Put on your galoshes, kids because we’re going in deep today. Vulnerability. Before you continue reading, think on that word for a moment and think about what it means to you and what it looks like to you. It means a lot of different things and looks so many different ways, doesn’t it? And naturally, it’s going to mean and look different for everyone.
I got started on this vulnerability thought process because, again, my therapist possesses voodoo magic and just has the most epic timing of anyone I know. She assigned me a TED talk video about vulnerability (given by Brené Brown) to watch for homework this week (and, as always, this blog post was not assigned as homework but so many fucking epiphanies and light bulbs went off that it HAD to be a blog post) and she assigned it not knowing I had already seen it (for once, I had a one-up on her) but I was told that I could watch it again if I wanted to (but I didn’t have to) but come back next session ready to discuss the subject.
Brené Brown is an amazing speaker and has some abso-fucking-lutely amazing ideas and thoughts and theories. Her book, “Daring Greatly”, has been in my “To Read” pile of books for…probably a year? (I’ve been having a hard time with concentration don’t read as much as I once did/as much as I would like to). I don’t know when I first came across her but when I did, her words hit me like a sack of potatoes. So true and so real…right in the gut.
Before I talk about Brené’s version of vulnerability and why it strikes a chord with me…I want to talk about MY version of vulnerability, how my therapist’s timing couldn’t be any better and why all this matters to me.
First, the actual definition of vulnerable:
adjective \ˈvəl-n(ə-)rə-bəl, ˈvəl-nər-bəl\
For me personally, vulnerability means shedding my protective outer shell (which is like titanium) and…like a turtle in the same position, I suppose…stand there naked as a jay bird and deal with whatever comes my way. I don’t like to be vulnerable. At. All. Because it sucks and it leaves me open to so many wounds and punches to the gut and if I just keep my titanium shell on, no one can penetrate that and thus, I don’t have to deal with all the hurt and emotions that come from allowing myself to be vulnerable. I’ve come to use and rely on my protective outer coating more in the last two years than I ever have before. You aren’t born with a shell…you build it with experience…or at least I did. You get burned once or twice, so you start out with maybe like a paper bag shell…then you get burned/taken advantage of a again and you upgrade to maybe aluminum foil and so on and so on. Not everyone is like this, of course…and I envy those people…those who can be vulnerable and take whatever comes their way. Personally, I’m tired of picking up the pieces each time being vulnerable backfires on me and I find it easier to just completely shutdown and guard myself (and my heart) rather than even chance a good or bad outcome (because really, that’s a lot of what vulnerability is…taking chances).
As I thought about this topic and the ways in which I myself am (or choose to be) vulnerable…I noticed marked contrasts in my life. I have NO problem whatsoever in being completely vulnerable with my therapist, M (and even her cohort, K…who worked very hard to break through that titanium shell). But I have a HUGE problem being vulnerable with my friends, family and other people I encounter in my everyday life. Why? With M, I have complete trust in her as well as complete confidentiality…by law, no less. By law, she is required to keep my shit to herself and not divulge it to anyone unless she feels I am a danger to myself or those around me. That means, for example, that if my mom isn’t getting her way at home and she thinks I’m the problem, she can call up M all she wants but M cannot (and would not) tell her anything I said, even if our last session was all about that very issue: mom. I think there are a lot of different components that allow me to be vulnerable with M…I’ve been seeing her for a long time, I’ve had time to build up the trust I have in her (I didn’t just waltz into her office and spill my guts during our first session), and the laws just happen to work in my favor in this situation/relationship. I know M talks to K about me and I get brought up in meetings and with other therapists too and when I first found out about that, I didn’t like it…but once I realized that me and my case are still confidential, that it never leaves their offices, I was like, “Aiight, cool…whatevs.” I think it’s great that I can be vulnerable in the very place where I should be vulnerable…in my therapist’s office. If I didn’t let it all out there, nothing would ever get accomplished and our time together would be completely futile.
