Brokena :damaged or altered by or as if by breakingb :having undergone or been subjected to fracturec :not working properlyd :disrupted by changee :made weak or infirmf :subdued completely (a broken heart/a broken spirit)g :cut offh :imperfectly spoken or writteni :not complete or full
When I started the vulnerability project, I assumed that because I was in control of the situations of vulnerability, that I’d always leave feeling positive about those experiences.
I’ve discovered this just isn’t the case.
The Vulnerability Project is hard.
Vulnerability is hard.
Part of me is extremely thankful that those around me can’t relate with trauma. What kind of person would I be if I wished those around me to have that experience in order to have them be able to be on trauma island with me?
Recently I went to another Authentic Relating event where I shared that I have PTSD. This is a vulnerable this for me to share with relatively new people, and I didn’t feel seen or understood. Not only that, but focus quickly shifted from me to someone else. This is a frequent occurrence when people are uncomfortable, and when those around me are unable to relate to my experience.
Recently, my mother was vulnerable with me, sharing her feelings about her parents quickly descending into dementia. In exchange, I was vulnerable with her I shared that I just wanted to check out of life, and she said “some people just can’t cope with trauma” and compared my experience by proxy with a breakdown my cousin had. This felt really discounting and dismissive of my experience.
I half-joked with my therapist that I just wanted to have a cot in her office and move in. There needs to be a primer written about trauma. Trauma language, how to relate with those who have experienced trauma. How to be value and share space with people who are sharing their experiences and being vulnerable.
Maybe THIS is what I need to write.
Brave: having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty; making a fine show
“You’re so brave.”
When people say this to me in regards to my story, my go-to outer response is “thank you.” My inner response is “I have no choice, so it’s not bravery, it’s survival and even that isn’t always a given.”
The past two weeks have been full of the bravery of a different type, simply figuring out a way to stay alive. I walked among the living, not feeling a part of them. I smiled and joked, and played the part of the living, but was not one of them. I am around people, but alone.
PTSD is a Liar. Anxiety is a Liar. Depression is a Liar. Trauma is a Liar.
As someone aptly mentioned, trauma is like “my neighbors who not only play their music super loud but have extra bass that you can feel from across the apartment.” Wednesday night, that music brought me to the brink after a full week of operating at emergency trauma level, and I took a handful of pills on top of my typical nighttime medication. This was brought about by quite a few of events involving a mix-up with a member of my care team, a person from my past coming up on Facebook surprisingly, and continuing feelings about the friend-breakup from the prior weeks.
My thoughts were scattered when I made this choice. I can’t describe it. I didn’t want to die. I just didn’t want to live. Or didn’t want to feel. I’m not sure, maybe both. Trauma is a liar. You can’t escape your brain, it’s always there.
So I talked about it. First in a terrifying text to my therapist- where I downplayed exactly what I took. Second, to my husband when “the story in my head” told me that likely my therapist would call the police to do a wellness check (which didn’t happen.) Third, I reached out to my sister-wife, Diana. Fourth, to Katherine. Fifth, made a small circle post to my trusted people. Oddly enough, the scariest reveal was to my bodyworker, as I was totally feeling very vulnerable about sharing this very deep scary part of my soul. With previous attempts, I kept silent. This time needed to be different.
I was talking with a gal on Insta today about how she was worried about her mental health stories being depressing. And maybe they are. Maybe we ARE telling the depressing stories. We talk about clawing against the walls to get out of the well. We talk about the awful side effects of medication and how we want to crawl out of our own skin with it, and without it. But here’s the thing, these stories HAVE TO BE TOLD.
Mental Health HAS to be talked about.
Suicidality has to be talked about.
I can appear at a mom’s group at 9:30 AM on Wednesday looking perfectly functional, joking, and at 5:30 pm try to end it all. The person right next to you could be struggling with trauma, PTSD, depression, anxiety, all sorts of things and we AREN’T talking about it.
This HAS to change.
I’m not brave. I’m alive.
Sometimes, despite my best efforts. This week, despite my best efforts.
Bravery, in this case, is “Making a Fine Show.”
Flashbacka :interruption of chronological sequence (as in a film or literary work) by interjection of events of earlier occurrence; also : an instance of flashbackb :a past incident recurring vividly in the mind
This week, you’ve moved into my body with a vengeance. An interjection of events of an earlier occurrence, an interruption of my normal day by inserting your grainy fingers vividly not only into my mind but into my body, into my lungs, around my neck, through my belly.
