Saturday, August 17, 2019

As If

Brene Brown has a phrase for that feeling, the one that we get after we bare our souls or reveal something we've held close for so long, it's called the vulnerability hangover. Admittedly, this isn't my first go round of waking to this discomfort. As an introvert, I tend to pull back, go inward, and sit with it while it has its way with me. It rolls over as a wash of accusations, shame, system shock, and embarrassment. Did I really just say that out loud? Imaginary faces swim to the surface, nearly cartoonish in their looks of horror, laughter, rejection. It's the backlash meant to silence-- that tried and true, albeit broken response, meant to protect me from ever feeling that raw and exposed again. 

A few years back, I sat around the dining room table with a group of friends taking turns reading descriptions of each number on the Enneagram. We each took the test to determine our number and spent the evening laughing and bemoaning the fact that we were so easily typed, recognizing ourselves in these numbers. 

My number was a six, fear and anxiety driven, security and stability seeking, and divided into two subtypes, it is one of the most complex numbers on the Enneagram. And in spite of my moaning, I recognized myself in the pages of that book. In everything I do, anxiety is my constant companion. Fear driven scenarios play themselves out in my head and tend to cripple me before I can take action in whatever thing it is I'm facing; A direct result of the learned hypervigilance, and too often, rapid firing of adrenaline growing up with an alcoholic in the home. 

On the flip side, the more healed version of being a six, is a strong sense of intuitive discernment, a knowing within, a way of seeing that is a bit deeper and more nuanced than the average bear. A bonus to our friends and loved ones, we are loyal to a fault-- though often to our own detriment. And we always always have questions. We sixes need to know what makes the world tick in order for it to feel safe

We want to understand what you are thinking so that the wool doesn't get pulled over our eyes, or from under our feet. 

An Enneagram 6 has one of the strongest senses of justice of all the personality types, we want and need things to be fair. It is the only way the world makes any sense to us. We feel things deeply. And often for a girl growing up wired to be sensitive, it is the feelings of others we can more readily identify then our own. 

Constantly at war inside, are these two distinct qualities; that need for feeling safe, while the sense of injustice is being challenged. On one side, I am the pleasant, goofy, loyal companion, always ready with a helping hand and a supportive comment. Whatever you need me to be so you'll like me. On the other, I am outraged when I see injustices happening and feel a responsibility, nearly a compulsion, to speak up and lend my voice against the oppressor. 

Waking a few days ago, I felt a blanket of depression hovering over me. Depression has paid me a visit many times in the past and I know how easily I can get lost in it. Manifesting first in a heightened sense of anxiety, whence I can see every potential scenario resulting in my own doom, and that of the world. The long slow descent grows more rapid when I turn on the news. The world is doomed. We are all doomed. Everything is broken. This is when depression really sets up camp. I don't know how to fix it. Fix myself. Fix you. Fix the world, so I pull inward. Deep deep inside and pull that blanket over me, where I can remain detached and insulated from it all. It can be so welcoming and tempting at first. 

But that blanket is heavy and once it settles, it is hard to take off. Life continues all around, but I'm watching it from a great distance. Like a tv station with an undercurrent of static, or the way sound comes to you more slowly underwater. 

Having succumbed to it many times before, I know that depression is a liar. It doesn't offer me the security I desire. It isn't a safe place to hide until danger passes. It simply makes me want to vanish. Be invisible. Depression isn't the source of that message in my life, it is merely the vehicle that delivers it. Clutching at my throat, reminding me it is better to be silent. It is usually accompanied by a hefty dose of shame.

Don't be loud. Don't speak up. Your voice doesn't really matter. It tells me that showing real feelings is bad. Anger is dangerous and unbecoming of a lady. Don't be mad, it's safer to be sad. Don't talk out loud about the unpleasant things. Don't tell someone they hurt you. Be positive and happy and upbeat. Just give it to God. Nice girls say nice things. Don't you want people to like you? 

