It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. – Theodore Roosevelt
Reason #2 that I want to travel, to embrace vulnerability and the riches it brings. Whether because of the environment I grew up in or because of something innate in me, for much of my life I viewed vulnerability as a weakness. I think perhaps we do not teach our children how to be vulnerable or that vulnerability is an essential part of strength, humility, honesty, courage, all those admirable human qualities. Instead it is seen as a bad thing, a weak thing. It is not, I have learnt that now.
Even so, knowing something and living it happen on different timescales and changing the habits of a lifetime is a long slow process. I felt that I had come a long way before I began writing this blog…now I realise how truly terrifying I still find it to be unapologetically me and to show myself authentically and honestly to others. To be vulnerable.
I’ve gone through life feeling that I had a split personality, the fun-loving, grinning, life-and-soul-of-the-party girl that people see is as much me as my other sides but people assume that it’s all of who I am. When they discover my introverted, insecure side they are dismayed by it, convinced they have offended me or that something is wrong with me. My emotional well-being has been buffeted by these reactions, having always had a firm impression of the need to please people with good behaviour. People see me as strong and yet I’ve felt weak for much of my life. I’m highly rational and detail driven but also very emotional, a potentially damaging combination when poorly handled; even now, watchful as I am, I catch myself rationalising emotions away instead of dealing with them and allowing myself permission to have them, hiding behind my intellect rather than owning my emotions. For many years these personality paradoxes confused me, at times I felt pulled in all directions, and the confusion was magnified by people attempting to tell me what I was rather than help me understand it for myself.
Perhaps because of this, I’m not one for stereotypes. Even as I recognise the efficiency of using them – the simplified, black and white perspective on life they facilitate – I despise them. I’ve not found one yet that adequately sums a person up and the dangerous power of them is all too evident in today’s society. I take a perverse pleasure in screwing with people’s stereotypes by refusing to conform to one, I am a female scientist, state-schooled Oxbridge student who rides a motorbike…see what I mean? If no stereotype sums me up then why should I think they sum up anyone else? Because of these strong feelings, I feel an imperative, a duty, to do my best to understand people as individuals, to not judge them and to make allowances before making my mind up. I don’t always get it right, I’m human, but I’m particularly belligerent on this topic. This approach may seem ideal but it has been damaging too. Allowances I have made have cost me dearly. I persisted with people and situations when I should have walked away, because I didn’t understand how to do it without hurting, or when to do it before getting hurt and lashing out. A strength quickly becomes a weakness when it is poorly acknowledged in yourself. And so I came to think of myself as a weak and malicious person, when in fact I only lacked understanding of who I am. I turned my back on the pain, I denied my emotions, and I cut myself off from living. The extent of my success in this strategy only became apparent after some time in therapy, where I was encouraged to feel again. I found I had almost no conscious access to my emotions, it was impossible to know which emotion I was experiencing when. I had reduced my sensitivity down to a pile of inconvenient discomfort and this was my only barometer of the impact of the world upon me. My lack of awareness was unnerving to behold and more unnerving still was the knowledge that I’d done it to myself. What a miserable way to live! The saving grace was that I wasn’t aware of the misery; I was numb and almost dead inside. I will be forever grateful that my life eventually hit rock bottom. But for that I might still be persisting in the same state. But, things will tend back to their true nature and people are no different. I now realise that feelings that I had long denied but which were evident if I had chosen to heed them had bubbled up to the surface and once visible I was powerless to ignore them. A decade of unaddressed slights and unmade compromises and “I’ll think about that later” emotions descended on me in the space of two days. I walked out of my marriage and home and shortly afterwards I plummeted. I felt as helpless as a tiny boat in an ocean storm and I was filled with weariness, despair and fear of whether the future would bring only this. I was pushed to a choice point, which was really no choice at all: seek help and live, or don’t. I am stubborn and I have always chosen the hard way over the easy, I chose to face and accept my vulnerability, to ask for help and open myself to the possibility that a different way might exist. I think instinctively on some level I knew I had been denying vulnerability and the only option left was to open myself fully to it. I would have to work hard but that was the easy part. A decent dose of luck was thrown in as fate sent me a guardian to oversee my journey, to guide, instruct, cajole, care and understand. As human as I know her to be, she will forever be in my mind a guardian angel. With her help I worked with every ounce of effort I had to leave the broken place I was in behind me, to accept it as part of me and my journey but to move forward and not be held there. I have worked to know more of who I am and be easier on myself, to become stronger and more aware. I have travelled further in three years, than in the rest of my life.
Vulnerability still does not come easily to me but I know this and I’m content to practice. I think this must be why I choose to open myself up in this way when it scares me to do so, to write honestly about my thoughts, feelings and experiences, to communicate my story, my truth. But I have an inexplicable drive to do it none-the-less and I know I have felt this fear before, I am certain I know it for the imposter it is. I have come to recognise it as vulnerability, and the fear of the unknown it brings with it is to be heeded but not obeyed, for that way lies nothing of the richness of the life that could be. So, just as I will travel to put myself at the mercy of the world, I will write down my story for all who want to see and make myself vulnerable, because I believe in the process. Perhaps it is my way of making sense of my life, to empty my head onto paper but there is a power in sharing your journey and stories, to be a carrier of men’s dreams, in the words of Ted Simon, and to communicate the truth of the world as I observe it. So, with all the anticipation of a sky-diver at the open airplane door I wait with nervous anticipation to see what the process will bring…There is work to do yet, I hope you’ll follow me for a while as it’s done.
‘The physics of vulnerability is simple. If we are brave enough often enough, we will fall’ – Brene Brown