You bring the war back into my soul unexpectedly, and by that I don’t mean Iraq or any other desert, I’ve never been there, and by that I mean I sometimes wish that was the case because people might be able to relate in some way or at least ask about the war I lived. And by that I mean I can’t say that out loud because of the shame of saying I wish I had lived through the war of people rather than the sexual war I lived through sometimes. I could speak about you more in groups, people would understand better.
Instead, I spend most waking moments consciously working to keep you in check. People don’t typically focus on how many breaths they take per minute. How often I hold my breath and wonder “why am I so dizzy right now?” grab the counter and then gasp when I realize I’ve been holding my breath. How often I realize how often I feel awful and realize it’s because you have caused me not to leave my room all day and need to eat.
Massage is one of the only places where my main job IS to breathe, IS to relax, and the place that you make me work the hardest. For months you have been poking at me, knocking at the door of my brain just WAITING to jump out. Only once before have you come out to play, and you scared me.
This week I was unable to keep you put away in your little box. My feelings were at the surface, I was working so hard just to keep myself together generally that once I got on the table, I realized that the whole 90 minutes were going to be hard work to keep you at bay. My feelings started swimming at the surface immediately before she even came back in the room. I became hyper-aware of every single noise. Every person around the building became my rapist, every voice, the one who was going to come get me.
Once she came back in the room I felt my focus go extremely inward to manage you. You started immediately when she touched me. You started teasing me with small little memories. Some were benign compared to others. Little leadups to the Big T traumas. Then in one quick moment, you hit, as if physically, and I had no control any longer. I’ve been able to keep you in check for months, but yesterday I was totally helpless to keep you in your box.
Little t traumas either in Charlie Chaplin black and white skipping silent reels will play, where I can’t keep track of where you are leading me or when you will stop. A mix of little t and big T traumas will play in mini cartoon style where you insert sound or feelings and my body will start to react. My hands and body will start to shake and my breathing will start to alter. In the largest situations, Big T traumas will play in full film or even 3D fashion, where you just move right into my mind and hijack everything. This is the scariest part.
I have a deep fear that people around me can’t cope with you, mainly because *I* can’t cope with you. I can’t imagine what it is like to watch someone experience a flashback from the outside, as I just know what it feels like inside. The way you make me feel is so out of control. I can’t breathe, I’m suddenly thrust into 17 years past like a horrific Christmas ghost of trauma.
I told someone this week, “you can’t handle this.” Truthfully, *I can’t handle this.*
Truthfully, *I can’t handle this.*
I can’t handle you.
“The greatest thing is just to love,
AND be loved in return.”
My grief cycle moved very nicely from anger to sadness throughout the day, which I credited to really FEELING my emotions, which I hadn’t really done before with strong “negative” emotions, for lack of better terms.
Last night I attended another Authentic Relating circle. I was particularly nervous because a friend was also attending. This made me feel vulnerable for a couple of reasons. First, they knew me outside of the circle, and that I had been struggling. Second I was concerned that I would no longer be able to be an on-looker at the circle, and need to participate more. Both concerns were forcing me to look at my emotions and focus on being present in the space which I ended up being very grateful for.
I also was grateful that I was asked a pointed question about how I was feeling, which forced me to be out in the open and vulnerable. After the past few days, I was feeling raw, and was craving the opportunity to speak about my experience and yet still feeling really trepidatious about opening up to a group of nine people I barely knew about the hurt I was feeling. But as soon as I started talking I started to feel a release of some of the sadness I was carrying.
I started to hear the stories of the other’s in the room and one line struck me about being a giver, and pouring a lot of love and time into relationships and feeling like you’re not getting much back. When I heard that line it hit me so hard, like someone threw truth at me like a brick. All I wanted to do was to reach out touch the person who said this, but they were across the room. It was an almost overwhelming desire to connect and go, I hear you, this is exactly it. The givers give, but often we are not given TO.
Yes. yes. YES. You are not alone, I hear you.
One of the reasons I surround myself with such amazing people is TO LOVE.
I’ve realized that equally important is to be loved IN RETURN.
In middle school, I sat and watched the popular girls pass notes across the aisles. The notes would be written on blue lined notebook paper, intricately folded as if made into origami cranes. As soon as the teacher’s back was turned, the kites flew across the desks as quick as lightning, the pre-Twitter glimpses of little girls intimate thoughts to each other about boys, friends, and future plans.
I dreamed of having these notes passed to me one day. However, my fate in middle school was sealed on day one, and the only folded notes I had were ones I practiced myself.
