A year of living with vulnerability — reflections and rants

“When you feel my heat, look into my eyes

It's where my demons hide, it's where my demons hide

Don't get too close, it's dark inside

It’s where my demons hide, it’s where my demons hide”

- Imagine Dragons, “Demons”

This thing.

This stain on your perfect record.

This limitation on your rights.

This problem that’s got you snowed under.

This incident that haunts you to this day.

<Insert your demon's name here>

We all have our demons - things we fear, things we're ashamed of and things we think will keep us down all our lives.

And more often than not, we choose to bury them. To pretend they aren't there and that it doesn't matter.

Yet they surface every now and then, choosing to make an appearance just when things seem to be stabilising.

If you're like me, you may even use a litany of distractions to fight these demons off - more work, more personal projects, more K-pop, more Linkin Park, My Chemical Romance, more anime, more of anything that's powerful enough to dull the sensation of my insecurities.

Until last December, my way of dealing with my demons was by fighting them, ignoring them, and lampshading them. I was so preoccupied with this notion of keeping things under wraps that I didn't think there was another way to overcome them.

I think that at the root of all this was a deep seated fear of being rejected.

I kept thinking,

“I can’t let anyone see me like this.

I can’t fall apart, I need to keep it together.

How could I let myself become so weak.

There are so many things I could’ve done better.

Everyone has got it all figured out and here I am trying not to be alone with my own thoughts.”

So many burgeoning thoughts that refused to leave me and this awful pressure to 'get my act together’ while wading through troubled waters of anxiety and peer pressure.

Could I let my friends in on what I was going through?

No, of course not. No one could be trusted with these thoughts.

Trust is earned you see. And the best way of navigating the world was to tread carefully. And I do mean carefully.

The answer to “How are you?” is always, "I’m fine and yourself" with a Stepford smile that I had practiced. The ones who do this know all too well what that looks like.

Nothing ventured nothing gained.

No one really needs to know the real answer to “How are you?”

“I’m somewhere between a panic attack and full blown nihilism”, is not an acceptable answer to that question. You lose the game if you tell the truth.

I played this game for a while.

A long long while.

Until I realised that I was a winner at a losing game.

I had it all wrong.

Life isn’t meant to be played like a game.

Life is meant to be seen, felt, cherished and explored.

And here I was, sealing it away with my rules of invulnerability.

What if, I decided to let the truth out for a change?

What if, trust is given freely and then revoked when the person in front of you reveals who they are?

What if, it is okay to give a real answer to the question, “How are you?”and see if the person standing in front of you runs away or stays.

I reached a threshold of some sort last year. I simply couldn’t do superficial connections anymore. And so began my journey into this treacherous land called 'vulnerability’. Sure, I had a coach to help me through it but the first steps are always the hardest even if you have the map.

I began my own little vulnerability experiment that I agreed with the coach : ‘Over-share’ with at least 2 brand new people each month.

Instead of projecting the image of someone very well put together I decided to drop the pretence and tell the truth.

This used to be me before December of last year:

Them: How are you.

Me: Good.

Them: What are you doing this weekend?

Me :<Insert something awesome/productive>

This is who I’m letting myself be now:

Them: How are you

Me: Overwhelmed

Them: Do you want to talk about it?

Me: I’m worried about not knowing what to do with my life

Them: Oh me too. It sucks. I feel like everyone knows what to do but I don’t have the manual or something.

Me: *Crying internally* you see it too!

This conversation could go in so many different ways and most of the time, opening myself up and being ‘real’about things has deepened my friendships and led me to new friends who are going through roughly the same things that I am.

There's no artifice when there's vulnerability.

The only real advantage to being real and vulnerable is that it makes space for the people around you to be real with you too. You can't get the world to show you its cards unless you put your own out on the table.

Vulnerability leads you to the truth about people.

The truth is not always pretty or easy but it is always what you need.

You can't have the rose without the thorns after all.

But then again, wouldn't it be wasteful to walk away from the rose just because of its thorns?

Why should you walk the world wearing a cage? Wouldn't you rather be free even if it meant taking some risks?

It doesn’t sound glamorous, this vulnerability business, and it’s most definitely messy.

But it may just be what you need — so consider it and make a choice.

I'll leave you with this…

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell — C.S. Lewis



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Archana Lakshman Rao

Author of 'How to be a Lighthouse'. I write for those pursuing excellence and meaning.