By Johnna Ossie, News Editor
Months ago I wrote a column about radical vulnerability, and while in theory I knew and truly believed that being vulnerable is one of the most radical things we can do, I have to admit I haven’t always followed my own advice. I grew up in a conservative household, and while it’s no secret that I came out of that household a queer progressive, I still had those good old-fashioned American values instilled in me: pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you don’t need anybody’s help, because you are, in fact, an island.
“I don’t need any help,” is something that I found myself repeating all fall and winter. “I don’t need anything from anyone. I can do it.” I said this over and over and I tried to make it true (spoiler alert: It was never true).
So I spent all winter walking home by myself at 2 a.m. because I didn’t want to accept an offer for a ride (dangerous). I hauled things down the block to my new apartment alone and pulled carrying boxes that were too heavy (dumb). I didn’t go see my advisor for the first two years I went to USM because I didn’t think I needed help picking out classes (second spoiler alert: I did).
I watched a video recently of social worker and Ph.D. Brene Brown, in which she said something that really stressed me out. Brown said, “If you cannot ask for help without self judgment, you are never really offering help without judgment.”
That was a hard pill to swallow. As someone who has often prided myself on my desire to give to and help others, this one didn’t sit so well with me. “I never judge people for asking for help!” I thought to myself. How could I? I’m going to be a social worker! Judge? Me? Never!
But if I think back to my years growing up in my conservative home, it makes sense that some part of me, buried way deep down in the places we all shove the childhood things we don’t want to deal with, sees asking for help as a sign of weakness. And if I show weakness, what then?
As someone socialized as a girl and someone who has been in abusive relationships, for me showing weakness has generally meant putting myself in harms way. The real peak of my “no man is an island, but this woman is” streak came on the tail end of a drawn-out court procedure to get a protection from abuse order to keep myself safe. After that I convinced myself that the best way to move on and be okay was to never appear weak, to never ask for help and to close myself off from vulnerability.
But after months of building walls around myself, it started to feel pretty bad alone on the island. It felt bad to be pushing away people who were truly invested in my well being. It felt bad to pretend like I didn’t feel real feelings, or need help, or love or care. Ultimately, the pretending to be invincible felt much worse than anything else.
I can’t say that it will be or has been an easy process. In fact, it’s often physically painful for me to ask for help or to let myself be vulnerable. My throat closes up, my chest tightens and my heart races. Sometimes I want to scream, “Never mind, I didn’t mean it!” after I share something that could leave me open to being hurt. But I do know that breaking down the walls piece by piece will only serve me well in the end, and maybe taking the risk is braver than going it alone.