A Belated Admission.

Courage!!!

Courage!!! (Photo credit: VinothChandar)

As you may recall, “courage” is one of my words for 2014. Courage requires the courage to be vulnerable, and I vowed that in 2014, I’d make every effort to do so. With that in mind, there is something that I’ve wanted to talk about for quite some time, but recurring thoughts of fear and shame always prevented me from doing so. The fear of admitting the truth to myself and especially others. What would they think of me? How would they react if they knew that I wasn’t as strong, as invincible, as I see myself, as they see me? Would they turn their backs on me, or view me with pity? Yet, the truth is what it is, and the truth is that I suffer from depression; it is a part of my life.

As a child, I was the anxious sort (My mother deemed me “nervous.”), so much so that my Mom actually brought me to a doctor who after examining me, prescribed what my mother referred to as “nerve” pills. (To this day, I have no idea what they were, but I remember that they were little orange pills.) I was 8-10 years old then, and I didn’t know what to make of the pills, so I took them for a short time and then stopped. The memorable thing about it all is that no one thought to ask me why I felt the way I did. In those days, it simply didn’t matter. These days, likely, I’d be referred to as a little girl who was acutely sensitive to the world about her.

My first bout with clinical depression came decades later after the death of my baby brother. At the young age of 23, my brother was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma. After about two years and a very rigorous course of chemotherapy and radiation, his doctors declared him cancer-free. Unfortunately, the cancer treatment irrevocably damaged his heart and as a result, he had a diagnosis of  congestive heart failure. As a result, his death at a young age was inevitable, but its suddenness left the family totally unprepared.

As the oldest sibling, it was clear that I would undertake the task of bringing him home to New Orleans. At the time, he was pursuing a Master’s degree In Communications at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma, and I lived in Central Texas. Ironically, my husband and I moved him to Norman, and as fate would have it, I would move him out, and bring him home.

Throughout the ordeal, I remained detached and stoic. I journeyed through it in a hazy, sleepwalker mode. I went to Norman, began the arrangements to have his body cremated, cleaned out his apartment, and handled all the things required under the circumstances. To this day, I have only a fuzzy recollection of my actions and interactions because it was so surreal that I tried to shut out the pain by pretending it wasn’t happening. I did and ultimately, picked up my brother’s ashes, placed them into a carry-on bag, booked a flight to New Orleans, and began the trek to bring him home to our mother.

At that time, I travelled–a lot. This time was profoundly different. Although certain facts still elude me, I distinctly remember being on the plane, and being told by an insistent flight attendant, to stow my carry-on bag under the seat, and after a futile effort to hold on to it, I reluctantly did so. Afterwards, I recall taking in all the happy and laughing people surrounding me, who were oblivious to my circumstances and that they were in the hallowed presence of my brother’s ashes. I envied them their ignorance. I somehow made it to New Orleans, picked up a rental car and mindlessly drove the familiar streets to my childhood home where my mother was waiting. (To this day, I only remember walking seemingly long terminal from my gate, but I have no recollection of renting the car or driving the 30 or so minutes to New Orleans to the house that my brother and I grew up in.). The most heartbreaking moment of the entire event was taking the ashes out of the bag and placing it ever so gently into my mother’s open arms.

Afterward, my actions are a total blur. I know that I helped my mother make the necessary arrangements for burying him, which required trips to the cemetery and funeral home. My sister and I created a program for my brother’s mass.I did everything that I felt compelled to and afterward, well, that is when the impact of the preceding week hit me. I crashed and burned.

Having no experience with depression and all its gory details, I could not comprehend what was happening to me. I returned to my job as a lawyer for the State of Texas. Each morning I went to work and attempted to return to life as usual — that just wouldn’t happen. The harder I tried to return to life as usual, the more difficult it became. As a supervisor, I would call meetings and in the midst of them, break down in tears. It became a challenge to get through the day without breaking down. People would ask how I was doing and I found it easier to say “I’m fine, thank you,” and run to my office, close the door, and cry. I couldn’t tell them how I really felt — like I, too, was dying.