I went into middle school poor. That is to say, I was the girl showing up in torn second-hand clothing and a boys haircut. This put me behind from the beginning. I sat down in class the first week and a girl in front of me asked for a pencil. I didn’t have enough to give away, knowing that what I had needed to last the whole year, so I said no… very hesitantly and regretfully.
Little did I know, this girl was the most popular in the 6th grade. In addition, her last name was right before mine, so we were destined to sit next to each other for the rest of my middle school career in every class. She was ruthless and had social collateral gathered to have a posse of girls against me within the day. And so it went for three years solid.
Teachers watched as I would be bullied by a gaggle of particularly awful girls. One would kick me in the head daily in choir class and the director would see it, look at me, then look away.
Looking back, what is most interesting to me was my deep desire to be accepted by these girls. “What could I do to get these girls to like me?” Was this thought to get them to stop doing what they were doing, or because I truly wanted to be liked by them? To this day, my motives on that question are unclear as I am an unreliable witness to my own past experience. I had folded into myself.
My mother and father were lost in their failing marriage. The family in poverty while the divorce drained the resources both financially and emotionally, leaving me not in the crosshairs, but totally forgotten. I folded into myself.
I recall when the bullying had reached a boiling point at school and I finally said something to my mother. She, from her place of privilege, spoke pretty words of 1. they are just jealous (which was just untrue, due to my place of poverty) 2. they have anger problems (how is this helpful?) 3. tell a teacher (they are literally watching this happen and doing nothing) 4. let’s invite them over to our house (OMG ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?) 5. In a couple of years, it will be over (but for the next three years?) 6. Just ignore them (How does one do that when your entire realm is them?) I folded into myself with no ally in sight.
However, one thing was clear, I felt very vulnerable. At 12, I experienced my first real serious depressive episode and became suicidal. I was alone in my world, and no adult was going to help me. I folded into myself.
At this point, the food I was getting from home was not meeting my needs (at this point I was eating one pack of uncooked ramen for lunch.) I found out that a girl at school qualified for free school lunch, but never picked up her tickets… so because I was hungry, I started to pretend I was her. Daily, I told the lunch lady my “name” and picked up her ticket. I finally felt like I fit in and I got enough to eat for one meal out of the day.
I pulled this off for several months until one day I went up to the lunch lady and told her my “name” and she said, “no you aren’t!” I still, to this day, recall the flush of heat I felt across my chest when she yelled this across the lunchroom. You could hear a pin drop, and she pulled me by my arm from one side of the room to the other, with everyone watching me all the way to the office. The school’s eyes bored into me as my shame radiated around me like a nuclear glow. All this because I was hungry. I folded into myself.
I sat in the principal’s office waiting for my mother, and when she arrived the question was asked of me “well, do you have enough to eat at home?” My mother worked for the district and was known by the principal, and with this additional complication, the answer was handed to me on a silver platter with her eyes boring into me just like the entire school’s had been moments earlier. “Yes, of course, I do,” I said. And I folded into myself.
My punishment for this egregious crime of stealing lunch tickets was community service for a month. I emptied trash and cleaned blackboards of all the teachers and offices for all the after-school classes which all the richer kids could pay for. The girls that mocked me all day long got to see me on janitor duty every day as well. And I folded into myself.
At this point, my mother found me a therapist for a short time. Every week I’d go there and play board games. I found this hour a total waste of my time, mostly because at the end, he’d meet with my mother with me out of the room. This felt like a total violation of any potential conversation I’d ever have with him, so I ended up just wasting time with him.
Near the end of our time together, he asked me once what my “biggest problem was,” and I thought about it. I answered “my hole in my shoe.” Thinking back on it, I was being REALLY honest. If he had probed that answer, he would have really uncovered a LOT about poverty, my intense bullying and a plethora of home/school/life/abuse issues. But alas, he closed the hour with a sigh. Soon after he gave up on me. And I folded into myself.
Where does that leave us? Somehow, despite suicide attempts, severe depression, anxiety and an equally oppressive high school career, I made it though. No teacher ever intervened. No adult stood up strongly for me, but more importantly WITH me, despite clearly seeing what was happening. Though my experience was threaded with socio-economic and psycho-social issues, it snowballed from ONE event… a PENCIL. A pencil in sixth grade almost cost me my life, several times over. We HAVE to do better for our young people. I am ONLY ONE.
We have to unfold and to encourage others to unfold. We have to do better.
This week I attended another Authentic Relating Event, Circling, this one much smaller than the first with only 8 people in the room. While the setting was different, the content was focused on authentic relating.
