Tag

vulnerability

Musings

I’ve started weaving words together, into sentences. I’ve started toying with the idea of it. I’ve started thinking, “This is what I would say if I told my story.” I’ve started thinking what I would include and what I wouldn’t. I’ve started thinking about how the way in which I write it is more important than giving all the details.

Someone said to me, “You’ll get there, you’ll be ready.” I told her, “I AM ready.”

Which made me pause.

What’s stopping me? If I am ready, truly ready, to do this, to say what I feel is necessary, for my own reasons, then why am I not typing it out and pressing “Publish”?

Because of others! Because I don’t want to offend! Because I don’t want to upset! Because I don’t want conflict! Because I don’t want disagreement! Because I don’t want negativity!

Oh.

As the Queen of Feeling Other’s Feelings, and working to step down from the job of Head Security Guard for People’s Well-Being, my fears go something like this:

What if reading it makes someone upset? What if it hurts them? What if someone thinks I should’ve been more or less specific? What if someone I love is disappointed in me for sharing? What if they don’t understand? What if they tell me I shouldn’t have done that?

What I’m reminding myself over and over again in the hopes that it will internalize: People can choose what they read. People can stop reading at any time. People are allowed to have different opinions. People can have different reactions. My job is not to avoid doing what I believe in my heart to be right – but rather to do it, in spite of the fear. This blog is mine – mine. I write for me, above anything else. People don’t have to agree with that. It’s all good.

I have lived my life saying and doing, or not saying and not doing, based on how it would affect others. And I’ve justified that under the umbrella of “I am a considerate person who thinks about others’ feelings, which is what makes me a good human.” But as with anything, it isn’t black and white – it CAN’T be black and white. It’s not obsess over it vs. never think about it. In reality, it’s a middle ground, where you take into account other’s feelings, balance them with your own needs and feelings, and make a decision.

But middle ground is scary. 

Yes. It is. Because it’s vulnerable. And I am striving towards vulnerability. Isn’t this whole blog about vulnerability? A year ago would I have ever dreamed of writing the words, about the topics, that I have today? Would I have ever imagined I’d write candidly about anxiety, depression, grief? Haven’t I relished in the feedback I’ve gotten about it? Haven’t people come out of the woodwork to talk to me about things I’ve written about, to share their own secrets? Haven’t I meant it, truly meant it, when someone has told me that they haven’t read a blog post because it’s too emotional or upsetting and I’ve responded, “That’s okay”?

And this – this back-and-forth, this messy excuse of a blog post – this is reality. This is vulnerability. This is it.

All propelling me forward. To write more, to share more, to tell more.

Because I can’t stand the silence anymore. The fear and the shame and the sadness and the loneliness that so many people are drowning under. I know how that felt, I lived it, and I can’t bear the fact that so many others do, too. I sit in meetings, look around at conferences, and know that of all those faces I see, some are feeling it too. Living in that place.

Each voice that speaks heals a piece of anyone who hears. Chips away a bit at the shame. Erases a bit of the stigma. Glues back a bit of the brokenness. Kindles a bit of bravery.

And so.

It’s almost time. Whatever form it takes. However many words I write. However cryptic it needs to be.

Because one person, or the world – it doesn’t matter which –  is waiting.

It’s Time to Let Go

I was over at my beloved Some Talk of You and Me last week, writing about realizations, visualizations, and lightbulb moments that had been a long time coming.

If I was vulnerable enough to submit and publish it there, I might as well do the same here…..right…??


It’s Time to Let Go, originally posted on Some Talk of You and Me (edited and formatted by the wonderful Brandie Smith, who continuously gives my words space to be heard):

“This is a perfect example,” I told him.

“I’m fine. My mood is fine, I’m not crying, we’re having a perfectly fine morning. But I feel tight and low in my chest.”

You know how something can happen a million times, but it only clicks when it’s ready?

That’s what happened today. I was on my way to a yoga class and before going into the studio, I took out my phone to type in my thoughts before I lost them.

“Makes me think maybe the heaviness isn’t my mood, doesn’t dictate my mood. Maybe the heaviness isn’t depression. Maybe it’s just all that little kid stuff, that fight or flight, that panic, that decision to stop talking and keep it all in. Maybe I need to talk to it and nurture it.

Tell it,

“I know what you are. It’s okay. You don’t have to be here. I’m taking care of me this time around. You don’t have to hold it in. You’re free to go. I promise.”

