On vulnerability and courage

Yesterday Monday I finally actually wrote a post that I’ve been outlining in my head for the past week. Usually, I don’t do that… usually it’s just another draft left to languish. But for whatever reason, I made myself do it. And I was kind of proud of it. And I reluctantly shared it a few places and… damn.

Views

I’m fully aware that 3000+ views is still chump change, but it was a lot of attention for my little blog, and I’m still blown away. And more important than the stats were the many personal messages I received, both here in comments and through my personal facebook, thanking me for writing what I wrote. I’m so honored to know that my writing has helped someone.

That said… so many of you thanked me just for the simple act of discussing my mental health history openly. Many of you remarked on feeling very alone, like “the only one” dealing with these issues. And while I’m glad I could make you feel less alone… it makes me so sad that you felt that way in the first place.

It shouldn’t be that way. One random internet stranger’s introspective musings shouldn’t be the only place, or even one of few places, where people are able to feel not alone. Identifying with someone’s writing can be very powerful, and I don’t mean to discount that, but people dealing with mental health issues deserve more than pixels on a screen.  This shit is stuff we should be talking about in real life, with real people who love and support us. ‘Serious’, diagnosable mental health issues are not rare, and in my experience, nearly everyone deals with insecurity/jerkbrain, at least once in awhile. It shouldn’t be impossible to talk about these things–we’re all human here, are we not?

I know that at least some of you already agree with me, because most of the traffic on Monday’s post came from CaptainAwkward or my cousin Nicole’s Mom’s Who Drink and Swear, both of which are places where no-nonsense, serious, honest talk about real life is the norm. But I know that both of those sites are islands of sanity in an insane world, where we all walk around trying to pretend to each other that Everything Is Okay *fake smile*.   And that is so much bullshit.

Life is hard, even when it’s also good. Struggling is not a sign of failure, it’s a sign that you’re human. So why are we so determined to pretend otherwise?

I know that part of the answer to this question, at least when it comes to mental illness, is “stigma”. And stigma is a genuine problem. Many people do hold negative and/or false beliefs about people with mental illnesses.  There are often serious risks to one’s safety/livelihood inherent in ‘coming out’ as mentally ill.  On a personal level, I’ve been warned by more than one well-meaning stranger that having this blog may jeopardize my future employment prospects. And that sucks, and we need to work towards changing that.

But there’s more to it than that, because it isn’t just mental illness that we’re reluctant to talk to each other about. Nicole started Mom’s Who Drink and Swear because she saw a need for honest conversation about parenthood, even the hard stuff that people are reluctant to admit. We have a hard time talking about the hard stuff, because it makes us feel vulnerable. Our instincts push hard against the notion of willingly showing weakness, and for good reason: being vulnerable, by definition, means you can get hurt. Vulnerability is scary.

That video is Brene Brown, a researcher who studies human connection and what it takes to live a “whole-hearted” life. And she’s found in her research evidence of a truth that some of the wiser people among us already knew: vulnerability is a pre-requisite for real connection.

Many of you told me, regarding Monday’s post, that I was brave. And yea, putting that piece of myself out there in the world was scary and difficult. But it ended up being incredibly rewarding. It was completely and totally worth it, and it would have been even if I’d only had one or two people really connect with the piece. Because connecting with people is what we’re here for.

I have lots of other things I want to say here on this little blog, and I hope some of you will stick around for that. But I’m also just a 20-something trying to sort out her life and my post topics vary and you may find nothing else here you connect with and then you’ll be on your way. Either way, I’m glad to have had your ear for even just a moment. And I hope you’ll go away with this:

We need more people to be brave.  By that, I don’t mean we need more people writing introspective, confessional blog posts, although clearly I’m not opposed to such things. We need to be brave in our everyday lives.  We need to surround ourselves with people who are worthy of our trust and then be authentic with them. Give your fellow humans, and yourself, a little credit. You can do this. We can do this. We can build more happy, connected lives and communities.

We have to be brave, but it’s totally worth it.

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11 Comments

  1. I was just thinking the other day that telling people you have a mental illness is like coming out about being gay. You are the first person I’ve seen say this. You are right though, it is, and look at how long it took society to accept people “comin out” about that, how long should those who suffer mental illness have to wait before their coming out is accepted?, not expecting an answer really more just making an observation. I thank you for your honesty and commend you on overcoming personal anxiety to post these pieces of yourself. 🙂

  2. again, Keely, you’re just knocking them out of the park! 🙂 One thing I’ve noticed and heard over and over again is that people tend to regard mental illness as a weakness or a personal failure. If you can’t handle your emotions and depression and mental issues behind closed doors, then you’re somehow less of a Man (or Woman, although I’ve mostly heard this opinion come from men).

    And of course, that stigma could cause people to not seek professional help for their mental illness–people who REALLY need professional help.

    The crazy thing is that I’ve heard that “mental illness is just weakness” argument from highly intelligent people who should know better. People who majored in neuroscience and psych. I think if you’re raised with that mentality, it’s very very hard let go of it.

    • Yea. Sadly, smart people are just as good at deluding/hating themselves as average people. If anything, better. Which is why though research shows that having people work more than 40 hours/week has a serious problem with diminishing returns, and more than 60 or so is pretty much completely not worth it…. professionals in all of the most prestigious, ‘smart people’ careers continue to expect 80-100hrs of each other.

      And yes, the stigma thing is kind of worse for men, because they’re also socialized to be unemotional in general, so it’s that much harder to be open about this shit. It’s fucking tragic.

  3. Once again, yes and yes. STIGMA! When I went on medical leave from teaching, I was so scared people wouldn’t believe there was actually anything wrong with me, or would think me less competent because of it. I’ve thought about the whole writing about anxiety and depression hindering a later job search, too, but… I don’t know. I’d rather be honest.

    http://www.rebuildhealthandhome.com/2012/11/stigma.html

    Also, I LOVE Brené Brown. I have “The Gifts of Imperfection,” but I haven’t gotten “Daring Greatly” yet.

  4. That video is really interesting, especially the way she’s so honest about her own resistance! I started reading this blog about 2 months ago and I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read here. I’m in awe of your science prowess but more than that I just really engage with and enjoy what you write. Thank you for sharing and I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  5. Pingback: on openness and vulnerability part 1: backstory | a little dose of keelium

  6. Pingback: Career choices, identity, and being many things at once | a little dose of keelium

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