Depression is insidious. It eats away at the very essence of who you are. At its worst, you forget that pre-depression picture of yourself. I know that I did. The things that I used to do, no longer interested me. Except for work, I couldn’t muster the energy to do anything. Depression sucked the joy out of all the people and activities in my life. My children were teens, and although Christmas was and still is, my favorite holiday of the year, I couldn’t bring myself to celebrate it as it was my brother’s favorite as well. For this reason, they largely had to forego the first Christmas after my brother’s death.

Even then, I kept denying the truth of the matter. My increasingly concerned husband kept taking me to my doctor, to whom I continued to proclaim, in tears mind you, that nothing was wrong with me. Over and over, I refused his attempts to give me a prescription for antidepressants. As depressed as I was, I was adamant against taking prescriptions for depression, and branded crazy and unstable. I, like many others, viewed them as for the weak and pitiable creatures, and I thought that all it required was strength of will and determination. I also feared that should anyone learn that I had a diagnosis of depression, it would affect my job. I wanted nothing to do with it. Finally, after one too many visits to my doctor, and relentless sobbing, he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and gave me a script for an anti-depressant, which my husband filled. I was really too apathetic to care.

Naturally, I resisted taking the medication. At that time, I had no interest in vulnerability and subject to my friend’s pity or their ridicule. After much denial and pleading from my husband and others, I relented and began taking the antidepressants. It took weeks to show any effects, but slowly the medicine began chipping away at the seemingly impenetrable wall of depression. As time went by, every once in a while, I caught myself smiling, I began to venture out from my self-erected prison and started the slow process of re-engaging with those around me, and ever so slowly, I returned to the things that brought me joy in the past, especially my family and friends. It was if I’d arisen from the dead or at least a long, deep sleep.

As I came back to life, I realized how deep-seated my depression had been. In my case, while in the grips of depression, I could not recall my life pre-depression. The joys, the passions, the loves — none of it seemed real. The only reality was the depression and how effectively it burrowed and insinuated itself into every area of my existence. It seeped into every facet of my life and made depression seem the norm. I think that is what makes fighting against it most frightening; you lose the will to fight it. Depression lulls you into a false sense of inevitability. Although I lost my will to fight, I remained determined to hold on and not allow it to completely overtake me. I took the antidepressants for at least 1 1/2 years and I think that they saved my life.

I came away from the experience more informed, enlightened and able to recognize the signs of a subsequent depression. I also learned that, like millions of other people, my notions and ideas about depression were harmful and antiquated. Depression is no less an illness than cancer, diabetes or other diseases that are readily tested for, verified, and accepted. It has nothing to do with a person’s strength, will power, or fortitude. It has no regard for race, class, education or wealth. In the past, the presence of mental illness has sunk a potential Presidency, and many a career. It was swept under the rug, relegated to the shadows and whispered about behind closed doors. Although much has changed, there is more to be done in order to encourage those who need help to step forward and seek it without fear of losing respect, their jobs, marriages, friends, or lives. For this reason, I’ve found the courage to stand up to say that, “I am Lydia and I suffer from depression.” If my story helps one person, than I have served my purpose.

Blessings, Lydia

All Will Be Well, ~ Julian of Norwich

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Creative Writing Saturday: “The Call”

Layer Texture Paper With Handwriting

Layer Texture Paper With Handwriting (Photo credit: Feodora Umarov)

I am officially kicking off “Creative Writing Saturday.” For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write. Unfortunately, when I was much younger, I wrote a story and entered it in a writing contest. I was 10-12 years old. Not surprisingly, I lost, and I was heartbroken. It was then and there that I became convinced that I couldn’t write. In school, I excelled in English unless it involved creative writing or poetry. It was a constant struggle to complete the assignment and I did so begrudgingly. Even after I became a lawyer, and constantly wrote motions, briefs and the plethora of documents essential to the life of a trial lawyer, I held on to the belief that I couldn’t write creatively.

As I wrote in this blog post, for word for 20-14 is “courage.” At some point after that post, a good friend shared with me another word, “meraki,” and I immediately identified with it and adopted it as my own. Thus, both “courage” and “meraki” are my words for 20-14. “Courage” is defined by Dictionary.com as “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficult, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.” I also love the original definition of courage as written in this post that I mentioned. It means, “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart,” which calls for the courage to be vulnerable. “Meraki” means “the soul, creativity, or love put into something; the essence of yourself that is put into you work.” Both words are at play in this piece that I wrote. I’ve mustered the courage to face my fear of writing, and to place it out there for others to read, and by doing so my meraki shines through.

