Monday, 12 December 2011

Thoughts on vulnerability...

I was raised by the ultimate stoic.

"Never let them see they've hurt you."
"Never let the bastards get you down."
"Don't give them a victory by letting them see you are upset."

I'm a pretty obedient person in most ways and I took these messages to heart.  I worked on trying to always hide any hurt I felt.  I can't begin to tell you how much time I spent crying in the bathroom on my visits to my father's house as a kid.  It felt like I was always suppressing tears, always trying to recompose my face so that I could get out of the bathroom and face people.

School was similar.  I remember countless times trying to hide my pain or trying to hide the effects of tears.  I was bullied and teased.  One might call it harassment   It peaked in 9th grade.  That was the time when the "wild girls" were really wild!  They were vicious, cutting and relentless.  I went to a private girl's school in Sydney and teenage girls can be completely heartless.

There was a moment in year 10, I think, but it might have been year 11, when I accidentally overheard something that changed the way I think about the face you show to others.  I was at school with a girl who is now very successful and quite well known in the UK and here in Australia too,  I will call her The Chef.  In year 9 The Chef was one of the cool girls, she was rather mean and was definitely a wild girl but with the passage of time we became friends.  We used to have a double free period between recess and lunch in year 12 and she and I would to jump in her car and go out to Watson's Bay and sit on the pier eating fish and chips.  We played hooky together and contemplated life, the universe, and everything,  Back to year 10... The Chef and I were in our transition from enemy to friend.  On day I was in the bathroom shut in a cubical.  I heard the door crash open and the sound of someone crying, within moments the door crashed open again and I heard one of the teachers speaking to The Chef.  The teacher was making consoling noises, trying to calm her down.  I didn't quite know what to do.  I was accidentally privy to a very private moment.  I remained silent.  Then I heard The Chef say something that really impacted my attitude to vulnerability.  With a tear-stained voice she said, "Why can't I be more like Displaced?  None of these people ever upset her."

I was STUNNED!  Totally gobsmacked.  I was stunned for a number of reasons... Firstly I was surprised that my act had worked - I had completely fooled this person who had been one of my tormentors.  Secondly I was stunned to find that she actually thought I wasn't hurt.  I was also really surprised to hear HER say something positive about me, as if SHE admired me.  At that moment I began to wonder if maybe my mother's methods were not the ideal methods for me.  Perhaps if I were to show my pain more people would realize they are hurting me and back off.  Perhaps it wasn't all about victory and winning.  Since that day I have always been more cognizant of my feelings and of how much I repress them.  I have worked on becoming more open and honest about my vulnerability.

Today I saw my Psychologist.  I was talking about the forthcoming Christmas affair.  The subject rolled around to how I handle my condition, my disability, with them.  Instantly I knew that I would suck it up and fake it until I couldn't stand it any more.  I have tried to talk to some members of my family about my condition but they just don't seem to get it.  I get a lot of comments like "yeah getting older sucks" and "oh me too I get a bit of arthritis in my knee now"  They just don't seem to get that I am in constant pain and that I am immobilized by breakthrough pain.  They don't hear me when I say I am having terrible fatigue.  I share the responsibility for this.  I have a really hard time letting people I don't completely trust know my soft spots.  There is not a lot of trust here.  I am loath to show my weakness.  This is really adding to my stress level as regards the Christmas gathering.

Between seeing the Psychologist and starting to write this blog I received a couple of really nice messages from my nephew.... "Hello Aunty"...  I haven't seen him since he was about 4, he is a little younger than The Boy.  This is the first time we have messaged on Facebook, though I do keep an eye on his posts and occasionally I comment.  He is really excited about everyone being together for Christmas...  Maybe it will be okay.

Vulnerability has gotten me in trouble many times.  I have revealed something personal to the wrong person and had them use that information against me.  Betrayal has been a painful recurring factor of my life.  Yet I open my heart and mind through this blog every day.  Why is that different?  How come I can trust the stranger who is reading this *waving* and not my own family?  I strive to be as open and as vulnerable as possible in this fledgling relationship; I don't want to start a new life on a false or brittle foundation.  I know I can survive almost anything.  I know because I have been to the depths of despair and I have lived.  Trust is a precious and fragile thing, no amount of superglue can put it back together once it has been shattered.  How many layers of positive and caring interaction does it take to cover the cracks of broken trust?  Too many.

Yesterday I was sent a link about 30 things to STOP doing to yourself ... I found it pretty interesting.  The first one is to stop spending time with people who suck the happiness out of you...  Hmmm... It has been very thought provoking.  We'll see.


  1. "Vulnerability has gotten me in trouble many times." I think that is why people like you and I hide our vulnerability. I've had it happen to me too.

