“How are you?” an acquaintance asks when we pass by each other on the way out of church.
“I’m alive,” is my standard response whenever times are tough and I wasn’t prepared, or if there isn’t time enough for the long answer.
“How are you?” my close friend asks.
“It’s complicated,” I begin, and then launch into a lengthy elaboration of the current emotional state that I’m in.
Being vulnerable is an amazing thing. I have found from personal experience that when you choose to be vulnerable with even a close to complete stranger, it gives the other person permission to be vulnerable together with you.
Choosing to open up about one’s life is so rare in this culture that we live in that almost every time I find that when I do open up, people naturally open up to me as well.
I find myself privy to the secrets of others that very few others know about.
What a great joy and privilege.
I recently met up with a colleague at work, and over Thai Express’ lovely tom yam soup and tangy mango salad, we talked about education, the line I’m in. When I revealed that a possible reason why I was rejected in an interview with the ministry was perhaps due to me being bipolar, I wasn’t expecting much of a response, having come out many times as bipolar now.
She then shared about how her best friend suffered from it too. And even though we were almost strangers, having only met at school very briefly before, she started sharing about the anxiety she developed after successive tragedies happened in her life.
I was caught off-guard but continued listening, thankful I could be a listening ear. This isn’t something that strangers naturally talk about on their third meeting together. But that day I understood once again the power of the personal story. And I am glad that this blog, and my everyday conversations with the people around me, start conversations that we all should have been having a long time ago.
Another time, I was at a talk organised by Oogachaga that was held in conjunction with World Suicide Day. I came with the notion that it would deal with the intersection of having a mental illness and being LGBT+ but was sorely disappointed, just like a fellow participant was. The speaker simply gave a breakdown of three different types of mental illness – depression, schizophrenia and OCD and how people suffered from it. During the personal sharing session time, I decided to be brave and be the first one to talk about how it felt like being a minority of a minority of a minority (being a gay Christian with bipolar).
It was amazing. After the session was over, I’d been asked a couple of questions, people started sharing their stories and then a stranger approached me to talk about what I’d just shared. Darius, the stranger (and now a good friend), shared about how he grew up learning that he was gay and reconciling his faith and his sexuality at FCC. We talked at great length and it was helpful to learn that someone was able to do just that. Perhaps I could too!
I was and still am constantly amazed at how a short sharing can lead to so much more. Perhaps there truly is a lack of authenticity in the world around us. Perhaps people are dying to hear your story so as to be given permission to share theirs. Perhaps it’s your time to talk about your problems today.
It is scary to be vulnerable. Especially if it’s the first time you’ve done it. And it still fills me with some degree of trepidation every time I come out. But it gets easier. And the stories keep coming. The encounters I’ve shared are but the tip of an iceberg. Dozens of people have shared details of their lives I’d have never heard in otherwise sanitized day-to-day conversation but for the fact that I had decided to be vulnerable with them.
Like Brené Brown says,
“Courage is contagious. Rising strong changes not just you, but also the people around you. To bear witness to the human potential for transformation through vulnerability, courage, and tenacity can be either a clarion call for more daring or a painful mirror for those of us stuck in the aftermath of the fall, unwilling or unable to own our stories. Your experience can profoundly affect the people around you whether you’re aware of it or not. Franciscan friar Richard Rohr writes, ‘You know after any truly initiating experience that you are part of a much bigger whole. Life is not about you henceforward but you are about life.’”
Extracted from Rising Strong, Brené Brown, page 10