Monday 24 March 2014

"Brene, Bob & Blue Cars"


Have you ever noticed that if you buy a blue car suddenly you see blue cars everywhere? Lately I have been seeing my own version of the 'blue car' - discussion around the topic of vulnerability.

Vulnerability is something that we so often shy away from in life. We take pains to protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable. And it's no wonder. Here's the Merriam-Webster definition of vulnerable:

: easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally
: open to attack, harm, or damage
Sounds like a pretty bad thing, doesn't it? Anything that can cause us harm, either physically or mentally should be eliminated from our lives, right? Maybe not.
The great Brene Brown, whose quote I used above, has built a career around encouraging people to be vulnerable. Brown argues that "vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change." Absolutely true. Without vulnerability in our lives we would have no art, music, technological advances or medical breakthroughs. People put themselves out there, open themsleves up to disapointment and pain every day in the search for something better.
So why am I going on about vulnerability? Because it is also a key element in mental illness and the associated stigma. At a time in a person's life when they most need to be open and honest with themselves and those around them, the initial instinct is to hide the symptoms, to turn away from the truth and reality of mental illness. You are hurting so much, often almost as much physically as mentally, that you want to avoid adding to the pain. So you hide away, alone. Which is the absolute worst thing that you can do. It's interesting how often in life we do the opposite of what we really need, isn't it?
People who have a mental illness need support - both medically and socially. How do you get that? By being open and vulnerable. Why aren't more people open about their own mental illness? Because stigma is still rampant. Society views mental illness as something less than physical illness. We don't understand it because we don't ask questions - we are too afraid to let go of our preconceived notions about what a mental illness is. We don't want to admit that we don't really know anything about it because that might lead to uncomfortable conversations and questions. And nobody likes to feel uncomfortable. Best to just avoid the topic altogether.
Part of my job as a recruiter is delivering resume and interview skills workshops to community groups, often not for profit organizations. I recently delivered the workshop to clients from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). I began the workshop by sharing my own story of depression and anxiety and I invited questions throughout the presentation. I was being vulnerable, although, yes, this was a pretty safe group to share my story with. The positive feedback that I received after the session was overwhelming to me. These were people who have faced all sorts of barriers in life and in their job search. They have been discriminated against. They have felt pain and disapointment. As a representative of a potential employer, because I shared my experiences in the workplace, they felt hopeful. And let me tell you, hope is often in short supply when you live with a mental illness. By being vulnerable myself, I was able to bridge a distance and create a connection. It cost me nothing but gave me so much in return.
We spend so much of our lives working. It's essential for employers in Canada to have conversations about mental illness. It's OK to be vulnerable, to admit that we don't have all the answers. In fact, that is the only way we will be able to create inclusive work environments, understanding and eliminate stigma.
So here's my challenge to you. Be a little bit vulnerable today. Put yourself out there - ask for what you need. Yes, by being vulnerable I have experienced the definition of vulnerability. But what Merriam-Webster neglects to inform us of are the benefits: support, love, growth, development. In my book, the rewards far outweigh the risk.
Finally, I would like to leave you with this thought from the amazing Bob Marley...
Bob Marley quotes
KB xo

1 comment:

  1. Interesting timing as vulnerability is my blue car lately also. It is such a hard thing to do, but as I have learned the hard way, the loneliness and isolation of not being vulnerable is worse. Recently I took a week off to gather myself because I could feel an episode coming on. For the first time I didn't beat around the bush about why I was off, I told my boss straight out. Like your story this is a pretty safe thing to do as her mom deals with depression so my boss is pretty understanding. Still, it felt like a big step for me. In the end the benefits outweighed the negatives for sure. On average I believe this to be true, even though there are a lot of times when it doesn't feel like it.


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