My main worry was having nowhere to “hide” with the smaller crew. I felt… vulnerable. (So I suppose I was right on track.) Tuesday was a day full of anxiety, and this event was mere hours after. I thought of canceling, but I had already paid and had bailed from this event two weeks prior.
Admittedly, I enjoyed this intimate setting much more as I was able to settle in and learn more about each member of the group rather than mingling with 20 others. I was quite nervous to attend this particular “circling” event, however, due to an ominous review from a person from the previous larger event.
Circling is formatted around two “circles;” conversation sessions that happened among the eight of us over 45 minutes with a break in between. The first circle was dubbed a “birthday circle.” Birthday circles are focused on one person, where the conversation organically moves around this person topically. Due to confidentiality, I will not mention what we talked about specifically. However, broadly, the topics involved how this person reacted to insight given by the others in the group and past experiences.
Though this circle was directed and focused on this one individual, I noticed that I was internalizing a lot of interesting facts about myself. How would I react to certain situations that were brought up? How would I feel if I were asked this question? How would I react if I were asked this question in that particular way or tone?
When this truth bomb was so casually thrown out in the middle of the circle…
“Self-care can disguise itself as isolation.”
I mean, holy shit. Prepare me next time, Y’all. I don’t know about you, but I can count on 1845493 hands how many times my self-care has looked like just me retreating into my soul in an unhealthy “omg just leave me alone I’m dying here but save me but leave me alone but help me” way. However, I label the retreat as “self-care.” Dude, get over yourself. Sometimes needing to be alone is self-care. Totally. But if you are unplugging from the people you tell when you are having a hard time… if you are running away (especially if you are running away from yourself), first off, good luck. Second off, let someone know that you are struggling and let them know that you are going to wade around in the shit for a day. Then do it. Go ahead. But then plug back in.
“Self-care can disguise itself as isolation.”
Okay, back to the night. More broadly, once I got comfortable with the questions being asked, I started to probe my ideas about the askers themselves. What about their experiences brought them to this space, and why did they think what they did?
All this thinking, of course, led me to be quite quiet during this circle. I asked a couple of questions to appear engaged (though I was DEEPLY engaged internally), and then we went to break. During break, it became apparent that several of the people in attendance were friends, and they started to speak with each other. I noticed that I started to feel left out. I tried to engage by eye contact with the story and laughing when there was something funny, but there was still a level of disconnect.
We started the second circle which was an “organic circle,” which was waiting to see what would come up. One person talked a bit about drifting and spoke a bit about feeling disconnected from the group then hesitated to speak further because the topic would be dark. This was REALLY interesting to me because the first circle was so light and I resonated with the disconnect. Again, I won’t go details about the topic due to confidentiality.
We closed the circles and two of the people turned to me and said they wished that they had heard me talk more, and they wanted to get to know me better. My immediate response was that I wish I had talked more as well. It was an odd thing to come out of my mouth as I didn’t really even think about it. I had just spent so much time listening to people be so brave with their thoughts and feelings that I just felt I was holding space to hear them.
I drove home feeling very warm and lovely.
When I walked in the door I sat next to my husband and told him about the event and I sensed a weird vibe. As I talked more about the events, I felt a heavier and heavier cloud settling. I had just spent 3 hours being in tune with people’s emotions, and I knew there was something wrong.
“Are you okay with me going to these events?” I asked (sensing there was something much deeper.)
“Yes. I just don’t get why you go to them and share thoughts and feelings there. I mean you have family and me for that.” He replied.
I had an immediate thought that I couldn’t hold back, “Are you jealous?”
“No!” He was so quick to reply that there felt like there was some truth there.
“Okay. Tell me more about what you are feeling then, because I don’t understand, and it seems like you have some concerns. Is it because there are guys at these events and I share these experiences with them too?” (Knowing that cheating is never ever a concern on either of our minds, I wanted to give him a starting point to work from.)
“Not at all. I guess where I come from is that the feelings and thoughts you mention are things that I generally share with you or my family. I just don’t understand why you feel the need to seek these experiences outside of us for…”
And he paused. And cried.
So I waited and thought. And got it.
“So what I’m hearing is that since your emotional needs are met by me and family, the only reason you’d do something like this is if those needs WEREN’T being met. So, since I am doing this, you’re concerned that YOU aren’t meeting my needs as my life partner?”
“BINGO.” And he took a deep breath of understanding.
So then we hashed out how lovely our relationship is, and that the reason I do things like this is to be brave. And I can be brave because I feel so secure in our relationship.
I married up, Y’all.