Short Sharp Scratch: Discovering the Importance of Being Vulnerable

I think when you’ve had three prior major surgeries, and two years worth of needles, there becomes this expectation that you’re somehow a pro at it. Especially after having brain surgery, everything else becomes a walk in the park and something you’ll be fine with as “you’ve survived worse." 

And to some degree, that’s true.

Surviving brain surgery does become a benchmark for everything else and because of that, it does always feel like a silly, over reaction on my part to even imagine feeling anxiety, or worry of any kind, being gowned up and placed in the theatre room, for anything other than that.

I'm almost more sure of the surgery stages than I am of anything, so when the nurses begin “right, Samantha," I know exactly what three words are coming next: short sharp scratch. When they insert the catheter and anaesthesia into my hand, I never flinch or show surface emotion, even though deep inside I’m holding my breath from the pain. And when they tell me to take a few deep breaths, I seem calm, whilst secretly terrified of the lack of control I’m seconds away from feeling and just willing it will all be over.

Almost like a test, I never fail it by showing emotion. 

Photos from platinum chain eye surgery, to aid eye closure and ability to blink following facial paralysis. 

And until a session with my therapist last week, I thought this strength was my power. But when prompted, I confidently admitted how I didn’t invite anyone to the hospital, nor to visit me afterwards whilst recovering. I powered through the pain without pain relief, proving to myself I could recover completely alone. But her expression and response was enough to instantly make me aware of the wall I’ve created around me.

“Do you think people stay at arms length because they want to or do you keep them there?” She asked.

Her statement was alarming because it made me see how over the years I’ve become so focused on hiding that ‘emotional’ side of me, for fear of it being taken as a weakness. I’ve become so fixated on being ‘strong’ and ‘inspiring’ and ‘brave’ and didn’t believe I could still be all of those things if I admitted needing others at times. 

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage,” - Brené Brown in Rising Strong.

I journal my true feelings to avoid exposing these to others, as doing so feels a little counterproductive to me. I’m convinced that by giving attention to ‘negative’ thoughts, we change our energy state and perception of events, increase our negativity bias and reduce our overall ability to cope. And I’ve carried this belief for so long that it now seems strange and unfamiliar to share these to others. But reaching out to a therapist came at a time when I knew I needed to process the emotions I’d been suppressing, and was almost evidence of how opening up to others can enable us to understand ourselves and the challenges we face.

Snippet from my journals in 2020, both preparing for facial surgery, and shortly after it. In it, I revealed that I was desperate for comfort from someone else during that time and was so touched by the receiving of a hug from one of the nurses when leaving hospital, despite not feeling that I needed one at the time.

Sharing our 'negative' emotions doesn't mean we’re ‘feeding them' or staying fixed in a downward state. Instead, it allows us to grow and open ourselves up to the support around us so that we can process those feelings and move forwards with resilience, courage, bravery and tenacity.

If, like me, you struggle to lean on others, here are some little notes to remember on why learning vulnerability is a positive trait to adopt:

  • Drives creativity: When we allow ourselves to become more vulnerable, we experience things fully and, as a result of that, have the opportunity to learn from situations and create something beautiful. With vulnerability comes the opportunity to laugh from the heart, fall deeply in love, appreciate things and feel everything. From that, we add meaning to our lives. 
  • Shows humility and self-acceptance: Showing your true self and being vulnerable takes a tremendous amount of courage and strength. It tells people you fully accept yourself and aren’t afraid to show that to the world, and in turn, it encourages you to embrace every moment, even the uncomfortable ones.
  • Allows us to form meaningful connections. Oftentimes, we can be so afraid of being rejected if we show our true selves and so we adapt who we are in order to ‘fit in’ and belong. But being vulnerable is the best way to form meaningful connections with people who accept your authentic self, and are fully supportive, and emphatic in every way.
  • Builds empathy: Whilst it can seem terrifying to expose our true selves through fear of feeling judgements or shame, doing so encourages empathy and understanding, and the ability for others to put themselves in our shoes. Sometimes vulnerability is needed to remind us all that we each have a story to tell. 

Thank you for reaching out and sharing your stories with me, your vulnerability is my inspiration. 💛

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