I cannot, however, be vulnerable with a lot of my friends. Well…I should say that I choose not to be vulnerable with others. Why? I’ll tell you why. I have tried to be vulnerable on several occasions and with several different friends over the course of my twenty-nine years of existence. Sometimes it’s paid off but more often than not, I end up hurt. (Don’t take that to mean I’ve dumped a friendship down the drain once I got hurt, I may just “tweak” the relationship and be more selective about what I share with a particular person.) When it comes to friendships, I hate to toot my own horn but I feel as if I am the exception rather than the rule when it comes to being a good friend. I am honest (sometimes to a fault) and I always mean what I say and say what I mean. So, for example, if you tell me something in confidence and say, “Please don’t share this with anyone.” I won’t. And even if you don’t tell me to keep my mouth shut, I probably will keep my mouth shut anyway, guessing that what you say is not anything you want all over the 5 o’clock news whether you said so or not. (I like to think I’m rather good when it comes to using discretion.) What you say to me is between us, whether or not it’s a “secret”. I don’t need to go tell someone everything you tell me. I am not the National Enquirer. To further illustrate this concept (and further explain why my therapist’s timing is so eerily pertinent), I’m going to tell you a real story about something that just happened in my life. Well actually…I’m going to tell you two:
1: A few months ago, I had a friend that I’ve known forever but am not very close to message me one day and confide in me a secret. She told me to keep it quiet and just wanted someone to talk to…so I just listened and didn’t say a word to anyone, despite our many mutual friends. It was a pretty big secret but I felt no need to go and spill the beans. A month or so after that conversation, one of our mutual friends came to me and said, “I can’t keep this a secret; I have to tell someone! And if anyone asks, you know NOTHING!” And then she proceeded to divulge the very same secret that the first friend told me. I didn’t let this second friend know that I already knew what she was telling me, I just played along and acted surprised, interjecting “ooohs” and “awwws” and “OHMYGODs” where appropriate. I didn’t even go skipping back to the first friend that confided in me saying that second friend spilled the beans or anything like that. Consider me a vault…the Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts. I can take secrets to the grave. (Don’t take this to mean I wouldn’t “tattle” if I felt someone was in trouble or anything…just know that I can keep my mouth shut.) Unfortunately, just because I can do this doesn’t mean that everyone/all my friends can…which leads me to vulnerability story two…
2: I hit rock bottom again a little over a month ago. I don’t want to type out all the drama here because really, I still don’t even know all that happened and who said what to who…I don’t really even care. Ain’t nobody got time for that. One night, I was desperate…and I made the mistake of letting myself become completely vulnerable during a conversation with one person…a person, a “friend”, that I thought I could trust. I clearly stated that anything I said stayed there in our messages. She gave me her word. The next morning, it had made the morning news (not literally but a lot of people knew things I never told them and I knew it was the aforementioned friend I was vulnerable with the night before that broke my confidence because she is the only one I talked to about the things that everyone else was now talking about). So it was then that I made a mental note to myself to never confide in her again. I still have (and will keep) the friendship, but I will never again allow myself to be vulnerable in front of her.
When people engage in conversation with me and ask that certain things be kept between the two of us, I always do just that. I don’t go to the next friend down on my list and go, “OHMYGOD can you believe what Sally just said/did/told me?!” No no no no no NO. Again, I seem to be the exception rather than the rule. A close friend I’ve mentioned on here before, C, is an exception right along with me. She is one of the few people I am completely vulnerable with no matter the subject matter and she is the same with me in return. We often say that we know too much about each other to NOT be friends. There’s a lot of shit each of us will be taking to our graves and I am A-okay with that…even grateful. I’ve known her for a long time and I have yet to ever hear/see my confidence broken in regards to things I’ve shared with her…and it goes both ways. I just don’t understand why it’s so hard to keep your mouth shut. I find it relatively easy and I don’t understand why I can’t receive the same respect in return. But it is what it is (thank you radical acceptance) and that is why I am so guarded and not vulnerable with a majority of people. Being vulnerable runs the risk of being kicked when you’re down and for punches to the gut that just really really hurt when you’re already hurting. Don’t get me wrong, there is a good side to vulnerability too. If you decide to be vulnerable and tell your crush your real feelings, you may marry and live happily ever after…and if you decide to not be vulnerable and never tell that person how you feel, how will you know? Again, I can see both sides of the coin…both sides of the story. Just like when you gamble, you risk winning or losing…and it’s just that, a gamble…a risk…a chance you take. Are you prepared/can you handle the outcome, whatever it may be…even if it’s not what you want? I’m more apt to say no, I can’t handle it…which is why I don’t engage in vulnerability often. I seem to prefer this shitty safety net of emotions and stay stuck feeling this way rather than risk the chance of maybe getting better and maybe not, or even maybe feeling worse than I had before I opened myself up. It’s easier and I feel that it’s a lot less taxing on my mind and heart to stay in one place rather than bounce up and down all the time.
Remember when I said earlier that I can be completely vulnerable with M? If you’re not a regular follower of mine, M is my primary therapist and K is her cohort and also facilitates a DBT therapy group with M that I “graduated” from in February. M didn’t always facilitate with K so in the beginning of my group journey, it was K facilitating with one of two other therapists (and K did not succeed in tearing down my wall until about 10 months later). So here I was, able to be completely me and completely vulnerable one-on-one with M in individual sessions but I could not (or rather, chose not to) do it in group…because I didn’t say a word (literally) for about 10 months. (If you are interested, please refer to my “I’ma let you finish, but…” post for more.) About…oh I don’t know…3-5 months into group therapy, M started facilitating with K. That meant the one person I felt safe around was now facilitating the group I was completely shut down in. You would think that having that “safety net” in the same room with me would give me the comfort, safety and confidence to open up in group. Nope. That didn’t happen for another 6 or 7 months…and it really had nothing at all to do with M being in the group with me. It just happened for reasons I still don’t know. It was what it was. It was a risk I unknowingly took and I was greatly rewarded for it in the end. I just find it…amusing, if you will…that you can bring someone I trust implicitly and someone I can be completely me around into a group setting where I’ve made myself invulnerable and I will still hardheadedly refuse to let myself be vulnerable (never mind the fact that it happened in the end anyway). And just so it’s noted, I never completely let my guard down in group, even after I started talking and participating. I got better at letting it down and I got better at letting my true colors show, but I never fully stepped out of my shell and that was done on purpose and that was a conscious choice I made once I realized what was happening…that I was opening up in group.
