Speaking ghosts: the V-word

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about words. More than I usually do. I’ve been thinking about the way they shape our attitudes and views about the world around us. And I got to the conclusion that in every individual’s dictionary are at least a few taboo words. Words that haunt us, that feel unspeakable, words that call out pieces of personal history that we don’t feel ready to claim as our own yet. One of those words, for me, is vulnerability, but I am sure that, reading these lines, your own unspeakable words popped-up in your thoughts.

I have always had a complicated relationship with my vulnerabilities. On one hand, I was totally, deeply aware of their existence. I have always known which are my biggest vulnerabilities, and  I have never denied the fact that they exist. On the other hand, though, I’ve never been open enough to admit them in front of others. Actually, a lot of my social self was built on diminishing those vulnerabilities.

This happened because, in my head, at least, being vulnerable was nothing to be talked about. It was deeply connected with being weak, and that was nothing I would, back then, have admitted being. And, as getting rid of what makes me vulnerable is not an option, the only thing left doing was diminishing my vulnerabilities as much as possible. This is how I’ve managed to build myself up in such a way that, when it comes to discovering my vulnerable to someone, it weighs less than it normally would, as I have never defined myself through it.

But this isn’t an inspirational story. I can’t say that I’ve put in a lot of work to reach this point, as I’ve directed my energy to the domains that seemed interesting to me and which were almost natural. It is, however, the story of a well-disguised fear, my fear of rejection.

It took me years to be able to admit that, in the shadow of this v-word I’ve been constantly avoiding, was comfortably laying a fear. My fear of being rejected, of being dismissed once people found out how much of a vulnerable being I am in fact.

Because I’ve always thought that a group will, eventually, get rid of its liabilities first, and those tend to be the most vulnerable members of the group. This is why I have always done whatever I felt was needed in order to keep myself updated. I got involved in causes and fields which were genuinely mattering to me, I kept reading, writing and planning things. It was my way of resting assured that, if it would ever happen to become a liability for a group, that group would be strong enough and smart enough to see that I’m more than my vulnerable side.

Even when it looked like I wasn’t doing anything, I was, in fact, preparing to do something. Because I was never the one to stay and wait for things to happen. Actually, doing things that mattered for me was the way to hide my vulnerabilities. How could possibly a girl like you, doing so many things, be vulnerable like that? I never answer, but the truth is that those vulnerabilities made me become this girl, to begin with. The girl that seems to never struggle, that never gives up, that never gets tired.

And everything worked out just fine until life showed me that the ways of becoming were way more complicated than I thought they would. The time came when I was left hanging, without the energy needed to keep being the old me. And this brought me to some really surprising things to notice.

One of the first things I’ve observed was that, even with my vulnerable side exposed, there were still people by my side. People who kept on believing in me, supporting me, caring for me. People who tried to befriend me with my vulnerable parts, as it was the only way to avoid reaching that point again.

I’ve also noticed that I do not, in fact, hate my vulnerabilities. Of course, they are uncomfortable, and I would still rather hide them, but I’ve discovered that talking about them helps to forge connections. It helps you to stay humble, to stay human, and to meet other people, with different vulnerabilities, halfway. Talking about sensitive topics makes life better, but only when I felt too tired to hide I could actually understand it.

And, last but not least, I found out that the more I discover about being vulnerable, even if it is from personal or from shared experience, the better I become. That there you can be vulnerable, yet strong, that you can share openly about what makes you vulnerable without being automatically labeled as weak. That there are strength, beauty, and warmth in showing up as yourself, with your strong points and your vulnerable sides. That only when you’ll stop playing hide and seek with the others, your tribe will finally reach out to you.

That no one should be so scared of being labeled the wrong way by the others so it will hide who it really is. Hide and seek was a thing when we were kids, but it is not a lifestyle. And there’s nobody who could make me see it like that.

Work hard, dream harder

I was reading an article in a magazine about the emotional work, and it remained with me. Even if the main ideas were about how women tend to do more emotional work, and for free, the simple thing of seeing the emotional help we tend to offer as work brought me an idea worth reflecting upon.

I have always been a giver. I tend to run away from my problems by helping others solve theirs. And I’ve never thought about what I was doing as if it was some kind of work.

Of course, I’ve always known that it is a kind of investment, that I give a part of my resources- time, energy, knowledge, kindness, patience- for another person’s well-being. But it felt more like an act of generosity, of friendship, rather than a service that I was making to those people.

I thought, for a very long time, that the only thing that I get in return should be the fact that I have a meaning that doesn’t allow me to fall apart in irreversible ways. That this should be enough to make me feel like I do the right thing.

And even if giving, if helping others is more of an inner calling than something I am doing for an outcome, trying to see this as work has forced me to shift the perspective for a bit.

It made me aware of the fact that not only I can, but I have to choose the people I would share some of my resources with. But it took me an eight-years-long friendship ending in not-that-friendly-terms, to learn how to distinguish between people who need attention and those who are looking for help.

Thinking about what I do provide for others made me aware of the fact that I don’t provide the same things, in the same ways, for myself. That during my quest of saving the world kindly, one person at a time, I was neglecting the only person I could save: myself.

But, first, I had to become empty. Before I’ve got to understand the importance of being selective and aware of what I bring to the table, I had to get to the point where I was talking myself out of panic attacks in the mirror, crying, somewhere at 2 a.m. or maybe in the afternoon.

And only when I’ve seen myself reaching a new level of low, I’ve understood that you can’t help others without taking care of yourself. If I want to be able to keep giving, I also have to allow people in, to let them see me struggling and fighting my demons. That I can be a friend just as much as I let others be my friends, as well.

And this was hard to admit. It was hard, as I’ve always valued the feeling of power that is usually brought by being independent and having your life together. I’ve always hated to appear in front of others as vulnerable, even if I am. I’ve never wanted my loved ones to see me crying, even if, so many times, I have had no control of it, and it just happened.

Somehow, being the strong one has always felt like it is the only option for me. Even if, in an almost ironical way, I’ve always encouraged people to be their own, real, authentic self. With good, bad, strong and vulnerable points.

Seeing written on paper about how emotional work is work, real work, made me ask myself questions. And the most painful one was Were all those people worth it, would they ever do the same for you?

It left me a bit bitter, to know that I need to choose with more care the people I get close to, that need my help. That I can’t fight any battle I feel to. That I have to think twice before deciding to put in the work and resources for somebody.

Because emotional work, like any other type of work, is tricky, as it can be meaningless, as it fills you up with frustration and exhaustion when it turns out wrong, or, contrary, to bring you purpose and enlightenment.

This happens because emotional work, more than any other kind of work, involves care. Authentic, genuine care and openness established between two people. An exchange of vulnerabilities, experiences and, why not, information. This is why it is almost always seen as a feminine kind of thing, even though, the truth be told, I’ve also met a lot of wonderful men doing it, and I am grateful for all the things I’ve learned from them and stayed with me.

Because emotional work is not about a schedule. It is about seeing the good in the other person, and help it see that good, too. And this is one of the most beautiful parts of being human, a type of work as stunning and glowy as a dream, but as challenging as the real existence at the same time.