    I think your family really has to understand that you have a lot more than arthritis in the knee and it's not just about getting older. You have a tough, tough decision on your hands about being vulnerable with them after a life of hiding your feelings behind a carapace, and needing to hide your feelings at that. Thank Herbert you don't see them very often.

    You never know, the next generation might be the ones who make your Christmas with your family bearable; they might take the spotlight, making it easier for you to give away as little as possible.

    Blogs are strange beasts; I have said things on my blog and other places that I wouldn't divulge to my family. We hide behind anonymity. I think the human condition is such that sometimes we have to tell SOMEONE, and if that someone is a total stranger, so be it. Blogs give you the opportunity to get your thoughts in order regardless of whether anyone reads your posts or not; blogging is cathartic.

    Will go and read that 30 things link now...

  2. Thanks Carinthia - you are very on point with your comments. I think it will be ok. I just found out that The Boy is definitely going so that is good news. If He was not going to be there I would have seriously rethought my attendance. You saw me hurt as a kid... You know the things I was talking about. I was like one of those blow up punching bags... I just kept popping up for more abuse.

  3. Reminds me of my work. People have said to me that I am always so calm and never get stressed. Little do they know. At times I think I am the type to just start shooting people. No need to call the police though, I always stay in self control.

  4. Glad the Boy is going to be there, there is NO WAY you should face that lot by yourself right now.
    Me too to a degree with the school stuff. I kept my head down and out of trouble, didn't make friends, was a loner, just sat in the library with books, because books didn't tease me or bully me. I could escape. I could be someone else, a hero, a heroine; I became the hero/heroine of whatever I was reading. I think I went through all of high school pretending to be someone else, usually imaginary, as it was easier than being me.
    I thought you were one of the cooler girls in our school but I see now a lot of that was bravado/cover up having reconnected with you more recently.
    Whoever said schooldays were the happiest of our lives? What a crock of sh*t. School and the treatment we receive at the hands of others comes back to haunt our adult years and holy hell it takes some mental rejigging to get over it all and become a 'normal' human being! What has been wonderful is meeting fellow schoolmates as adults and realising they are far, far nicer than I ever thought possible back in the day. Not just you, now, but I went to a reunion several years back and was amazed, after feeling such absolute fear at going in case I was still ridiculed and treated as the odd one out.
    Maybe it's human nature. Maybe it's our version of the 'survival of the fittest' test our paleolithic ancestors went through. It hasn't stopped as teenage girls are still utter bitches to other girls and these days use social media to taunt, which is far nastier than the one on one stuff we encountered.
    I think I'll go to bed with a nice juicy murder mystery now. See, my schooldays haven't had an impact on me. :-)

  5. Families are so tough. It's weird how they don't listen, and can minimize and ignore important stuff. I wonder if it's rare that family members actually really know each other? In my family that's the case- the conversations are surface, mostly catching up on the local gossip, never do we ever get to stuff that really matters. It's like everyone is holding their breath through the whole thing.

    I had to give up trying with my family. No matter how clear I was and what I said, there was no mutual respect or effort to understand. So I just stopped. Left it alone. I leave my truth and personal stuff for my friends, it's a better choice for me (had to stop banging my head).

    As far as vulnerability goes, I swing back and forth on this one. I have always been of the sucking it up/stoic bent, but have ventured into the vulnerable side of the pool a couple of times. Not sure actually showing how I feel has done me well...I think I am sensitive to being hurt (had lots of practice, too) and so try to react the totally opposite to hold it together.

    What struck me the most about this posting is relief. Sounds weird, right?

    I'm relieved because at times I feel like I'm the only person who feels and thinks about these things. That I am strange. I wonder if I am so "out there" with how I process how others treat me.

    So, thank you for this posting. It has helped me to see that others feel these feelings, and that blogging can be so powerful. Getting this stuff out there not only helps us but those who share with us our experiences. It gives us maybe the only opportunity for truth, for sharing our lives. It helps us all to see that we feel, we share, we grow together when we connect.

    I'll keep sending you happy thoughts and comforting vibes across the miles this holiday season, hoping that your family gathering will be calm (can I even wish for happy?) and that you will be heard, treated well and with respect.


  6. Andrew - thank you for your post... I'm glad you have your self-control I would hate for you to "go postal" on us!
    Carinthia - please tell me I was never a part of any group that hassled you? I was shocked to the core that you thought I was one of the "cool" girls. I've always been such a dork!
    Jazz - thank you so much for your warm wishes and thoughts. Yet again our sisterhood is confirmed. It might be fun... it might be wonderful... here's hoping!