This makes me cry.

Maybe so many of the tears are about just that—relief at finally being soothed, relief at not keeping it in, shock over how intense the feelings are that I’ve buried down for months and years and decades.”

During an appointment on Friday, we were discussing the physical feelings of the emotions.

I had been so focused on the emotions themselves—the panic, the fear, the shame, the guilt, the despair—but she had been gently encouraging me to go beyond that.

“Where do you feel it in your body?” she asked.

I quickly scanned my body, but knew exactly what I’d fine, knew what I always find:

“Pressure behind my eyes, tightness in my throat, a heavy constriction around my chest, and a pit in my stomach.”

She encouraged me to focus on the tightness in my throat.

“What happens if you focus on it, if you pay attention to it? What purpose do you think it’s serving?”

“It gets worse when I pay attention to it.” I replied.

I thought some more, and then added,

“I think….it’s about fight or flight. It’s the panic, the wanting to fight. I’m a talker and a problem-solver. I like to find solutions right away. But there were no solutions, nothing I could do, or nothing I perceived I could do, so I think the tightness is the words trying to get out—but there are no words. So, it’s some sort of being trapped by silence.”

She suggested I tune into that feeling. I used one of my visualizations—the sparkly white light that clears away murkiness, and tried to clear it away from my throat.

And promptly started crying.

“I have no idea why I’m crying,” I said.

A few moments later, I added,

“It makes me feel young. I mean. I don’t know how to explain it. Um…so, when I imagined the white light coming into clear it away, it felt soothing, like the light was comforting the tightness, telling it that it was free to go, that the light would help, that the tightness didn’t need to hold the burden of solving all of these problems.

And that makes me feel like I would’ve as a little kid.

If I had talked about things, and allowed myself to be soothed and comforted. But, I usually didn’t.

Because, well, bodies didn’t contain emotions for me. Someone else’s feelings just moved right through their body and into mine, and I was maybe even more hypersensitive than I am today. And I had no idea what it was, I was just a little kid, all I knew was that I felt so much all of the time and it made it hard to breathe.

And if I told someone I was sad or upset or having a hard time, I felt their empathy, and it’s good that they felt empathy, because it meant they cared, but then I felt it in addition to my own feelings, and it was too much and hurt even worse than if I hadn’t said anything in the first place.

And so, consciously or subconsciously, probably subconsciously, I decided to stop sharing, to stop reaching out. And I just feel sad about that.

I see the little kids that I work with and I can’t even bear to imagine that one of them would just decide to hold everything in from then on, because they viewed that as the only possible option.”

I paused and took a breath.

“Wow,” she said. “It sounds like maybe you’re grieving. Feeling sadness and grief for the silence you felt you had to undertake.”

So, I sat outside the studio and I typed those thoughts into my phone, and I talked to the tightness in my throat like I would to one of my students, and I told it,

It’s okay. You can go. I’ve got this. I’m taking care of me. You don’t have to stay. I know what you are. You are panic and fear and wanting to scream and wanting to run and silence. I know. You can go. It’s okay. I promise.

And slowly, tentatively, it left.

And slowly, tentatively, I allowed it to go.

Breathe.

 

[written Thursday night]

It has been taking me the better part of a ninety-minute yoga class to focus and steady my breath. I’ve been reaping some of the benefits after class, finding some deep, cleansing, renewing breaths on my walk home, and as I get ready for bed later that evening.

Tonight was the first night that my body truly relaxed. As an aside, or maybe as an important detail, yesterday was the first day that I felt like myself in the better part of two weeks. Two weeks of hypersensitivity, feeling raw, anxious, and down, had left me disconnected from my body, it sore and aching, and my mind racing.

I spent yesterday and today moving back into myself. And tonight during yoga class, my body allowed the breath. Rather than fighting it, rather than screaming, “Please, stop forcing this breath into me! I can’t hold one more damn thing, there’s just no room for it!” my body decided it had room. It tested out a breath here and there. Allowing it in. Allowing it to wash over me and swirl around.

And before I knew it, I was moving to my breath, with my breath. My body was breathing. Body parts were synchronized. They stopped arguing and fighting. They relaxed. They were still.

It felt so damn good to breathe, to truly breathe. Freedom. Release. Energy. Hope.