Now let’s go back to Brené Brown. I’m going to paraphrase her TED talk here and just take out some of the things that resonated with me. In beginning her research, Brené hit a roadblock when she started to dissect vulnerability. She made two groups…those who allowed themselves to be vulnerable (yes, it is a choice) and those who didn’t and what made them different. In the first group, she noticed that those who chose to be vulnerable had courage, compassion, connection…courage to be imperfect, compassion for themselves first which allowed them to in turn be compassionate towards others, and they had a connection with people based on authenticity…they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to just be who they are. This group of people also believed that what makes them vulnerable is also what makes them beautiful. I could probably save myself (and others) a lot of headaches if I could just embrace this concept because I feel that what makes me vulnerable is what makes me bait, leaves me open to being hurt, and makes me appear weak…and I try my hardest to deflect that on a daily basis. My Facebook page, while not fake, is full of “I got dis shit by the nuts!”…”I am woman, hear me roar!”…in essence, it projects a strong taking-the-world-by-the-horns facade. Again, it’s not fake…but I won’t let myself appear vulnerable, even on social media. So what you see is really me, but it’s all the funny, good and positive stuff…you’re not seeing all the behind-the-scenes things that I’m feeling and thinking because I vehemently refuse to post those things…so you’re only seeing one side of me…the side I want you to see and, oddly enough, the side I find hardest to let show when I’m one-on-one with you in real life and not online. (I’m often very shy at first, feeling you out, deciding if I can trust you or not…but once I get to know you, get ready for some craaaaazy shit.)
One key word I picked up on in watching this TED talk is “willingness”. I always pick up on this word because I tend to be more willFUL than willING. But I’ve gotten better (although I’d like to think I’ve surrendered more than I’ve chosen to be willing). Willingness is a big topic in DBT therapy and is one I am still working on and will probably be working on for the rest of my life because I am SO stubborn. I’ve had to be willing to let therapy (and M) work for me, I’ve had to be willing to give M the benefit of the doubt and let her test out any new “experiments” she comes up with in her laboratory (and she comes up with A LOT!)…I’ve had to be willing just to continue going to therapy at all. It’s not easy and it’s a battle I fight daily. (Small tangent: K hijacked a phone call M made to me a few weeks ago just because she wanted to say hi and during the conversation, she said the DBT group was covering the distress tolerance module and she asked me, in the opinion of a “graduate”, what skill I think they should spend some extra time on. Without hesitating, I said, “Willingness.” K said, “WHAT?! Can you repeat that?” I just laughed and said, “You heard me.” Insert some inside jokes and a mutual understanding of what I said, why I said it and what I meant…which is part of why I love M and K…I don’t have to explain myself 90% of the time. K also knows I’m stubborn as hell and so for the jackass to tell the therapist that the group should focus on the topic of willingness was rather amusing to the both of us. But it was an honest answer and I meant it, even if I said it through gritted teeth, knowing K was going to go, “Say whaaaat?”)
Brené Brown also says that vulnerability is the core of shame, fear and our struggle to feel worthy (of love, etc.)…but vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, longing and love. Being a DBT black-belt, I can see both sides of the coin here…my problem is finding the balance. I agree with all that she says and can find examples of all of the above in my own life…what I’ve missed out on by not being vulnerable and what I’ve gained by being vulnerable (sometimes it “pays off” but more often than not in my life, I’ve “gained” shame, fear and a deep-seeded belief that I’m not worthy). One of things Brené says that resonates with me more than anything is that we cannot selectively numb our emotions. Meaning that we can’t choose what emotions to numb and what emotions we don’t want to numb. When you numb the hard things, you, by default, also numb the great things. Once you start to numb yourself to pain, sadness, fear, etc., you also start to numb joy, peace and happiness…even if you don’t mean to. It’s a vicious circle and one I will admit that I am in the midst of. I’m trying so hard to numb all the bad/hard things that I’m not allowing myself the opportunity to experience the good things. Just because I feel like I’m in a bottomless pit doesn’t mean I don’t experience joy or happiness or that I never smile…it’s just that it’s so dark here, I don’t give myself a chance to experience those “good” emotions to the fullest extent when they do happen…almost as if the good is dampened due to the bad I feel…tainted is a better word, I think. I fully admit and own that I do that to myself. I’m working on it…but it’s still a struggle. It’s very hard to overcome 29 years worth of vulnerability backfire in just a few sessions with a skilled therapist. At this point, I’m just grateful that I can be me and be completely vulnerable with at least one person in my life, even if it’s only my therapist. The rest will come in time if it is meant to be.
One example of vulnerability that Brené has used in past lectures that I absolutely love is the example from the movie “Say Anything”. We love seeing vulnerability in other people and see it as courage and bravery, but when we ourselves engage in it, we see it as weakness. In the movie “Say Anything”, John Cusack goes completely vulnerable when he decides to express his true feelings to the girl he loves. No holds bar, all or nothing, this is how I feel, I am showing you and thus, am completely vulnerable as I hold up this boombox and play this song as loud as I can for you. He opened himself to rejection and any of the numerous “repercussions” that could have come from that simple act of vulnerability.