On “Creative Writing Saturday,” I will post poetry, essays or other creative writing that inspire or delight me. Most of the time, I will post the work of others, even that of my own beautiful, lovely, and talented daughter, but now and then, I will share creative writing of my own with you. I hope that you appreciate the creative writing as much as I do. Be forewarned. Although future posts will not be so long, this one is best undertaken when you have 10-15 minutes of free time. Blessings and thanks.

The Call

There it is again. The soft whispers riding on the gentle breeze. They beckon me, lure me. At first, the whispers are like puffs of smoke, amorphous, indecipherable. As I listen, one word becomes clear, “Come,” it calls.

As if hypnotized by some unseen entity, I begin walking in the direction of the voices. I am led to an overgrown path that, even though I’d travelled this way many times before, had remained hidden from me. And so, very curious, I walk onto a path that hadn’t seen passage for some time. The brush was so thick that without a machete or comparable blade the path would have been impassable. Yet, with each step, the brush simply dissipated, and I walk through, one foot in front of the other.

The whispers are now distinct and almost insistent. They hurry me along the path to an unknown destination. I walk with some urgency, hewing to the direction of the voices. After what seems like forever, the path ends in a space that is blanketed with fog. As I walk onward, the fog slowly evaporates so that I can see an expansive clearing.

The voices were most insistent, “Come, come,” it implored. Still uncertain, I walk forward as though I were a piece of metal drawn by a magnet. As I lumber across the clearing, I can see that it ends at the edge of a canyon that is about 30′ wide. Although the voices continue to whisper “come,” I stop because I can go no further. On the other side of the divide, I see that the clearing continues but fog impedes my view. I look at the wide divide, down at the steep cliffs and hear the melodic hum of rushing water. I look left and right, as far as the eye could see but there is nothing but more divide, with no way to cross to the other side. Besides, I think, who knows what awaits me across the divide.

In spite of the louder and more urgent pleadings of the voices, I turn around, intent upon returning to the path that brought me here, and back to my familiar path. As I walk back, a beautiful voice says, “Wait, we’ve been waiting for you.” Because it sounds nothing like the voices that I’d heard before, I turn towards the voice and for the first time, I see a beautiful woman about my age, standing on the other side of the divide. Although my first thoughts were where did she come from and why I had not seen her earlier, her demeanor and voice coaxed me back to her. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I know her. There was something about her eyes. Before I realize it myself, my feet carry me back toward the divide, where I stand directly in front of this being with the familiar, wise, and knowing eyes. I ask, “Waiting for me? What do you mean?” She turns with her hands out-spread and once again says, “We’ve been waiting for you.”

My eyes follow her out-stretched hand to a garden awash with flowers of every variety, color and hue. I watch as they are seemingly caressed by a soft breeze. I look around me and the clearing on which I stand is remarkable by any standard, with plush, green grass punctuated by hundreds, maybe thousands of multicolored wild flowers, kept flourished by scores of bees and butterflies that flutter about. The clearing is surrounded by towering trees, the varieties unknown to me, that seem to act as sentries surrounding the meadow. As I listen, I hear the tweet and sing-song conversations of birds, insects buzzing, animals rooting, all communicating in their own, but certain, way. The bird songs drown the sound of the rushing waters that I’d heard earlier. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t see or hear these things earlier. I look back to the woman who stands by waiting patiently, perhaps, waiting for me to understand.

Her out-stretched hands command my eyes to savor the other side. The garden in which she stands seems unreal. The flowers, birds, butterflies and the rest of nature’s gift are unspeakably beautiful, their colors more vibrant, and the sounds more melodic than any on this side. Even the sun shines brighter. My eyes dart from one place to another, so much so that I fell dizzy. In the distance I see a lake with water the perfect shade of turquoise. The trees are more substantial and towered so high in the sky that I couldn’t see their tops. I am so taken by the beauty of the place that I open and close my eyes several times fully expecting to awake from the sweetest of dreams. Each time, I open my eyes, the scene grows more and more inviting, more and more beautiful. This time, the woman says, “Come,” and I do so willingly. I would follow her anywhere.