Guest Post: Contrasting Being Connected with Just Connections

Today I am hosting my first ever guest post. It’s something I’ve thought about doing for a while – inviting others to share their words in my space – but hadn’t taken the initiative to organize. A few nights ago I received a message from a former student, from my senior year of high school when I was a student teacher in our religious education program, and she was a 7th grader. Now, years later, she reached out and asked if I’d share something she wrote. Yes!, I responded. Anything, anytime. She sent me her post that very night.

So, here you go: What follows are Melissa’s own thoughts and words. I think you will find that she and I have many of the same philosophies and ideas – enjoy!


Contrasting Being Connected with Just Connections

Today, journaling didn’t feel like enough. My words were jumping off the page. It seemed like they were screaming “share me”! So, in an effort to practice the things I value and find important, namely vulnerability and storytelling, I took a risk. I stepped out of my comfort zone. Here’s what I wrote:

Recently, the pervasiveness of social media in our everyday life has been at the forefront of my mental energy. Sometimes I feel like Facebook is mostly about keeping up appearances. I don’t actually find it very authentic at all. It’s simply a crafted glimpse into someone’s life. I am always intrigued to see what people are posting and sharing but as for myself, I’m never really that “open” or thoughtful on Facebook. So, to put it bluntly, if you’re only following me on Facebook I say to you, “you don’t know my life”. For some many people I know I am passively following their lives and occasionally liking their posts but that’s the extent to which we are “connected”. This managed identity gives way to statements such as this “Well, it seems like you’re busy and having a lot happening right now…” when you’d rather be asked ‘how are you today?”. Which, if we’re being honest. Most of us post more online on the days when we ARE struggling (or bored, lonely, anxious, etc.). For me, I post more on days that I’m not insanely busy and on days when even an hour of free time is overwhelming because I don’t want to be “stuck” in my own head. There’s a certain solace in social media. Furthermore, the paradox that we’re more alone and independent than any previous generation yet we thrive off of constant connectivity challenges me often. In a lot of ways it seems like in an effort to combat our own inner perceived notions of mediocrity we continue to strive for and subsequently advertise external achievements to build ourselves up. In this way, we perpetuate a definition of success that is controlled by comparison and that implies that we must burn out, or DO ALL THE THINGS to be successful. I wonder how much of this external confidence hosted by social media is a cover for the insecurities so many of us encounter each day.

But, I’ve decide to address and reframe this frustration with social media by looking at the positives. A couple months ago, I posted the following Facebook status: “Here’s what’s on my mind: Sometimes I feel like I could make a pretty strong argument as to why I should never work or go to school and instead be on social media all day. Everywhere I look recently, people are posting articles or statuses that make me think and help me to learn more. So, I feel like in some ways, Facebook is its own classroom. Maybe you have to know the right people…” This clickbait classroom has taught me a lot recently. I find myself scrolling through the various feeds I subscribe to with a different eagerness. I am seeking the thoughtful motivational quotes and pictures, latest news coverage, or exciting life events. I’m not reading Facebook seeking validation of my life or to fuel FOMO but instead I’m being inspired, much like how I anticipate this post will be received, by those who are taking chances and sharing more of themselves and their beliefs.

Earlier this year, a friend of mine encouraged me to listen to Brene Brown’s TED talk about vulnerability.  I gained two important messages from Dr. Brown’s talks. First, we live in a time where we are continually confronted with unattainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be. To me, this is further compounded by the constant need for validation, justification, and approval that churns in our mind even when we’re not willing to admit that it’s there. I struggle with these notions because they are contradictory. How can one seek approval if they’re not even sure who they’re supposed to be or what they’re hoping to achieve? In so many ways, social media perpetuates this.

The second thing I took away from Dr. Brown’s talks is this: it’s okay to be seen and heard. When I first heard this, I exhaled a sigh of relief. I felt like I was being granted permission to be proud of myself without fearing disapproval or being perceived as arrogant. Then, I stopped thinking about myself and realized, the best way I can embrace Dr. Brown’s message is by advocating for sharing and truly hearing stories. Stories have a special place in my heart. Stories connect us. They help us learn empathy and foster lifelong relationships. They are also the foundation of our society (think history class). Recently, I’ve been fascinated with stories! Both understanding my story and learning others’ has given me space to be critical and also to explore.

