2019 was a year in the books. I co-founded a nonprofit, Our Odyssey, to better support young adults impacted by a rare or chronic condition, I traveled to the Dominican Republic to celebrate my close friend’s wedding, spoke at various conferences about my patient journey, and traveled to Nepal to self-reflect on life. However, I struggled a lot with being open to others about what has truly been going on behind the scenes. Vulnerability is one of my themes that I hope to improve going into 2020.
Like many guys, I am always trying to be stronger for others, especially my friends and family. It’s not that I don’t want to show my emotions, but I want to be there for others while not feeling like a burden. I never want people to worry about me so I tend to only share my emotions to a select group of friends. Yet, things changed when I was having a conversation with a colleague who shared how it is okay to be vulnerable and challenged me to be more open with my feelings. She suggested that I start by watching Brené Brown’s TED Talk on vulnerability.
One of the biggest takeaways I took from her talk was when she said “What you realize is that connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” If you know me at this point in life, you know I love to not only connect with people, but connect people to one another. But what does connection truly mean? It doesn’t mean a one-off conversation but instead to build a deep, meaningful relationship with someone else. Yes, I am an open book, but that’s because most people see the guy with a smile on his face, living a happy, cheerful life each day. But deep down inside that wasn’t always the case. I had days where I struggled to get out of bed due to my anxiety or feeling like I wasn’t good enough for my friends or society as a whole. I still feel that way sometimes and if something goes wrong, I immediately blame myself and take it as another failed part of my life.
I wasn’t done there and decided to dig a little deeper. A friend of mine saw an Instagram post I made about Brené Brown’s TED talk and sent me one of her books that discussed how to find a true sense of belonging while also having the courage to stand by yourself. What I enjoyed about this book was how it dove even deeper into vulnerability and how you need to be able to belong to yourself first before trying to fit in with others. For me, that means I needed to learn how to respect my own boundaries, hold myself accountable to my actions, and be nonjudgmental to myself and others. I tend to hold myself to such high expectations that when things don’t work out, it is a failure and I should be the one to blame (and no one else). But I am working on shifting this mindset to learn from mistakes while managing my expectations to a level where I won’t be so hard on myself (or on others).
It takes a lot of courage to be able to admit when you are struggling or having a bad day, but I am finally okay with accepting this part of me. I am not perfect and I will have my moments or days where I am not okay; but it’s about going to my support system when I need a place to turn. For me – this is my friends, family, rare disease community, and therapist. And when it isn’t a particular person, it’s turning to ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ for a good laugh and reminder that I will be okay.
“Vulnerability is not weakness. I define vulnerability as emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty. It fuels our daily lives.” – Brené Brown