I respond, “How? You see that there is nothing to bridge one side to the other. I cannot possibly come to you.” She smiles knowingly and nods her head ‘yes.’ By this time, I am frustrated and tired of playing this game, and I tell her so. She laughs and holds out her hand towards me. I want more than anything to take it, but like a tired, petulant child, I turn to walk away. As I do so, she says, “The bridge that you speak of is within you.”

I still didn’t understand, but her statement intrigued me so I turn around and walk back to where she stands. My questioning eyes, reveal all that I feel Inside, look into hers and waits. I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I know her, but that is impossible. At the wave of her hand, two beautiful, wooden benches appear on either side, one facing the other. She signals for me to sit as she sits. I sit. She goes on to explain, “The whispers and voices have always been inside you. You see, one cannot hear until they are ready. Before today, you just were not ready to hear.” I listen but still do not understand, “Ready for what?” I ask. She considers me for what seemed to me an interminable period, but she finally smiles, nodded to herself and says, “Yes, my dear, I believe you are ready to hear.”

She begins, “This world, gesturing behind her, is one of your own creation. It lives in your soul, your inner home. This is a manifestation of that inner place.” I was too speechless to respond but I looked across the divide and I recognize, I can’t say from where, the rock garden, the many wind chimes, the many niches where I can hide from the world as I read or dream, the comfortable benches, the slowly swaying hammocks, fruit and nut trees galore, cutting flowers of every variety, a mammoth herb and vegetable garden with all of my favorites, my favorite bird, the hummingbird, scores of them in every magnificent colors, even ones that I’d never seen, flying freely, only pausing to drink of a flower or from one of the many feeders. The fragrances and sounds waft toward me, entrancing me even more. Then, my eyes light upon a huge labyrinth made of large stones, and in the distance, a lake with the turquoise-hued water. Immediately, I know that it is surrounded by a beach with comfortable seating and if desired, canopies for protection from the sun. There is everything that I imagine in my perfect paradise. Still unable to speak, I simply look at the woman with anticipation.

She continues, “In your world, you live, but not really. I begin to object, but ignoring me, she goes on. “You spend so much time running to and fro trying to meet the impossible demands that you place upon yourself. When you inevitably fail, you grow sad, guilty and angry with yourself, as if you have done something wrong. While you ride the treadmill of your life, you forget to notice the present moment with all of its beauty and magic. You forget to enjoy life for all of its joy, wonder and happiness.” I think about what she says, and I could say nothing, because I know that she is right. I think about that the way that I live my life can’t be the reason I am here! I can’t be serving my true purpose!

She begins again, “The real tragedy is the time that you waste dwelling in the past. Almost all of your thoughts are consumed by things that happened in the past, both things done to you, as well as things that you’ve done. You dredge up every mistake that you’ve made, every lapse of judgment, hurt, bad intention and more. The thing is that such thoughts, bring you nothing but suffering, self-doubt, pain and guilt. It’s a vicious loop. Yet, you persist.”

She goes on, “Meanwhile, your hopes and dreams lay fallow and untended to. In some cases, you’ve forgotten what they were and have given up dreaming — a vital part of your growth and transformation. Within our dreams lay the seeds of passion and hope that we can be and do more, that we are more. Without dreams, the impossible remain just that, because it is in our dreams that we find the will, determination and courage to say no to the impossible and yes to infinite possibilities.”

Stretching her hand behind her, she says, “In this world, your potential is limitless. You are not hampered by the past because you’ve learned from the experiences and realized that they, even those most undesirable, are an integral part to the whole that is you. You’ve forgiven others for the hurt and pain that they’ve caused you, but more importantly, you’ve completely forgiven yourself so you can move forward without the weight and the burden of past mistakes, for it weighs you down. Here, the past is where it should be, in the past. Similarly, you do not concern yourself with the future, because while doing so, you are pining away for a time that may never be, and missing the awe-inspiring beauty of the present moment. All that we have is the present moment and dwelling in the past or the future prevents us from the full and rich experience that it brings.”