Vulnerability is so hard for me on so many different levels, especially because I see and engage in the two extremes in my own life…completely vulnerable with my therapist…completely shut down with most everyone else. Kudos to M because I never noticed/observed the two extremes before. I have watched many of my friends confide in me and others, only to watch what is said behind their back and watch as the people they have confided in break their confidence. That makes me hurt for my friends and inadvertently, makes me shut down more. If you are like this with that friend and that “simple” secret said to you in confidence, what will you do and say about me when I tell you things in confidence? Not everyone is like this and not all my friends gossip and break confidences, but enough of them do that I choose to stay closed down with everyone rather than taking that boombox-I-love-you risk with everyone or even a select handful of people. There are benefits to reap from taking that risk…but there is also the risk of feeling hurt and other things. Some people are okay with that gamble and I was too…once. But I’m not okay with it anymore and prefer to stay “safe” rather than take that risk. I realize that I lose out on a lot of things by doing that, but it is a choice I consciously make to guard my heart. I hope there comes a time where I feel safe being vulnerable, accepting whatever comes my way as a result, be it good or bad, and just not be scared to be who I am. Because really, that’s all it is…being scared. Being scared of being hurt, scared of broken trusts, etc. If I stay shut down and remain as invulnerable as possible, I am safe…you cannot touch me…you cannot kick me when I’m down. I may remain in this “place” but this “place” is so normal and comfortable to me now that it is better to stay here, a place I know well, than risk the chance of doing or saying something that may help me get out of it…because it’s a risk…which means it may or may not happen. It’s certainty versus uncertainty. I’d rather know than wonder…I would rather know than go, “What if…?” I, along with many others, could do that all day long…”What if…?” Kudos to those of you who can be vulnerable and take those risks and are able to embrace whatever comes your way as a result of taking that risk. Gold stars to those of you who are at least willing to be vulnerable in certain situations and with certain people. Cheerleader pom-poms and a swift kick in the ass to those of you who think you can’t do it and are unwilling to even try.
Lastly, no post is ever complete without a song. Naturally, I stumbled upon this song only recently and I think it speaks volumes (no pun intended) about where and how I choose to be the most vulnerable…here in my blog.
Lyrics: “Brave” by Sara Bareilles
August 14, 2013 – 9:23 AM
PS: Six types of people you shouldn’t be vulnerable with… http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/3392414
You’ve got a friend in me…or do you?
Where. The hell. Do I even. Begin. Let’s start with me. I am an introvert. It doesn’t mean I’m painfully shy (just normal shy) or antisocial, it just means that I prefer my own company over the company of other people. People stress me out…be they family, strangers, parties, whatever the case may be. Too much social interaction will send me into panic mode. My idea of a nice Saturday night is a hot bath, drinking a Coca-Cola and a good book or movie…not being at a packed bar getting shit-faced drunk. I’ve always been this way. It doesn’t mean I don’t have friends, but I’m a tad more selective about who I choose to let into my private world and I don’t have a lot of friends and that is purely by choice, not happenstance. Sometimes I wonder if something is wrong with me because I see a lot of my friends on Facebook have friends into the 300’s and I’ve never had more than 90 at any given time. I’m also not one of those people who sends a friend request to anyone and everyone I’ve ever met over the course of my 30 years of life. My Facebook friend rule is that you don’t have to be my BFF, but you have to have known me (e.g. went to school with me), know me now (e.g. you’re in my contacts list, work with me), or you have to have meant something to me, are more than just an acquaintance or someone I said hi to once back in ’96. I try to keep my insanity at bay “in public”…be it on Facebook or in real life. I have my good days and my bad days and I may post a snarky comment here and there but you will never see a status update from me that says “I hate everything #slashwrist”. If you’re around me in public and I’m having a rough day or week, I’ll probably just be pretty quiet; I try really hard to not bring people down with me when I myself am feeling down. Also, if I’m not in a good place, you probably won’t catch me out in public anyway…but commitments are commitments and I tend to be someone who follows through with what they say and doesn’t break promises, appointments or commitments.
I have some absolutely amazing and awesome people in my life that I am beyond grateful for and I am honored that I am their friend and that they are my friends…my best friends. I have two friends in particular that I just love the shit out of. They both insist on living on the east coast which is their only fault, but I like to think we’ve done a pretty bang up job keepin’ it real with each other despite the distance. One lady, C, is the Ethel to my Lucy…the Patsy to my Eddie…the Thelma to my Louise…the Shirley to my Laverne. And I’m quite sure, if there ever comes a time when we do live closer to each other, there will be some new state laws passed. The thing that makes me sort of giggle about this relationship and makes me appreciate it all the more, is that C is over 50. But if you look at our text/e-mail/Facebook conversations, you wouldn’t ever know that (I’m not calling her immature). How we ever even came to be so close given the age difference escapes me because it was just one of those magical awesome things that just happened and I’m so grateful to have her in my life. She plays many roles in my life, however. She can be that level-headed mom voice because I despise my own mother and am more apt to go to and listen to C than I am my own mom. She also has that experience thing that older friends and moms have…the kind where they tell you that the adventure you are about to embark on is a really bad idea, but they know you’re gonna do it anyway, so they just grab a bowl of popcorn and sit back and watch…and you come back to them later with your tail between your legs because you know they were right and you hate that they were right and you’re kicking yourself for not listening to them…and then you turn around and do it again. Yeah…that. But C never says, “I told you so.” She’ll more than likely just laugh at me, call me a “mattrez hag jynseckz hooka ho” and tell me she lives me (yes, I meant to type live…inside BFF joke). C is also someone who will help me hide a body and if you can’t say anything nice, come sit by us. C and I have some of the most epic conversations in the history of friendship (made even more humorous by our autocorrect typos) and we can cover everything from LOLcats, World of Warcraft, dickwagons, relationshit (we’re really good at making up new words), why certain laws exist and why they should be banned…and how to import shit to get around those laws. In summation, C and I often tell each other that we know too much about each other to NOT be friends…so I’m pretty sure we’re in this for life…which is fine by me.