A brief digression to share some relevant resources: When I found out about The Strangers Project I was so excited. Check it out! More stories! More things to question and consider. Of course, I couldn’t view this site without thinking about my favorite TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story” or the blog post from my incredible semester in Cape Town that inspired my love for stories and craving for understanding.

The story motif is not transient in my life. It’s complemented by a desire for everything, every moment to be a learning opportunity. Therefore, when a friend shared with me a difficult part her story recently I was again challenged by this sharp dichotomy of internally and externally facing selves. I never knew theveryone you meetat about her but I considered myself privileged to learn more about her personal life. I don’t have a lot of conversations that aren’t either super intellectual or very surface level (this is intentional, those spaces are safe and I can easily contribute and not feel overwhelmed typically). This is also mostly because I don’t reciprocate well and because I usually don’t have the words to participate in the way that person expects me to respond when they tell me personal things. But, I’ve been practicing vulnerability lately and I’m appreciative for conversations that model this important, powerful skill. While I never want anyone to struggle it was important for me to be reminded that everyone has their story and their challenges but also their composure that they put out to the rest of the world. That was influential for me. I learned a lot about myself and about friendship from that worthwhile exchange.

I was inspired to write this post today because in the midst of being inundated with thoughts about the power of storytelling and being distracted by the overwhelmingness of managing my external life on Facebook I scrolled past these two meaningful and complementary images that spurred my thinking about stories and vulnerability once again!

franklySo here’s my plea: rather than exhausting ourselves with the tiring task of crafting an identity that fits our mental images of what “success” and “happiness” look like, let us spend more time seeking, sharing, and honoring each other’s stories! I think this is best practiced through conversation and the commitment to creating safe spaces for diverse voices and experiences to thrive and be appreciated. When we stop comparing and competing and begin appreciating and recognizing we give power to individuals and let each person own where they’ve been and where they hope to go. We let each individual grow into and with their story and contribute to an identity they can be proud of and others can love regardless of the hurdles and struggles along the way. I hope that through sharing and supporting each other’s stories rather than fortifying spaces of harsh, judgments based on uninformed impressions we can grow and learn together and from each other and reserve judgment by recognizing that this is THEIR lived experience and their truth regardless of what they post on social media.


(Melissa Lovitz is a recent graduate from the University of Connecticut where she studied Human Development & Family Studies and Public Policy. Currently she is a graduate student at Brown University in the Urban Education Policy Program focusing on family and community engagement in urban communities.)

To my dear friend, when you forget:

It is so easy, so damn easy, to assume that everyone else is normal and we are the screwed up ones. But in reality, there is no normal. There might be a more common, but not a normal. Just because you cry at times others wouldn’t, and get deeply affected by events others don’t, doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. The way in which you react to a tough situation isn’t good or bad. It just IS. and you get to own that, without  apologizing for it, without judging it.

When we apologize for how we are, how we feel, how we think, we are essentially saying, “something is wrong with me. I am flawed, to the point where I need to apologize for it.” (The exception being, if you hurt someone or hurt yourself, of course you apologize. But the reality is, you don’t hurt people that often. You just worry that you do.)

You get to not apologize for crying. For spinning. For feeling. You get to not apologize for worrying. For ruminating. Because it’s who you are, it’s your wiring. And just because others don’t do or feel those things doesn’t mean you are in the wrong. It doesn’t mean anything. It just IS.

The reason you apologize after breaking down, after crying, after being you, is because you feel shame. You feel that something is intrinsically wrong with you and you just did something that you shouldn’t have done. And you worry that by doing what you did, you have made yourself fundamentally unlovable. But try, just try, to embrace it. This is who you are. And you can trust yourself that the person on whom you just unloaded loves you because of you who are, not in spite of it. And don’t apologize. Because this is you, there are no other you’s in the world, and this person loves you and cares about you and how beautiful is that?

So. Do not apologize to me for venting. For coming into my office and breaking down. For emailing long strings of thoughts. For talking and talking until you’ve let it out. Rest assured that at this point in my life, I no longer expend energy on unhealthy relationships. Which means that if you’re a part of my life, it’s not because I feel obligated or because we are unhealthily intertwined. You are in my life because I care about you, and I want to hear you, to listen to you, to hold your pain when you can’t breathe.

And so, you just be you. However and whatever that means and looks like, and I promise you, I will love you through it.