“In this world, your dreams are merely precursors to the life that you wish to live. You might say that, here you have a ‘clean slate’ upon which you can etch your life’s dreams. I am referring to the life that you want and are meant to live, not one imposed upon you by society or others. If you choose to paint, you paint. If you choose to draw, you draw. Your dreams are no longer dreams, they are your reality. All of the things that languish on your ‘things to do before I die’ list become the things you do while you live. Like this huge, beautiful garden, your life is yours to create in your own fashion. Your outer life becomes an extension of your inner soul, your home, where your true self resides. It is yours for the taking, and the beauty of it all is that you take with you all that is precious to you. By choosing this world, you simply let go of all that does not serve your true self, be they people, jobs, relationships or whatever it may be. In your life remains those whom you love and who love you, and the things that bring you great joy and happiness. Actually, love is the foundation for this world, and all that ‘is love’ is vital here.”

Thoughts race through my head. How is this possible? There is little for me to say because for the first time in as long as I can remember, I see the truth. I spend so much time berating myself for past actions, and what I should have dones, that my life is at a standstill. My inner critic, always berating me and telling me that I can’t do anything, is in control. The present moment feels as unreal as a children’s fairy tale. I feel my life rushing by and I am helpless to join it. Listening to this woman, who so accurately reads my heart, gives me a sense of peace, hope and promise.

“But, I begin tentatively, how is it possible? I admit that you speak of me and my life as if you know me and all of my thoughts, dreams and desires. I’ve long grown weary of being trapped in a past where I feel powerless to repeat it over and over. It is true that as I stay stuck in the past, I await a future to free me from the very prison forged by the past. I also realize that the future is only a pipe dream and for me, an escape from the past. Still in my experience, the change that you speak of is easier said than done and simply considering it makes my inner critic rear its ugly head. And then, there is the problem of this divide which makes it impossible  for me to cross over. So, I ask you again, how is this possible?”

She stands up and for a time, she quietly considers my question. And, for the second time she says, “The bridge that you speak of is within you,” but this time she elaborates, “It has been there all along. You see, your power and will are strong but unfortunate circumstances have created a wall of fear. As a protective mechanism, you’ve closed your heart to the yearnings and messages of your soul. The voices and whispers that brought you here, come from within, not without. For the first time in a long while, you’ve overcome some of your fears and your heart is free to receive messages from your soul, your true self, and faint though they were, you heard the calls which safely led you here.”

At first, I allowed my mind to take over and as usual, the critic stepped in and told me that this woman was crazy, that I was crazy to stand there and listen to her and that I should run away as quickly as my feet could carry me. I momentarily considered it, but then I hear soft whispers saying, “She speaks the truth,” and “Listen to your heart.” The words are filled with love, truth, and compassion, and I believe them. My heart tells me to listen and I do.

As she talks, she walks side to side, for the first time seeming uncertain, but she never once takes her eyes away from mine. She says, “Do you recall that I told you that this world is a creation of your own doing?” I nodded. “I suppose that you wonder how I know you, and your thoughts and feelings so well?” I nodded vigorously. “Well, she responded, I am but another creation of your true self, and my purpose is to explain and answer any questions that you have.” I stood up wide-eyed and disbelieving, while at the same time understanding why she is so familiar to me. It is the eyes — I was looking into my own eyes. Yet, unlike my own, hers were borne of wisdom, knowledge and strength. I stumble backward and fall back on to the bench, knowing full well that what she says is true.

I am stunned, but with a clarity that I’ve never known before. I’ve known for some time that my life had to change. I knew that the past still had too much sway upon me. More importantly, I knew that it was in the present moment that I’d know life with all of its mystery, surprise, joy, and yes, even laughter. It was there where I belong. I look across the divide and then an odd sensation began to overtake me. I felt the stirrings of courage awaken in me. It began at the pit of my stomach, and spreads outward, like the sun’s rays. As it spreads, it consumes all the anger, fear, doubt, judgment, guilt, and misgiving it encounters in my body. Soon, it covers my entire body and instinctively, I, too, knew that I was ready.