(I am on the right, the darker text bubbles.)
(Ignore the arrow; I have this weird thing where I ALWAYS catch the clock at 11:11, AM or PM, doesn’t matter. I’ve been keeping track since December. Add that to the list of reasons I’m insane.)
(If none of the screen caps/conversations made sense or made you laugh…it’s not you, it’s me and C.)
My other BFF for life, B, is just a couple years older than me, but in a very different place in life…and in the country. Also on the east cost, she’s married with kids. (For clarification purposes, C is also married and has a grown child…who, coincidentally [or not?], has the same name as I do. C had to invent a nickname for me so her daughter and I know which one of us she is yelling at.) B and I have a relationship based on just pure love and nerdiness. We like to be crazy, off-the-wall, different…we don’t follow the crowd, we make our own damn crowd. Our conversations often consist of baby poop, breastfeeding, The Beatles, Harry Potter or Twilight. (As an example, I will be trying to communicate just how much I heart her face…in a text message…and I’ll say, “So the lion fell in love with the lamb. What a stupid lamb.” B: “What a sick, masochistic lion.” I let her be the lion because she is so totally Team Edward…I even bought her a Mrs. Cullen t-shirt for Christmas one year.) We also talk about normal 30-year-old shit and she bitches about her hubby when he’s being a douche-nugget and I’ll tell her that if he doesn’t get his shit together, I’ma go all Lorena Bobbitt on him and cut his dick off and throw it out somewhere in Texas, where hopefully a chupacabra will eat it so it can’t be sewn back on so he can’t make porn movies after B dumps his ass. And she knows I’m not kidding. (Hmm…maybe I should edit that part out…”premeditation” gets thrown around WAY too easily these days…) We are totally convinced that we were separated at birth and when we’re actually physically together, people think we’re sisters; we look that much alike. I think it’s awesome. I just hate the distance. But if you really want to test a friendship, keep it going from across the country and if you still have it after 5+ years, you got something worth holding on to. Both B and I and C and I get into some crazy shenanigans just through texts and Facebook alone; you should see what happens when we’re actually together. I think people are slightly frightened when we are in the same state together at the same time…and people should be frightened…because it’s awesome…and really loud…between the music and the raucous laughter. (Did you a hear a raucous? I didn’t hear a raucous. Can you describe the raucous?)
(A typical afternoon conversation with B. Again, I’m on the right, the darker bubble.)
(We’re dorks…I know…but this is love.)
I would call those two, and probably a few other people in my life, my tried and true friends. They love me for me, all of me, good and bad, and with all the shit I’ve pulled over the last two years (and over our entire friendship), they’re still the ones who’s texts wake me up in the morning and the ones who can make me laugh from a couple thousand miles away with a single word. Aside from all the awesomeness and fun stuff, we’re always there for each other during the bad stuff too. We’ve stayed up late for each other, talking, making sure one or the other is going to be okay. We listen to any rants and always keep close tabs on each other. We don’t have to constantly “check in” or “report” to each other…we know each other SO well, that we just know when something’s not right…when there’s a disturbance in the force. That’s how strong our bond is…for both B and C.
That stuff is all fun and awesome, but it’s not why I’m writing this post. I’m writing this because I’ve had the topic of “friendship” on my mind and some questions that have kept me up late at night. As an introvert, I’ve already told you I don’t have many friends and that’s the way I like it. Quality over quantity. Another reason is because it will take some time and patience on your part if you want to be a part of my life. I don’t let just anyone walk in and out of my life as they please. As harsh as this may sound, you have to prove to me that you want to be in my life and that you’re not gonna fuck with me before I even consider letting you past the threshold of the door. (Some of you will end up fucking with me anyway, but that’s the way the ball bounces. Don’t be sorry I trusted you; my mistake, not yours.) If I tell you I trust you, don’t make me regret it. If I tell you I love you, I mean it. I love hard and with all that I have and if I have been given the opportunity to be your friend, I will do my best to be an awesome friend for and to you. I’m not saying I will be perfect…in fact, I’ll probably tell you straight up that I’m gonna fuck up here and there, but we’ll talk about it and I’ll apologize and we’ll resolve the issue and then hug…promise. To those that mean the most to me, I try hard (especially with those girls on the east coast) to remind them that I do love them, that I think about them often, and that I value and appreciate them. I’m the kind of person who will mail you random cards and shit just to make you smile and/or give you a warm fuzzy. I will post stupid YouTube videos and pictures on your Facebook wall that will make you snort-laugh. If I’m out and about and I see something that makes me think of you, I will buy it and give it to you, take a picture and text it to you, or just holla somehow and tell you, “Yo bish! I saw dis and I thought of you! I heart your face!” That’s just how I roll. That is how I like to be a friend for someone. I do the same shit for people who live down the street as I do for those who live across the country. (And just to tell you how corny B and C and I can get, we’ll watch the same movie/TV show at the same time and text our commentary and sarcastic remarks back and forth to each other or on Facebook for the public to see [the SuperBowl was festive this year]…because we are dorks and that’s how we roll. It’s also quite entertaining to our mutual friends…especially C’s daughter who thinks her mom is insane when C is in the computer room busting a gut reading my running commentary on Downton Abbey.)
