I made the decision to give therapy another try last August. I hadn’t had another depressive episode (thank God), nor were my thoughts at the time rapid and anxious over situations from the past (praise GOD). This time around I just wanted to improve myself and have check-ins with someone who could give me unbiased opinions and observations. Sometimes we unpacked heavy, invisible burdens that I’d been carrying so long and forgot I had the ability to put down. Other times we talked about the weather. Random opinions and hot takes. My thoughts on charter schools. Taking my mother on a cruise.
I cannot recall what exactly I said that prompted my therapist to pause from his notes, look at me and say, “Vulnerability is the act of being fully seen, with no control of the outcome.“ What I do know is that once he said it, I stopped breathing.
I’ve been driven, self-motivated, determined and humbly unstoppable for all 24 of my years. I can’t recall a time where I completely exposed myself AND didn’t try to manipulate the odds in my favor without wincing or completely regretting it later. What I’ve built in mental endurance and stamina didn’t translate emotionally. And here I was sitting across from someone who, after only 3 sessions, reminded me that I had so much work to do.
There isn’t a poetic way to describe what has happened in the months since that session. I usually write in metaphors, wit and humor that makes for great quote tweets and highlighted text. I am the most vulnerable with my words, allowing my typing to convey my lows and sorrows as transparent and truthful as possible but still with grace and beauty. There are things that I didn’t mind sharing because even though it was bad, I made it sound good. It read well. Certain lines of it made for great tweets or shareable quotes.
But vulnerability? Releasing control of what happens next? This ain’t pretty. I can’t dress it up and make it feel good. The only thing to it was to do it and pray for the rest. And I’ll be the first one to tell you this: it SUCKED.
My safety has been directly influenced by my ability to control. If I can control how much someone sees me, I don’t open myself up to so much hurt. If I align my actions in a certain sequence, I can probably manipulate a certain outcome. If I expose my friends, family and partners to this side of me, but not this side of me, I won’t have to release control on how they would react to the full me. My ugly side. My mean side. I knew for a fact that I was safe when I was in control. I did not know if the risks of fully exposing myself would be worth whatever possible reward came next.
I didn’t just play wrestle with this; I absolutely fought it. I would make laughable quips with my therapist about how my way was the correct one and that me trying anything else would be a waste of time. In my mind, I wasn’t the problem; I just had a consistent problem of not meeting someone who could handle me wanting to remain in my safety net. I argued vulnerability down for as long as I possibly could, convincing myself that I had been right all along and that one day my right to be accepted by the right people.
And then one day, I hit another revelation that stopped me in my tracks: being vulnerable is not for the people around me to have access to me. It’s really for me to stop wearing myself out by only being half of my full self and storing the rest away for a rainy day. It is exhausting to hide yourself out of the fear of what someone may or may not do with it. The freedom that comes with being vulnerable doesn’t open myself up as a “free for all” to others; rather, it allows me to opportunity to accept and fully step into myself while knowing that my value is the same regardless of how someone else views it.
The more vulnerable I became with myself, the less it felt like a punishment to do it with others. As I grow more accepting of my own flaws, I don’t shudder at the idea of admitting them to others. Being myself for myself makes it easier to share that person with other people. Slowly but surely, this new level of exposure is shifting from an inhale of panic to a sigh of relief…