Reading time: 5 minutes, 1000 words
Recently I invited you to share your thoughts on courage and vulnerability. I asked you to write whatever came to mind, and email it to me.
I did this because I want this blog to be interactive. And I'm interested in your stories and perspectives.
So thanks for writing in. Your stories were refreshing and deep, and I'm inspired to live more openly and boldly. I'm also reminded that we all have a story, we all come from something. And sharing that, however ugly or frail or socially unacceptable, somehow unites us. Thanks for taking the time and courage to share.
One time I was sitting around with a group of women after an exercise class. First, let me preface: I am a cool person. I am stoic. I am funny. I am positive. And when I'm negative, I usually keep it to myself or tell a close friend. Ok, anyway, so...This day in this circle, after class, I was feeling that gnawing ache of knowing I was disconnected with my husband, and my kids were little and I didn't know if I was an adequate mother to them. I had tried everything to lose weight, and it wasn't coming off. I knew I wasn't adequate in the eyes of our culture because of my fatness.
And then, almost inexplicably, a little earthquake began in the center of my being. The ladies, maybe 10 of us, were in a circle and a few were having side conversations. Tears started rolling down my cheeks. I noticed that a couple ladies noticed and then they elbowed each other, so that they were all looking at me.
This is when a full-on, unrestrained, outpouring of pain began. Before I knew it, I was sobbing and shaking, and trying to explain but I couldn't even talk. I was absolutely incapacitated by this. I could barely breathe. The ladies on either side of me had taken my hands in theirs, so this is how one of the most amazing things another human being has done for me happened. I went to pull my hand away to wipe the torrential flow of snot off my face, and this lady, an acquaintance whose name I don't even remember, took her sleeve and wiped that grossness from my face, without a flinch, in a split second, and it was the kindest and most selfless thing I recall anyone ever doing for me.
I left and, surprisingly, I was too humiliated to ever go back to this exercise class. But the compassion of these ladies, particularly the lady beside me, changed me forever. My life has gotten so much better since that dark day. I'm divorced and thin and more confident than I have ever been in my life. I like to think that I pay it forward now. I would love to have a chance to wipe someone's snot one day if they need it. It was a powerful gesture. It made me safe to be an utter failure and an utter mess. And to walk away and grow as a direct result of the love I received from some virtual strangers.
I broke at the end of 2012, a few days before Christmas. The previous 22 years of my life had been a challenge, but I thrived on challenges. I could do anything. I was accomplishing the almost-impossible, especially for a college student. Life was good to me.
I caught what felt like the flu, until it got worse, and I was bedridden for a week. I barely got up on Christmas day. While I was sick I endured what could only be called melancholy on steroids. After a while I finally got better, physically. The excruciating emotions never left.
In January 2013 I was diagnosed with depression. In April I had become so debilitated that I had to seek serious, professional help. Then I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression. I felt like a failure for letting a few pathetic emotions affect me so badly. I was weak, and I was ashamed of myself for it.
The year 2013 was a nightmare. No matter how many shrinks I saw, no matter how many meds I tried, I was only getting worse. I shared every itty bitty detail about my life with every professional I could find in the hopes that one of them could cure me. I kept trying, kept fighting, kept struggling. I spent a lot of time praying. I could barely see any results.
After being told so many times that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and after trudging for so long and not seeing it, I stopped believing them.
I wanted so badly to fall asleep and not wake up.
It is May of 2014 and I still haven’t found a solution. My life has crumbled around me, and most days I still feel worthless. I can’t handle even half the workload I used to. I am so high maintenance, and I hate people who are high maintenance.
But I learned something important in the past 18 months: Before this nightmare started, I was obsessed with how people saw me. I tried so hard to be this flawless, adorable girl. I adopted a personality mask that adjusted to get along with whomever I was around, and I barely did anything in public for fear of looking stupid. When I crashed in 2012, I couldn’t worry about that anymore. In my fight to be cured, I broke down every emotional wall and swept out every dark corner. I might as well have stood naked in front of the doctors, the therapists, the counselors. I became used to sharing everything about myself, not just what was pretty, and I began to very matter-of-factly share my struggles with everyone around me.
I have changed. What people think of me doesn’t matter anymore. Actually, being so open and honest with people has made them like me even more. Go figure.
But my struggle isn’t with them. It’s with myself. It’s learning how to get rid of this monster that has taken residence deep inside my brain. It’s relearning my limits, my newfound weaknesses, my hard-earned strengths. It’s fighting a war that never ends, against an enemy that never stops.
And I am so tired.
Many, many months ago, I was working for a fashion magazine, that had it's own in-house studio.
It was a relatively unassuming job, yet by some stroke of fate the head photographer (and owner) spotted me and took an interest in my work. At the time I was most interested in body study and nudes, and I showed him a couple of reference images.
One day, he asked if I would like to learn how to use a studio and I adamantly agreed. We got drunk and talked excessively about my dreams, goals and where I saw myself in the future. Eventually he said: "You want to learn the process of body study right?"
"Sure, of course."
"Take your clothes off."
I shook them off without a second’s hesitation, knowing that by doing so I would immediately become vulnerable and exposed. It's not that I didn't think any of it through, it's just that something I call 'creative courage' overrode the conscious decision.
He made me stand in front of a mirror and critique every inch of my body, from head to toe.
Not only did this experience radically change my worldview about myself and my confidence, but it gave me such a strength (that only experience can offer) when working with nude subjects (which I do quite a bit now).