I used to pride myself on being independent and ‘strong’. I wore it like a badge of honour. “I have everything together. I can do it all by myself. I don’t need help from anyone.” Yeah. Right. What a load of baloney.
I thought it was better for everyone if I just got on with things; I became an expert at compartmentalising. At putting on a mask that said, I’ve got this, I don’t need anything from you, I’m not going to put my troubles on you.
I was fully aware of the irony. I had even spent four years as a listening volunteer to people in acute distress. Not once did I think of the people I spoke to as weak. I admired their tenacity and strength in dealing with their struggles. Just somehow, I couldn’t tie these things together where I was personally concerned.
Self-justification came from saying that my stuff wasn’t ‘that big’. I could manage. But, in reality, not showing my struggles wasn’t strength, it was fragility. It was being too scared to pull the string that said I need a shoulder to cry on, because I was afraid if I did, I might unravel.
However, there is only so long you can go on pretending that everything is fine when you are living with an alcoholic, your marriage is disintegrating, you have a toddler to care for, work is massively stressful, you never get a full night’s sleep, and you have a perpetual knot of anxiety in your stomach that feels like you are hurtling down the motorway without breaks and the wheels are about to fall off.
At some point, you have to share what’s going on. And once I did, didn’t I feel foolish for not having done so before. Where I had feared judgement, there was only kindness and care. People offered support in ways I couldn’t have imagined and didn’t have the words to ask for. From the deeply practical – childcare, playing taxi, packing up our home – to wonderful non-judgemental space just to be with someone who cared.
This was a turning point for me. Time to stop independence being a badge of honour, and to know when it was being used as a shield from being vulnerable.
Showing vulnerability is the real strength. Being prepared to ask for help is not only the right thing to do, it’s also the key to building stronger relationships. Relationships are built on trust, honesty, and care. If we pretend we don’t need help or support, we are not being honest, we are not showing our trust in others, and nor are we caring for ourselves or allowing others to care for us. To quote Brené Brown, world leading researcher on vulnerability: “being vulnerable is the key to whole-hearted living”.