(Side note: If I’m weird around you, it means I’m comfortable.)
I am also that friend who, despite her own insanity, will drop everything to be there for you. This sometimes backfires on me. I am SO gun-ho about wanting to be needed and wanting to be liked, that at times, I forget to take care of myself because I’m so busy trying to take care of you. I know what it means to feel like you have no one to turn to and no one who understands you, especially in regards to mental illness. But sometimes I question if I am really THAT friend you should call if you are experiencing/going through some of the same hell that I am (e.g. depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, etc.). On one hand, I’d like to think that I’d understand more than most and that I can probably empathize better than those who are not in the same boat. But…it’s kind of like AA. In AA (I only know this because my half-brother is going through AA/rehab), you are told to NOT associate with other people in recovery. It’s not hard to fall off the wagon, be it alcohol or depression. Yes, people in AA will probably understand you a lot better than your never-been-drunk-in-her-life BFF, but you and that person may be at two completely different places in your recovery. One of you might have been sober for 15 years and can easily say no to a beer…then the other one of you sees an episode of the Simpson’s where Homer is chugging a beer and you don’t have the tools to stop yourself from running down to the corner store to grab a 6-pack. I learned this lesson the hard way during my time in group therapy.
As I’ve said before, I was initially very quiet and closed down in group, not even letting the therapists into my world and there was no way in H-E-double-hockey-sticks that I was going to let the OTHER crazy people that made up the rest of my group in. That just sounded like a bad idea from get-go. BUT…it happened anyway. Right after I opened my mouth for the first time, I was invited to a little coffee date with some of the “groupies” after group. They had been doing the Starbucks thing for some time and I knew that, but I never had any interest in joining them and there was something that just didn’t sound right about it…I just didn’t know what it was…until I started going. Then I was like, “THIS is the reason this is not a good idea.” Picture this: a bunch of crazy people (across the board from BPD to bipolar disorder and everything in between, a lot of whom have interpersonal relationship issues, including myself) sitting at a Starbucks…talking about…what else? Crazy shit. Suicide. Depression. Issues. And I was like, “No no no no no no…see, we just spent 90 minutes in a group therapy session doing this shit…I ain’t gonna do it in PUBLIC at a Starbucks with people I don’t really even know or trust.” I went a few more times but then things started going downhill and I saw the drama coming from a mile away and got out before shit hit the fan (praise the sweet eight-pound homebirthed baby Jesus!). Some of the others weren’t so lucky and I’m sure they needed extra individual therapy time after that fiasco (even I needed extra therapy time because they dragged their drama into the group room and I said, “HELL. NO.”). I told myself when I started going to that group that I was not in it to make friends and I slipped a little because I was trying to give myself a push and get my butt to do something out of my comfort zone and get some bonus points with my therapist…but I ran the hell away from the Starbucks group when I saw things starting to go awry. Group therapy was not/is not meant to be a social or support group, it’s a skills training group and it just does not sound like a good idea to make friends with people who are just as fucked up as you are.
But what do you do when you have people like that who were already in your life before you lost your marbles? I’ll tell ya right now: I don’t have a fucking clue. Hence the reason for this post.