This is the loop I so easily get stuck in. Anger and a strong sense of outrage over the things that have been done to me, to you, to the world, rise up and I get close, so close to being able to identify the truth of it. To name the thing doing the harm. Then the backlash, the vulnerability hangover, the lies, come out swinging, pushing me back to my safe place of compliance. Having an opinion isn't an option. When you have little sense of your own worth, it's easy to believe nothing you say really matters

This year, something pretty amazing has been happening. Suddenly I am feeling emotionally stronger. More resilient. Better able to identify my own thoughts, feelings, and needs. I have been able to look at myself with more acceptance and grace. Loving the parts of me I once felt ashamed of and hoped you wouldn't see. Feeling empathy for the things I have done and the decisions I had to make with little in the way of mature guidance. When I see old pictures of myself, or watch myself on video, I've had this profound sense of compassion. I don't hate myself! Wow! A totally new revelation! 

I actually don't hate myself! I like what I see in the mirror. I am not bothered by the worn out and frazzled parts of me. I love the strong voice that compels me to speak. I am starting to think I actually matter. When I get the pushback that almost always happens when I start feeling too comfortable in my own skin, it hasn't been taking as long to come out from under it, and I'm recognizing this comes from allowing myself to be heard even when you might not like what I have to say. From allowing myself to say things even if they aren't polished yet. Standing in the face of potential rejection. 

Fear of rejection has been a crippling force in my life, born of that childhood wound of abandonment, skewing the unique qualities of my wiring, coupled with all the mixed up, upside down signals and cues that a girl can gather over time. So waking a few days ago with that old familiar blanket beckoning me to retreat, whispering its fears of a world gone mad and problems so large nothing I do possibly matters, left me in a state of confusion. Was my awakening too late? Was none of it true? Did I step out too far? Did I make a mistake? A tunnel of darkness formed in the peripheral, the way an old black and white movie announces the end. Anxiety drove a series of everything is doomed, I am doomed, everything is pointless, texts to a few good friends. 

Then a fork appeared in the road before me. 

One direction I saw the tried and true, the comfortable, the safe and the familiar. The other direction looked wild and dangerous. Uncharted territory. I don't have a map for this new path. I don't know what will happen if I continue down this way. What will happen to me if I get lost? 

I sit looking forward, I turn to look behind, voices rise and tug at me luring me to come back! come back! Then something inside begins to rise. A memory of the old days working as a project manager, needing to assert myself to lead a team to get the job done. Unnatural behavior to me, so I learned to act "As if". As if I had confidence. As if I weren't shaking in my proverbial boots. As if I had something to offer. I took the advice I so frequently offered my children when they faced a challenging situation, other people can't see your insides, act as if you aren't intimidated or shy and they'll believe you. 

Acting as if isn't the same as trying to fit in. It isn't pretending. It is acknowledging what I know to be true and what I am trying to nurture inside of me, walking it out even before my legs are fully developed. Acting as if is a way of owning my own power. Of shushing the fearful voices and saying no to that heavy blanket of depression and shame. No! I will not cover myself and hide any longer! I will not give way to the old familiar, dysfunctional, comfortable patterns! No! 

Acting as if allows me the strength to show up and be seen. Only this time, instead of acting as if in order to convince you that I have something to offer, I am acting as if in order to affirm it to me. 


  1. I recognize myself in much of this (although I don't know what an enneagram is)! . I hope we meet in person someday.

  2. Crystal, I like that phrase "vulnerability hangover"; it's a perfect descriptor. I hate when that happens, so I try to avoid being open. In reading your beautifully-worded description, I felt there's a very good chance that I am also a six. I check all the boxes: Introvert - Check. "fear and anxiety driven, security and stability seeking" - Check. "loyal to a fault"- Check. "need to know what makes the world tick in order for it to feel safe" - oh, yeah! "strongest sense of justice"- definitely. This combination of traits has led me to do things I have regretted, and at the time, I didn't really know why I did them. Apparently I'm a slow learner, when it comes to self-awareness.

    I so admire your willingness to put it all out there. You are so much braver than me. I only really did it once, to the degree that you seem to be able to. On my old blog, I talked about my nervous breakdown, being forced to leave my teaching career, in one post. And then I regretted it, full-out vulnerability hangover style. But ultimately, I did leave the post up, despite my instinct to protect myself. I have not written about it since then.

    So you should know, you're my hero. You are seriously one of the bravest people I know. Big hugs to you, forever.

  3. Vulnerability hangover aka "buyers remorse". Thank you for the post. I'm a 2.

  4. Vulnerability hangover aka "buyer's remorse". Thank you for the post. I'm a 2.