Eyes scanning a test, filling with tears threatening to spill over. Crying in the bathroom, not knowing why and not being able to stop. Strapping on a stoic, cold and unfeeling mask as you’re sitting at a funeral. These are all examples of vulnerability, or rather, how I cover it. I’ve never taken off this mask; in fact, I think I’ve superglued it on. I deal with my problems and emotions by doing just the opposite—not dealing with them.
The Oxford Dictionary defines vulnerability as ‘the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.’ This insinuates vulnerability is a negative and weak attribute. But here’s where I disagree: in our lives, vulnerability is an integral step in courage. I have struggled to accept this throughout my life—that vulnerability is OK.
Society favors repressing emotions of vulnerability. Unfortunately, people treat visits to a therapist like a trip to a secret and mysterious monk high in the Himalayas. Therapy shouldn’t be treated like Fight Club; it should be something people feel comfortable talking about openly.
Throughout my entire childhood, my dad was perpetually sick—as a result, the facade I constructed was so strong that I was not only able to convince others that everything was OK, but also myself. When he eventually passed away, I was eight years old and told myself it wasn’t OK to cry, so I didn’t. The amount of emotional suppression I forced myself through would have made the Hoover Dam jealous. From an early age, showing emotion was extremely hard for me. It wasn’t that I had been told by others that it wasn’t OK to cry. It wasn’t that my family was some psycho group of Terminator robots who hadn’t been programmed yet to show more than one sentiment or feeling. I grew up in a healthy household conducive to being open about problems and emotions. I had just somehow told myself somewhere along the way that it was better to not feel anything at all than deal with logical emotions like a normal sentient creature.
As I entered high school, I had no idea how harmful this tactic would turn out to be. The first semester of my freshman year (on top of already not dealing with the social transition of high school very well), I failed my first math test and got my first ever B in a class. Looking back on it I cannot believe 15 year old me was so dramatic, but at the time, it was the end of my world. I couldn’t handle it and broke down in the middle of my math classroom surrounded by juniors and seniors who looked on in pity. After that moment, I undertook a new mentality of not only shoving personal struggles as deep under my exterior as possible, but now also my academic stresses as well. Of course, junior and senior years in the IB Program took its toll on me mentally and physically. But what I was failing to realize was that although I was constantly putting on such a thick performance of acting like I was OK and normal that would have snatched any Oscar from Meryl, something had to give.
I love to use humor to veil my vulnerabilities. I can have a small crisis/breakdown and then be cracking dry and self-deprecating jokes about it five minutes later. As funny as I am (or believe I am), this was also not helping me with my struggle to accept and share my vulnerabilities.
Though I could go on for pages, I have a conclusion and point to make. I am the glimmering example of what you should not do. To any underclassmen reading this: junior and senior years are going to suck, I’m not going to sugarcoat that. You’re going to fail sometimes. You’re going to trust someone and have them later hurt you. But what I’ve extrapolated is that everyone is going through something and it’s OK to acknowledge this. I know many of my peers go through the same things I do. I know that it’s unhealthy to never talk about them, and I know that something has to change not only for myself as an individual, but for our entire generation. We have to let out emotions normally, and I can attest to the issues that arise when you don’t. We all live in one of the highest-stress areas of the country. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t tired, and I’m sure many of you can’t either. Because of this, it is extremely important that we begin to foster an environment in which people feel comfortable talking about their struggles. If you feel like you have emotions that you can’t share, I urge you to take a leap of faith and talk about them. This is vulnerability, and from vulnerability comes courage.
To anyone and everyone reading this, your struggles are valid, as are your vulnerabilities. Vulnerability is accepting that sometimes you’re not OK, and that it’s totally fine not to be. Vulnerability is reaching out for help or simply voicing your struggles to other people. Vulnerability is using these struggles to get stronger. Vulnerability is human.