So, I heard something on the radio the other morning which I know has been a HUGE struggle for me over the years. Being vulnerable. Being vulnerable has always been a huge struggle for me. I hardly let anyone see any of my emotions or internal struggles. In the 4th grade, I asked for a new bike for my birthday. I wasn’t sure that my parents would be able to afford one but that was the only thing that I wanted. The day of my birthday, I got my bike. Internally, I was ecstatic because I know they had to sacrifice to get it. (My siblings and my birthdays are within 6 weeks of each other with my sister and I only being 2 weeks apart). On the outside, I said a polite ‘thank you’. I made sure that I was tall enough for it and new how to operate the gears and brakes. I rode it once that evening for about 5 mins. Not because that was all the time I was allowed to ride it but because, I didn’t know how to allow anyone to see my excitement. For my 16th birthday, I received a car. At the time, I had not asked for a car. Not because I didn’t want one but because I knew my parents could afford one. Shelling out a $1500 expense with 3 teenagers was extravagant and just couldn’t be justified. I had just returned from a gifted cruise (my cousin had recently been placed on punishment and I went in her place) and my parents surprised me when I came home. Again, internally, I was jumping up for joy. Not only did I get what I really wanted but it was total shock and surprise because I didn’t ask for it. Externally, I smiled and again said thank you. For a week, my parents thought I didn’t like the gift because I wasn’t boasting about it to anyone. I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel and be ‘free’. (I got the car a week before my birthday, so I still had my permit and couldn’t drive it anyway) Again, I couldn’t allow them to see the utter excitement that I had about the sacrifice they made to get me something I would really enjoy. I later learned that my grandmother had purchased the car for me. That didn't change anything because now I knew that the one thing my parents probably wanted to be the greatest surprise for me, they couldn't do on their own. These are 2 examples but there are countless others that extend past the material items and into mental well-being.
But when I think about it, this has always been the case. From the earliest I can recall, I have always not allowed ANYONE to see fully past that wall that I had placed up. Is it because of the males that had taken advantage of me at an early age? Is it because that is the life that I was brought up in by my parents or other relatives? Is it because I was conditioned other places that being vulnerable made you weak and susceptible to danger, threat or be taken advantage of? I have yet been able to pinpoint where it started but I can see it’s affects throughout my life and in everything I do. I take very little credit for anything that I have done that would be considered an accomplishment to others. Even when I know that my feelings have been hurt, trust broken, I rarely show anyone that. I typically stay calm, cool and collected on the outside and trembling with fear or a ball of confusion on the inside. Recent example is my medical procedure. I knew that given the symptoms, I was having what would occur. I had a procedure before and I knew how it affected me mentally and physically. Even the testing and exams that were needed to determine what procedure to have were triggering. None of them every knew. I told everyone what would happen and that they had nothing to worry about. If it hadn’t been for the fact that I couldn’t drive home afterwards, I would have told no one to come with me. I had to present a front of being strong and OK. The procedure, although very common, had to appear as if I had it done like brushing my teeth each morning. It was nothing big and I would be breeze through it. Inside though, I was panicked. I had to take a medication before the procedure that would cause triggering pain and I knew I would only be able to take Tylenol for it which over the counter would have no effect. I knew that after the procedure, I would be in some pain that again would be triggering for me. I also knew that I would have stronger pain medications that would keep me sedated for it but I shouldn’t rely on to avoid my emotions. I knew that preparation for the procedure would be a struggle and I would be extremely conscious of if I had prepared enough. I knew that from the day I had to start preparing until weeks after, I would always feel insecure about what the doctor and nurses were going to be thinking if I had not been prepared enough. When people asked me how I was doing, I told them I was OK, even though I was still feeling pain. My sister and my niece became ill shortly before and after my procedure. So now we were all going to be in a position of needing someone and all we had was each other with my niece dependent on us both. And due to another extended family emergency, we have 2 additional children in the house to take care of and try not to send back sick in a couple of days. So, I sucked it up and did what was needed in order to take care of them and not try to catch what they had and take care that the dogs were fed and not tearing up the place. But I was and am in turmoil most of the time still. There are intermittent pains that I have just from sitting at work all day to the pains of my body just trying to heal itself after the procedure. I know that the latter will continue for at least 2 more weeks. With me being the only person working, I can afford to just take off when I don’t feel well. Even my post-op in a couple of weeks I am trying to decide to tell the doctor the truth or a lie or a partial truth. She is not aware of my past. This was an intentional omission on my part but I am sure obvious to her by now. Dangerous move? Yes. Necessary for me? Yes.
It even shows up in my relationships with people whether they are family or not. With family, they have become use to it but they still ‘joke’ about it. There are the jokes about how I don't hug anyone or rarely say I love you or cry about much of anything or show much anger. Some days, it stings a little. Other days, I push through with a strained attempt to hug or say a quick love you so that they are appeased for a short period of time. I call it being a work in progress and trying. The truth is much of the time, it feels like fire to utter those words or give/receive that hug. With friends, I try to never let them see me sweat. If I am having a bad day emotionally, they accept it as me being tired or that I am just the shy silent type and don’t participate like that. Sometimes, I even say it is because I just don’t like people and have reached my limit for the day. Usually though, I am feeling something that I cannot express out of fear of what will happen if I do. Whether that is fear of other people’s reaction or fear of how much I will show of myself to only be rejected, be invalidated or my feelings be minimalized as not that big of a deal. While it may not be a big deal to anyone else it is a huge deal to me. I am the one feeling it and I am the one dealing with it. Others may be worse situations and making it through or in similar situations and making it through but they are not me.
Entries in this blog were even supposed to help me break down this wall that I have placed up for the better part of 40 years. I find that I am censoring myself on this too. It took me 45 mins to write to this point and I wrote it on MS Word just in case I changed my mind about adding it as an entry. By the end, I will have read it 3-4 times. I have edited it so much I wish I had just left it in its original form because now it seems too rehearsed or planned or some paper to be graded for school. I will try to get the point across without getting too detailed in what I am really thinking. Why? Even strangers that I will never meet cannot enter my safe place for fear even their replies will taint the place I have shielded myself from the rest of the world. Even though I recognize all of this, it is still extremely difficult to not be this type of person. The moment that I even think I can gather the words to say ‘help me’ great fear takes over. I can’t say that there have been enough times that I have been supported when I show some vulnerability that outweigh the times when seeking help was more hurtful than not saying anything at all. And because my circle of friends or safe people is small, when the hurtful ones happen, I feel like there is nowhere else to turn. The safest people to let in are no longer safe. Or they are only safe for very minute issues like work sucked today or the stranger at the store was rude. I admire people who can allow themselves to be free in this manner though. There is a strength in being vulnerable. There is trust in being open enough to allow people in to see that you are not putting up a facade. I am sure that they have been hurt by people who abused this but they still press forward and open up to others for the sake of their own growth. They put fear aside to allow in the help that they need. The put pride aside. I am not saying without vulnerability you can’t grow but the damage that it can do internally puts a strain on you mentally because you hold onto a lot of frustration, anger, anxiety and just stress.
I don’t know. At this point, I am just hoping and that the little I am doing will eventually build to something much bigger and years down the road, I can look back and see how far I have come. But right now, it feels like a task that I just don’t want to do. That the little bit I have done is all that I will ever be capable of and one day I will have to learn to accept this weakness and continue to suck it up when they jokingly poke fun at me.
And nearly 2 hours later, I am still contemplating posting this and chipping away at the barbed wire, steel reinforced concrete wall that seems better than any maximum security prison ever built.