I turn to the beautiful woman who through it all stands silently beaming, and says, “I love you and I thank you for reminding me of my power, light, and mekati. I know exactly what I need to do and I am ready. Upon hearing these words, she smiled brightly, bowed ever so slightly and was gone.

As if acting on pure heart-felt feeling, I turned to face the “world” that I know i was leaving behind, and without hesitation said,

“I am no longer a prisoner of the past. I thank it for the lessons learned, but I let it go so that it has no hold over me or my life. I surrender all the suffering, pain, self-doubts, guilt, fears and anger that I’ve mistaken and accepted as parts of my life, because they are no longer a part of the true me. Whereas I sought the answers and validation outside of me, I realize that they have been with me all along. I will no longer be a bystander as my life passes me by. I will savor each moment and welcome whatever it brings. I banish my inner critic for it has led me astray for as long as I can recall. Last, but most important, I forgive, both myself and those that I feel have wronged me in any way. In doing so, I release the shackles of the past and open my arms to life in the here and now.”

With that said, I slowly turn my back on that world and toward my new inner home, certain of what I would see. Standing before me is a sturdy 40 ‘ long bricked pathway –a bridge to my life as it was always meant to be. It was obscured by the fear, confusion, self-doubt and lack of faith that I thought was mine to bear. As long as I held on to those negative thoughts, feelings and desires, there was no place for the life that I was to live. I laughed as a favorite poem of mine, Rumi’s poem “The Guest House,” came to mind.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each quest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Br grateful for whatever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond. ~ Jelaluddin Rumi

So once again, I walk, one foot in front of the other, and with each step thank all the fear, pain, sorrows and suffering that brought me here. I walk alone, sure of my path and with no need of the fervent whispers to lead me to my true home. As my inner me knows, my true path was within me all along. As I finally stepped on the other side, the path dissipates. It is no longer needed as I’d found my way home, and there is no going back.

Once again, joy and curiosity filled my being, and this time, I eagerly set out to explore the life that was always mine for the taking.

Warm blessings and love, Lydia

All Will Be Well. ~St. Julian of Norwich

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All Is Well

LKW, Life Book 2014

I feel a sense of accomplishment. The above piece is the first that I’ve made for my Life Book 2014 e-course. Life Book 2014 is a year-long painting e-course taught by artist Tamara Laporte and other incredible artists that she has gathered together to teach us their individual styles of painting. Until today, I’ve been too preoccupied with cleaning and decluttering to begin the work for this or any of the many e-courses to which I am committed. Today, my body, exhausted from days of over working it, responded by increasing my fibromyalgia pain, so I had no choice but to take a much-needed break to do absolutely nothing.

I felt dreadful that I was neglecting my e-courses when I had an epiphany of sorts. It occurred to me that I wasn’t ignoring them at all. In fact, they were central in my mind. The purpose of the cleaning is to rid myself of the old, unwanted and unloved “stuff” to make room for the beautiful, loving creations that I am about to bring into existence. It hit me, I am exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to do.

Coming to this realization served as a catalyst for me to begin and complete the above piece. “Courage” is one of my words for 2014, so I incorporated the word in an affirmation reminding me that I AM courage. During 2014, this piece will serve as a constant reminder that the courage that I need to deal with any circumstance, is here for the taking. Although I am not remotely close to finishing the task of decluttering, I can continue it without guilt because I am making room for new and exciting gifts in my life and with gratitude for the reminder that all is as it should be.

Blessings and love, Lydia

All Will Be Well. ~ St. Julian of Norwich

It’s “Courage” in 2014

Stones on a Rocky Ocean Beach

Stones on a Rocky Ocean Beach (Photo credit: epSos.de)

WOW! As I’m sure that many of you will agree, 2013 has flown by. In truth, as I get older, each year appears to compress such that time appears more and more fleeting. As one year closes and a new one begins, I’ve begun to experience that all too inevitable march towards the end.

Casting morbidity aside, lately, I’ve been thinking about 2014. As I am sure most of you are aware, the annual list of resolutions is fast being replaced by the word for the year. As described by this blog, the endless lists of resolutions that are typically tossed aside within a couple of months or so, require us ‘to do’ something. On the other hand, choosing a specific word of the year requires us to aspire ‘to be’ for the year. The choices are limitless. For instance, our word may be creativity, surrender, determination, stillness, or lovingkindness, you get the picture. This year, my word is “courage.” I intend to be courageous, and this post explains how I arrived at that choice.

