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Vulnerability Comes Back

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I’ve been going through a bit of a mental struggle over the past few days.  I’ve been feeling vulnerable – deep inside – in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time.  On the outside I am seen as this strong, confident, capable woman.  I am “Mommy” to my kids, I am “Doctor” to my patients, I am “Teacher” to my medical students, and I am an amalgamation of all of these things, and more, to everyone around me. Inside however, I feel like a small child, quivering in a corner somewhere, needing someone to wrap their strong, protective arms around me and offer me comfort and support.

For me, this is a primitive feeling – something that I have experienced many times before and carry somewhere deep in my psyche.  It feels a little bit strange to me now because it’s been quite a while since the last time this feeling was so strong.  Regardless, it feels like me.  I haven’t acted on this feeling; partly because I don’t have anyone to be that person, and partly because doing anything about it would mean vulnerability.  My last experience with vulnerability… well, it didn’t go so well.

It’s been two months since K stopped being my friend.  It’s been even longer if you count the time that she needed space and we stopped talking.  When I’m feeling this way, I miss her and I think about all the times she was that person for me.  Almost a year ago now, she was the first person I went to when my world crumbled beneath me, and I cried on her shoulder.  She let me cry on her shoulder.  But today, there is nothing like that.  I am taking a break from work because I have been balancing the taught line between “okay” and “not okay” for just a little too long – and part of that is her fault, too (or is it my fault…?).  The truth is, now I am scared to let myself be vulnerable like that again.

A week ago I failed to keep myself together in front of the surgery foundations liaison.  At that time I resisted being vulnerable, and when my efforts failed she was kind and compassionate and encouraged me to put myself first.  That day I didn’t want to be vulnerable; but today, I imagine myself back in that office and letting that sobbing, crumpled little girl come out and be caressed. I know I can’t do that.  What else do I have?

Dr. E. is one of the emergency physicians at my hospital.  I see her often and she calls me frequently to see and admit patients for surgery.  She is fun to joke around with, she is kind, and she has a friendly smile.  Dr. E. is also the physician who leads the residency advocacy office.  Just before Christmas I sat in her office and revealed all my fears, weaknesses, and struggles, and she offered me advice and suggestions.  Since then we have been in touch over email, talking about my plans for a break.  Behind the emergency room consults and smiles she shares, she knows the worst parts of me and she doesn’t let on.  Every time I’ve seen her in the past few days, I’ve yearned to collapse in the chair beside her and be vulnerable.  I know I can’t do that, either.

I want to believe in the power of vulnerability, especially in the way Brené Brown represents it.  I want to open up my heart and connect with people in a way that satisfies the innermost part of my being: my inner child, who right now is struggling to stay alive.  What happened with K is exactly what we risk when we open up and let ourselves be seen.  I was not enough in that moment, and the reality of it has crushed me.  I have been working hard to keep up the fight for myself, to stay alive, and to move forward proudly and with confidence.  But right now I am failing at that.  I wish I had someone to hold onto my vulnerability for a little while, to handle it gently and beautifully, and show me that it’s okay to feel this way.

I feel like I’m starting all over again – and it all starts by taking a break from everything that makes me strong.

11 thoughts on “Vulnerability Comes Back

      1. This is true. I don’t know if the burnout numbers for Canada are different but if you will remember my post about that for the US, 43% of men and 51% of women were burned out. There are lots of reasons for that disparity, not the least of which being that we carry the bulk of the load of caring also for our families. Are your fellow residents going to look down on you? Maybe. But in the long run is that going to matter? Not one bit. The only thing that matters at the end of the day is your family. They are what define you, not your job.

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        1. You’re right. It is (should be) my family who defines me. It’s so hard being amongst a group of peers who aren’t even married, let alone have kids. I am struggling to find someone who can truly understand what I’m feeling or facing with taking a break. I am sad to be leaving my rotation and this morning it was hard to see everyone scrambling to fill the gaps that I’m leaving behind.

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  1. G…you ARE enough. K just wasn’t ready enough to handle the power of vulnerability. But, you? You are enough. Believe it. Wishing you a healing time away from work and from the exhaustion of always having to be the strong one…begin again….from the basics…get down to your inner child and find, again, that she is worth taking care of. ((hugs))

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  2. I know that feeling of the vulnerable child inside too well! I try to imagine myself holding myself, comforting myself. It is challenging, to allow myself to be both vulnerable child and strong woman, at once, and to hold both inside of one body (any psychologists in the group? is this bad?). There was a Kurt Vonnegut book, where he described the central core of light inside each person–each of us walking around, little sticks of light. This image stuck with me. In college I had a Hawaiian roommate, who spoke of traditional healing of envisioning and connecting to the silver light inside, and allowing it to spread over her entire being. Closing my eyes and tuning in to this innate strength and light, then envisioning it spreading across my entire body, feels healing. It makes my own vulnerable child feel safe.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That sounds wonderful. I might adopt that image for myself. I’ve been trying harder to take time to just close my eyes and let my breath wash over me – maybe with the same kind of intent. Thank-you for reminding me how powerful we can be for ourselves.

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  3. I can so relate. Yearning to have someone to be vulnerable with, now I have that, and it is hard.hard.hard. to let go and be that way. I hope you can find someone to be that way with, and in the meantime, that you can accept your own feelings. ((hugs))

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  4. Allowing others to know your vulnerability shows immense strength. Most people hide theirs and live in fear of its discovery. Trust in your choices and value your honesty – these are the things that make you really strong.

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