’s observations about mindful people that I thought I would fail dismally at. In her article at mindful.org Dr Goldstein explains that it is our brain’s default state to guard us against vulnerability. And from experience I can tell you that when you’ve been given reasons not give your trust freely by people who are supposed to care about you, it is hard to allow yourself to be vulnerable to anyone. Even to someone as close to you as your own husband. Now don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not saying I don’t trust my husband. Of all the people in the world I know will never hurt me, he is at the top of the list. I trust him implicitly. But trust and allowing yourself to be vulnerable don’t necessarily go hand in hand.
Going in to this I was not just apprehensive, but I could feel my heels dig in a little at the idea of being vulnerable to other people’s actions. I have friends, but not even those closest to me know everything that goes on inside my head. I struggle make new friends, not because I’m not seriously awesome and deserving of friends, but because I invent reasons not to let people close to me. I chat openly about myself and my experiences in life, I have a great deal of people who I meet at work who view me as a friendly and welcoming person. So much so that after returning from maternity leave, a colleague commented that I must be the friendliest person on earth to know so many people that I don’t directly work with. But being friendly and having friends are completely different things. In the same way that being alone and being lonely are completely different things.
In thinking about the idea of embracing vulnerability at the beginning of the week, I thought back to a moment in therapy where I was discussing that I struggle to let my husband in to help me with my illness, but it hurts me when he keeps his daily struggles from me to try and protect me. My counsellor asked me why I think it is okay for me to protect him by not sharing but it is not okay for it to work the other way around. After some time for introspection, I realised it is because I know that whatever he is going through I will be there to support him, but I am terrified that if I become too much work he will walk away from our marriage.
Now realistically I know that will never happen. He loves me to pieces and is completely committed to our lives together, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t one of my deepest fears. Unfortunately anxiety is not based in reality, it is an illness of the ‘what if’s’. So gradually I learned to let him know what was happening for me. As I continued to do this it had a twofold effect. My struggle was, to an extent, alleviated. Knowing I had someone else to be my strength when I had none or to sanity-check my thinking when I was making decisions borne of fear made it easier for me to embrace my life and start to love it so much more. And I saw my husband start to return the favour. I don’t even know if he realises it has happened, but my naturally guarded man has started to show his frustrations and shortcomings outside of a driving-in-heavy-traffic scenario. It is wonderful. I know that most people would like their husband to dial it back a little when coming home from work and venting, but I embrace it as a sign of his trust and respect. There is no one else on this planet that he will show that side of himself to. Me showing him my crazy and him showing me his frustration is, in its own way, a form of intimacy. And I am grateful I can be that person for him.
During the week I struggled with food again, it isn’t a struggle I face often, however with little hesitation I was able to tell my husband how I was feeling. His support helped me beat the anxiety around eating in just a few short days and I was healthy and looked after while doing it.
Another recent addition to my ability to embrace vulnerability has been my decision to be honest with people about my anxiety disorder. Rather than avoid something or struggle I decided just to speak up and say “hey, I want to do that but my anxiety is making it really difficult for me. I need you to help me by ***”. Boy was that difficult for me in the beginning. It’s a total kicker that your anxiety can make you anxious about being anxious. Anxious about telling people you’re anxious and need help with your anxiousness. Which is a word but doesn’t sound like one.
Now, after roughly six months of doing this, it is just second nature to admit this very personal detail about myself or ask for help when I want to experience life fully but I am afraid of hidden sabre tooth tigers. (They are sneaky little ninja bastards, you can’t trust them).
What I learned
I think, in the end, what I learned was that I had already learned this skill and I was using it in a healthy and safe way in my life. There are times it is a good thing to be vulnerable and trust, and there are times that fear is a response that keeps us safe.
Instead of having opportunities to embrace vulnerability presented to me this week, I was granted the opportunity to look at my ability to trust and be vulnerable with new eyes. No, I didn’t advance in any areas but to do this I would have to be vulnerable to strangers in ways it is not necessarily safe to do. In the eight years since I left my first marriage I have gone from being so guarded that I did not allow myself to show any vulnerability, to someone who is able to put her hand up and say ‘I’m struggling, please help’ to strangers. I have made friends and allowed my full on personality to come out and play rather than presenting a persona to people. In examining the idea of being vulnerable I learned that I have already taken this skill to the limits of my comfort and safety and continue to build on it so that it feels natural and comfortable to do so.
So, I guess I learned I was ahead of the game and I didn’t need to worry that I would never be able to implement this skill in my life. I already had it operating more than I thought I did.