This morning, I listened to a Brené Brown‘s Ted talk on “The Power of Vulnerability.”  Although I have yet to read any of her books (I have one ‘to read’ on my Kindle.), I already know that she is a phenomenon, trained in social work, and a dedicated researcher who studies human connection. Everyone who has either read her books or worked with her, speaks highly of her wisdom. As an initial matter, I need to say that although I will discuss some details of the talk, I cannot do it justice, so I urge you to listen to it for yourself here. My focus is on her discussion of the words ‘courage’ and ‘vulnerability.’ She literally had me at the words ‘courage ‘ and ‘vulnerability.’ Both are words that vex me, directly or indirectly, on a daily basis, even as I write this post.

A brief summary of the talk is that she began her research asking people about connection and what she received were stories about disconnection and ultimately, shame–the fear of disconnection. Her research led her to focus on shame and resulted in a wealth of data in the form of stories, interviews, focus groups and more. As she sifted through the data, she concluded that it could be separated into two categories, those who had a sense of worthiness and a sense of love and belonging, and  those who cast themselves as unworthy and lacking a sense of disconnection.

Those with a sense of worthiness and connection shared the following four qualities:

  1. The courage to be imperfect.
  2. The compassion to be kind to themselves first, then to others. (i.e., We can’t share what we don’t have.)
  3. A connection as a result of authenticity, and
  4. They fully embraced vulnerability, in all its forms.

It is important to note here that as Brown’s talk discussed, although vulnerability has its foundation in fear, shame and most other “negative” emotions, it is also the “birthplace” of creativity, love, joy, happiness, courage, and those emotions that we strive for.  Vulnerability is not an option that we chose, it is a fact of life.

If truth be told, there is not one among us who does not have a laundry list of vulnerabilities that affect how we feel about and live our lives. In my case, when I created this blog, I did so as another way to document my journey (or more accurately, my non-journey) after my health forced me to stop working as a trial attorney. I needed a healthy outlet for releasing my thoughts and feelings. Yet, as I write posts for this blog, I am often confronting various vulnerabilities, which based on Brown’s talk is the ability to be really and fully seen — in both the good ways and the bad.

Every time that I write a post, my self-talk goes something like this,

  • Are you sure that you want anyone to know this or that about you?
  • What if I disclose this and they won’t like me?
  • What gives me the idea that I think that I can write?
  • What do I have to say that anyone wants to hear?
  • Why do I have the audacity to think that my opinions matter?
  • What will people think of me?

I could go on, but I am sure that you get the idea. All of my fears, shame, insecurities, uncertainties and the rest take over and I end up thinking, “Do I really want to put myself out there risking ridicule or worse?”

As I listened to the talk, I was surprised to learn that the original definition of the word “courage” was “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart” — to be vulnerable. It hit me that what my self-talk boiled down to was that I lacked the courage to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable meant admitting that I wasn’t perfect, that I don’t have it all together, that sometimes I feel lost, and that sometimes I need, among other things, love, help, support, a shoulder to cry on, to vent, that sometimes, I just don’t know, and need help finding the answers. I realize that I need the courage to be imperfect, thus, the courage to be vulnerable.

This is why I choose to focus on courage. In 2014, I will continue the task of telling the story of who I am, but in a more open and honest way. I seek the courage to tell it all, the good, the bad and the ugly. In all honesty, I feel overwhelmed with fear, doubts about failure, and questions about my sanity, but every day I vow that I will imbue each interaction, each post, each encounter with the courage to be true to myself and others. I will pray for the courage to be vulnerable, whatever the result, and to be compassionate with myself when I inevitably fall, which I surely will. Yet, I will also pray for the courage to get up, and simply, begin again. By practicing “courage” I hope to make “vulnerability” a way of life, a way of acknowledging that I am enough.

Blessings, Lydia

P.S. See, I am really getting into the ‘word of the year’ state of mind. This post is littered with the words ‘to be.’