Shame

When I discovered Brené Brown’s work on shame, specifically her most recent book, I grabbed hold of it (literally!), thinking, this is IT. This is what I’ve been trying to put into words. This is what I’ve been trying to understand. And it was almost a sigh of relief; I don’t have to spend my life figuring it out, because she did the research and put it to words.

And so over the last however many months, or maybe a year, I’ve been thinking about shame and compassion even more than ever. I’ve tried to express my own thoughts on the subject. I’ve written a poem about it. I’ve jotted down notes. I’ve tried to briefly explain that the fear of shame is what makes us lack compassion for ourselves.

During this time, a friend and I have had countless conversations on this topic. Over and over again, we wonder: why do we think the worst about ourselves, but highly of each other? Why do we feel nothing but deep compassion for each other’s experiences and thoughts, but feel shame for our own? Why do we think we are the outlier or the exception?

And after thinking a lot, (I know, you’re shocked), I have a tentative conclusion: shame is (sometimes) somewhat of a self-protective mechanism.

I always used to say that I was pessimistic and didn’t get my hopes up about things, because that way I didn’t have to worry about disappointment. The fall is a lot less painful when you never left the ground, versus when you’ve climbed to the top of the tree. I think shame is similar. We preemptively shame ourselves so that if others shame us, it hurts less.

Have you ever gotten up the courage to share something with someone, something that was important to you, for whatever reason? And have you ever had their response be to tell you that you’re being dramatic, exaggerating, or just looking for attention? Boom. The shame response is born. From that moment on, we expect that the next time we share something, we will face the same response, which we can’t bear to experience. So we protect ourselves. We pre-shame ourselves, if you will. We preface our stories with, “I know it’s not a big deal, but….” or “I’m sure this isn’t what you want to hear, but…” or “This is really f***** up, but….” It’s protection. It’s setting the bar low, so if we are met there, no harm done.

(By the way? Even if we were being dramatic or exaggerating or whatever. The first thing we learn in our fields of work is that behavior=communication. It’s a principle we are taught to apply to all of our kiddos. And it applies to us, too. So there was a reason we once said or did what we did. We needed something from it; we were trying to express something, trying to release something. Even if at the time we weren’t sure what. And in the same way that we help our kids learn to express what it is that they truly are trying to say, we need to help ourselves. It’s a process.)

The interesting thing is, we expect to be shamed, but we would never shame others in that same way. Which is why we preface our stories that way, but if a friend were to tell the exact same story, or share the exact same idea, and preface it that same way, we would say things like, “Of course it’s a big deal” or “I do want to hear anything you want to say” or “It’s not messed up, tell me.”

If we were to tell our stories, to share our thoughts, without that preface, we’d be putting ourselves at risk. Which isn’t inherently something we want to do. We’d be standing on the edge of a cliff and trusting we aren’t going to fall. Which is terrifying. Even just writing this post, I want to put a whole long list of disclaimers, like, Feel free to disagree with this and I’m probably wrong but I’m just trying to share my thoughts and it’s fine if you think it’s stupid…..etc. But I won’t, not this time.

Part of it, I believe, is our culture. We live in a shame-filled society. If you think about the news, there is stigma placed on so many things, so it’s no wonder why we expect shame as anyone’s response.

I think the solution is to practice little bits at a time. And it’s HARD. A friend and I have a rule that we never apologize for texting the other. We’ve established that if the other person is busy, or not in a place to text or chat, they won’t until they’re ready; so we never need to apologize. But we find it funny that without a doubt, when we’re in a vulnerable place and text the other, we apologize. We say, “Sorry, I’m sure you’re busy, but….” and “Ugh I’m probably stressing you out more.” And then the other person says, “No apologizing!” So I’m certainly not saying it’s always doable. Especially when we’re vulnerable, or spinny, or anxious, or just out of balance.

But find that person with whom you’ve been vulnerable, with whom you’ve shared something, something that you worried would have a shame response, and didn’t. And the next time you talk with this person, try not to preface your stories. Just say them. Trust that you will not be shamed. Trust that this person is not going to suddenly think less of you. Trust that you trust this person for a reason. Trust that you’ll be met with compassion. Oh, it’s hard. But I’ve done it before, with a handful of people. And the feeling of just talking, just sharing, without those self-shaming or self-deprecating comments, is so liberating.

You deserve to release shame into the wind and breathe compassion in.

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