After reading a blog post written by a classmate of mine I was reflecting on some of my earlier therapy sessions and self-work of the past few months. Much of the struggle I had after experiencing sexual assault and continuing to write a dissertation proposal, teach a multicultural counseling class, work for a counseling and therapy department on campus, etc etc was that suddenly I was having trouble doing it all. I had experienced a shift in my being that tremendously impacted how and what I was able to do. I had to work twice as hard to achieve, what felt like, half as much. Add this to the “twice as hard” mantra that I already live by as a fat Black woman and you’ll begin to understand how I was emotionally and physically running myself into the ground.
Also, as the link back to Conor’s work, this period of transition forced me to confront some beliefs I had, about myself and my abilities. I believed that I was entitled to a life and opportunities that other people work pretty damn hard for. I believed that because school, career opportunities, valuable personal and professional relationships and networking had always come easy to me. I prided myself on being nonchalant about impressive feats, rarely acknowledging my process for obtaining or maintaining them. Not only that, but I stubbonly and arrogantly believed I would continue this practice of living well and making it look easy.
I will sidebar a bit and say, even when I openly admitted to people how much I was struggling they would assuage my fears noting that it was understandable or I was navigating my situation with grace or strength. It wasn’t that these types of comments were not helpful, it was that they didn’t match the type of connection I was seeking. I didn’t need to be built up, I needed someone to sit down and catch a breath with me.
My ultimate fear of being mediocre quite literally came to pass, at least according to me. And I recognize that I say that as an able-bodied, middle class, formally educated, cisgendered being in a doctoral program at a prestigious private institution in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. ((That was a LOT of privilege to check)). But for me, that feeling of having to struggle was necessary. It made me appreciate the milestones I’ve reached in a new way and more importantly it made me confront the skewed and entitled beliefs I had about myself because of my various privileges.
None of us wants to admit, I think, that we are barely just holding on. That at the end of the day we collapse into our beds if we are fortunate enough to have them, and we are exhausted by the show we have just put on for the world. It is difficult and sometimes dangerous to embody our vulnerabilities so openly, and yet that very thing was my saving grace. I didn’t have the energy to lie or to charade or to smile on some days. And I wanted people to know why…
When I read the Caitlyn Jenner article, and she said that after the cover went out she was free, I understood her. Because after I announced and admitted “I was raped” I felt the same freedom. Freedom from the shame and freedom from the work of having to pretend I was okay when I wasn’t. To admit all the insecurities it unearthed, and to be honest about how it changed me–how I work and to some extent, why–has been freedom.
And while I am not sure the opportunities or tangible benefits that come from this sort of vulnerability, I can affirm that for the soul? It feels so damned good. Life is hard enough…we do not need to shame one another or house shame ourselves around what we accomplish or how we accomplish it. For me there was no other way around open, public honesty. I find my strength in vulnerability. Some people call it overshare, but those people do not feel the rich reward of connection I am afforded due to my naked honesty. Looking back, I can say that situations that cause you to give yourself a good hard examination are the best types of opportunities, seize them. Maybe, I think, that is God asking us to sort out what we no longer need so that we can be given more to grow into. Furthering the belief that we are given this life, this life, because we are strong enough to live it.