I spend a lot of time alone, voluntarily (introvert, remember?)…and I don’t mind at all. The less people you chill with, the less problems you deal with. One of the cons to doing that is that I don’t get a lot of “practice” interacting with others and really, I am not usually called upon by my friends and the people I know to be a friend…or in other words, I go to them if I need them but people don’t usually come to me when they need someone (B and C are probably the only exceptions to this rule). I also find it REALLY easy to go into “friend mode”…dropping all my shit, however heavy it is, in order to be there for someone in need. And I usually don’t mind because I enjoy being wanted/needed/chosen…I like being there for people…being that person they can always count on. Contrary to popular belief, I love to love…I enjoy caring about other people because I know how much it means to me when I know someone cares about me. I feel that I am really empathetic, non-judgmental and a good listener. I try not to act like someone’s therapist or give them advice because I know it drives ME nuts when people do that to me. I may inadvertently dispense advice in the form of sharing my own experiences and what has or hasn’t worked for me, but I try not to tell people that they should do A, B or C. Being called upon to be someone’s friend is also a great distraction for me because even though my load is heavy, it’s a nice break/distraction when I get to focus my attention and energy on someone other than myself. But this can sometimes backfire. I am SO gun-ho about wanting to be there for another person that I forget that my load IS really heavy and while that person deserves my attention (and I want to give it to them), I also need to pay attention to myself and my needs and throwing myself into someone else’s crisis sometimes makes me forget about me and then later, when the other person’s storm has passed, I’m a mess because I’ve neglected my own emotions. As much as I would like to think that I am a great friend, I sometimes wonder if I really am…and I don’t say that in order to be told that I really am a great friend and I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Here’s where I’m going with this: a few weeks ago, a friend that I got to know while attending my pharmacy school sent me a message on Facebook telling me she was feeling suicidal. I’ve known this lady long enough and I know enough about her to know she has some legitimate depression issues and that was sort of the thing that brought us together as friends in the first place…that mutual understanding and empathy. I also know that she’s been struggling with depression for a long time but she is also someone who talks about suicide “lightly”…and I say “lightly” because she’ll talk about it while having no real intent or plan to carry it out…sort of a flippant “I would be better off dead” thought…a thought that, in my opinion, everyone has (“normal” or otherwise) at some point in their life. Correct me if I’m wrong but I think most people, at one time or another, have just gotten pissed and frustrated with life and wished, for a split second, that they could just disappear…but most people don’t give it much more thought than that. I do not like pity parties and I refuse to respond to flippant comments like, “ohmygod I’m so fat/ugly/stupid”. I’m not a “chaser” either…if you want to cry and run out the door hoping I will run after you…forget that shit. I will hold the door open for you, wave, and go back to what I was doing. I don’t play that game with my mom and I don’t play it with any of my friends or acquaintances. It is not my job as a human being or friend to meet your attention-seeking desires and to pump you up and blow smoke up your ass by saying things like, “No, you’re not ugly Narcissa…you’re so pretty!” Don’t fish for compliments in my pond because I’m not biting. Please don’t take this to mean I am a cold-hearted biatch and never compliment anyone…but I do it when it’s not “expected” of me, if that makes sense. If you post a picture that I find gorgeous, I will leave/give you a compliment that says as much…or I’ll send you a random text/note or something and just tell you that I think you’re awesome, thanks for being my friend. If you take me shopping and you try on some pants and ask me if they make your butt look big, I will fucking tell you to take those damn pants off because your ass looks HUGE. I’m not in the business of lying, no matter if it’s a “white” lie or a lie that really won’t hurt anybody. If you tell the truth all the time, you don’t have to remember anything. Some people post more serious things, but it’s done very flippantly…case-in-point: the aforementioned friend…H. H drops suicide bombs a lot…either on me personally or in public on Facebook. I don’t fuck around with suicide. I am also not someone who “announces” a plan to kill myself for the world to see because if I am intent on carrying that plan out, I ain’t gonna tell nobody…I’m just gonna do it. The caveat is that when people do things like this, be it H or someone else…I get confused. Is it really a flippant comment I can/should ignore or is it a legitimate cry for help? Do I send her a text or message and ask her if she’s really okay or just ignore it because I know that she does this kind of attention-seeking stuff? I never know and I prefer to err on the side of caution and ask if she’s okay because I don’t want to dismiss a suicide comment and find out later that it wasn’t flippant; it was a serious cry for help and I ignored it. It’s kind of like the boy who cried wolf…you do/say things like that one too many times and people will eventually stop believing you/responding/taking you seriously…and then the one time you’re NOT crying wolf, people ignore you when in actuality, that was the one the time people should have really responded. So H sent me a message on Facebook late one night and I saw it as a very serious crisis (I still don’t know if it really was…if she really was minutes away from offing herself…or if it was another flippant comment said in exasperation). Again, I don’t take suicide lightly so I stayed up to talk to her (and this was the day after a mini road trip and I was tired as fuck) and made sure she was going to be okay or if she/I needed to call 911. Based on the conversation we had, I determined she was fine, at least for the night…and I made her promise to call me or 911 if shit starts going to hell in a hand-basket. In another conversation, she said she could really use some support right now and would like to see me because she knows a little bit about the last two years of my life and she knows I have the kind of empathy and understanding that only people who have been/are in similar situations can have for each other. I agreed to meet her for coffee after an appointment with M one afternoon. After confirming a time and place and saying goodbye, telling her to call me or 911 if she needed to, I began to wonder if I really should have done that…agreed to meet up with her. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to see her…but I wondered if I was really the kind of friend she needed right now because I myself am in the midst of my own personal hell and entertaining my own suicidal ideations. On one hand, I can probably understand and empathize with H more than most of the people in her life…but on the other hand, I have my own suicide and depression issues and I wondered if it was a good idea for me to involve myself in her situation. One, I’m pretty open and blunt about suicide…I don’t sugarcoat the facts or the gruesome details of my own experiences and I didn’t want to exacerbate H’s emotions. Two, is it a good idea for one suicidal person to try to talk another suicidal person out of suicide?…kind of an oxymoron if you ask me. Three, was I okay/secure enough with my own issues that meeting up with H wouldn’t be a trigger for me? In hindsight, I probably should have run this idea past M or K before doing it…but I wasn’t thinking straight when I made plans to meet H…it was late at night and I was delirious with sleep deprivation. In the end, it all worked out I suppose because after H canceled that date on me, she proceeded to cancel two more and after the last one, I said fuck it and stopped trying. So I never met up with her. If you really want to meet up with me, I’ll go…but I don’t play this “let’s make a date and cancel” game…drives me bonkers. H is also what I like to call an “askhole.” An askhole is someone who constantly asks you for advice and always does the complete opposite of anything you say/suggest. It’s like…why even ask? You’re killin’ me, Smalls! Over the past few weeks, H has pushed my buttons one too many times, to the point where I am considering unfriending her. But I hesitate because 1), I don’t like hurting people’s feelings and 2), I don’t want to kick someone when they’re down. Based on my own observations and knowledge, H does a lot of talking but not a lot of walking. She’s in an abusive marriage (I don’t think it’s physical, but it’s very much verbally and emotionally abusive) and she hates the guy and the guy hates her and if she’s telling me the truth, it’s really not a good environment to be in whether or not you have psychological disorders to add to the top of the sundae. H has kept me up WAY past 3 AM on many nights telling me just how bad it really is and in my own fucked up crazy mind, I see an easy fix: leave. I get that battered wife syndrome and all but H has SO many people, more than just me, that have her back and are willing to help her get out and get a divorce…but I guess she prefers to stay and bitch about it on Facebook. She always has an excuse/reason not to leave as she’s giving me all the reasons why she should leave. (I know that I also live in a toxic environment…but it’s not abusive to the point where law enforcement could intervene and I know that I don’t have a whole lot of other options right now. It is what it is. And I know that. Do I like it? No. Do I bitch about it? On my blog and to certain people and my therapist, yes. But there’s a difference between my situation and H’s. And that’s radical acceptance. I don’t really have a choice right now…H does. Also, I’m working on trying to find a way out. H isn’t. I’m not saying I’m better than H or any of that bullshit…I’m just trying to explain that I am in a similar situation but I’m doing my best to cope with it in the here and now while brainstorming ways to get out. I have a goal. I’m trying to be proactive and help myself. H is just sitting there complaining and not doing a damn thing to help herself.) H has asked me about my own journey and my own suicide attempts and what I’m doing to help myself in my own toxic environment. I’m not ashamed to talk about my suicide attempts or what I’ve attempted/how I’ve attempted to do it…but H was asking for details and I’m all, “Aw hell no!”…I am NOT going to give you step by step instructions on how to off yourself. 1): I put a lot of time and effort into researching that shit. 2): They were all lethal methods; the only reason I am sitting here typing this now is because I was caught/found. 3): I am not going to be responsible for you ending your life by giving you the tools/knowledge to do it. I once steered a conversation in the direction of therapy, DBT therapy specifically, and H messaged me last week to talk to me about it. And we did. And H, verbatim, said to me, “Will it make me stronger?” I did a *facepalm* and then, being the honest and blunt person I am (plus, I was getting a little irritated and pissed off at her by this point), I said, “No, H…it won’t. Not if you just go and sit there. You have to want it to get it. You have to decide you want it more than you are afraid of it. DBT therapy is great…if you are willing to make it work for you and if you are willing to put the effort into making it work. It isn’t magic and it will not happen overnight.” H didn’t like this answer because she quickly changed the subject…back to her abusive husband. By this point, I was pretty much about done. She sat there and told me all the shit I already knew and, being the tactful person I am, I called her on her bullshit. I said, “H, you are pissing me the fuck off. You sit here with me, night after night, telling me how much you hate your husband and how much you want out, and the minute he travels out of town, you blow up his Facebook page with ‘I love you’s’ and ‘I miss you’s’…this is so counterproductive and maybe I don’t know jack because I’ve never been married…but if I hate someone I once loved, you can bet that there will be no ‘I love you’s’ coming out of my mouth anytime soon, if ever.” Five minutes of silence passed and she said, “Well…thanks for talking. I’m gonna go.” I didn’t even say goodbye. I just logged off the computer and gave birth to this post. I am now Googling how to politely unfriend a “friend” because I think I have decided I do not want this person in my life, even if it’s just on Facebook. I don’t need it and I don’t want it. But what stops me from hitting that button is my heart. I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings and if H is really in the pits of despair as she claims, I know how much a simple “unfriend” can hurt, imagined or legit. I don’t want to kick her when she’s down and I don’t want to give her another reason to hate herself or her life nor do I want to be the reason she posts her next status update of, “I have no friends; everyone hates me.” I also don’t ever want to be listed in a suicide note as one of the reasons someone took their life. “The person I thought would understand and validate me the most left me.” I would never get out of therapy. So it’s a catch-22. I HAVE made it so her shit doesn’t show up in my news feed but I haven’t taken the final step of actually unfriending her…because I don’t know how.
I have another post to spit out tonight, but I’ll post it separate from this one; it’s a follow up to my “It’s not you, it’s me.” post…do’s and don’ts, friendship edition. Stay tuned.