I was raised to see vulnerability as a weakness. Told to not talk about our feelings, to put on a mask, pretend everything is fine – that it’s all about appearances and seeming to be perfect. I’ve built a life on chasing perfection and trying to fool the world and myself into thinking I am not a hot mess.
I kept everyone at arms lengths, afraid if they saw under the armour that they’d see me as weak, that if I talked about the things that had happened to me or the things that I had done, everyone would realise that I was far from whole. From being a little girl, I knew there were some things that should be kept a secret, and I became an expert at not talking. At putting on that mask every morning and falling apart every night. My body bears the scars of those unspoken words, so many nights spent crying myself to sleep.
Trying to do everything alone, with no help or support, fueled the depression I’ve battled most of my life, chasing perfection led to self-hatred and self-harm and addiction. In trying to be strong, I was weak.
Through the last three months of heartbreak, of fighting to save a marriage, and finally admitting that it was time to walk away, I’ve changed the story of my lifetime. At first, my gut told me to shut off, hide away and not tell a soul. That voice inside my head told me that people would think I was to blame, that I was the reason for the lies and the cheating, that I wasn’t good enough as always.
Yet I found myself confessing. I still to this day don’t know where I found the strength to take that first step to vulnerability. I was surprised to find that my friends were outraged on my behalf, that they didn’t blame me, but the opposite – they couldn’t believe that a person could do that to someone they supposedly loved.
It’s been an awful few months, there have been weeks and days I’ve barely managed to keep breathing when I’ve felt like I am drowning in grief. I’m pretty amazed that I’ve kept that mask off. Admitted to how I’ve felt rather than doling out a standard ‘i’m fine’. I’ve had to dig deep, in those moments when I’ve felt the most alone and broken to find the courage to ask for help.
I’ve found that talking, being open and honest has been a life-changer. All of this recent grief has dug up so many old feelings that I have never dealt with. And this time, instead of running away, I’m facing them head on. It isn’t easy or pretty. I’ve found that my real strength lies not in fighting, in soldiering on and putting on a suit of armour, but it comes from letting go. Letting go of the need to be seen as perfect and unbroken.
The good days are creeping back in. Slowly. They are still few and far between, the days when I don’t feel like I’m wading through mud. When I can breathe and get on with day to day life. But those days fool me. One good day and I think, that’s it, I’m better. Then suddenly, it’s 9 pm and I’m curled in a ball for the second night in a row, on the sofa in the dark, tears streaming down my cheeks. Trying to breathe but not managing more than gasping for air. Or 3 am and I’m wide awake, feeling sick, longing for some relief, to feel numb, someone to hold me. Knowing that I have no choice but to hold on and fight, but not knowing how I can make it through another day of feeling like this.
I put myself out there, shared my feelings – the good, the bad and the ugly on my Instagram. Writing for no other reason that I had to, to survive. Putting metaphorical pen to paper made those feelings valid, and in living my own story instead of hiding behind perfection, I finally connected. I learned that people found my mask intimidating and that when I was vulnerable, open, honest… true to myself that THAT was what they found inspiring. I have been overwhelmed by the support and encouragement that I received, from friends and from strangers. By people reaching out to share their own stories, to offer words of comfort, to tell me how inspiring it was to see such honesty.
It’s not always easy, sometimes being open and honest leaves me feeling overexposed and longing to pick up that armour and hide away again. last week it was all a bit too much, and as the events of the last three months came to some kind of close, I found myself needing to retreat. To take a step back, just for a while, shut off the world for a few days and let myself just be. I’m wary though of retreating because I know that when I want to retreat within myself, it’s actually when I need company and support the most.
Changing the story of a lifetime, teaching my own kiddos that it’s ok to be vulnerable, that’s ok to ask for help, to talk and take support.
“I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”