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No courage without vulnerability

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LJ Cohen

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I watched The Call to Courage (the Brene Brown Netflix special) last night and it hit me hard. Her overriding message: There is no courage without vulnerability. That failure is part of being brave. That we cannot be our full selves if we spend our energy staying armored against our fears.

I know that my best work and my best self emerges from allowing myself to be vulnerable. But it comes with so much fear tangled up with shame. It doesn't feel brave at all; it feels like I'm drowning in a whirlpool of muck.

And so I hold back. Struggling at the edge of a shit-vortex while assuring everyone around me that *everything's fine.*

And I have so many reasons why everything should be fine: Financial security. A loving and supportive marriage. A happy home. Puppies. A creative pursuit. A healthy relationship with my adult children. Good health. True friends.

So many things to be so incredibly grateful for.

And still.
And still.
And still.

I hold back.

I am afraid.

And when I try to talk about it, all I hear is myself being a whiny toddler. It's as if because I have so much support in my life, I have no right to struggle. I'm entitled, so I'm not entitled, if that makes any sense.

Maybe it's just the time of year. Anyone who's known me for long enough knows I go through a depressive spike in early spring. Why? Have no idea. It makes no sense. The light is back, the weather is warmer, the colors are returning. But every year in April and May, my anxiety ramps up.

In the past few years, it's been exacerbated by several difficult anniversaries. 6 years ago tomorrow, I nearly lost a loved one to depression and 4 years ago next month, is my father's yertzeit.

I share these things because it helps me to figure out my emotions when I write about them and because if I'm not honest about my struggles, I won't find my way through to courage.

Trust me, I'd rather hide behind my well-practiced surface persona then be vulnerable. But I'm also emotionally weary of beating myself up for not being that person.

I'm starting to understand the cost of being neuro-atypical in a world that isn't designed for me. Most of the time, I can manage all the spinning plates. I have systems in place to pay all the bills on time, make sure laundry gets done, feed the dogs, feed me and my spouse, set and follow writing deadlines, and more. But just because I can function, doesn't mean I'm not also prone to anxiety and depression, or don't get overwhelmed by sensory stimulation, or don't get panic attacks from the daily news, or am able to 'roll with it' when my routine is upended.

Most people would never see me as neuro-atypical, but the reality is I'm on the autism spectrum. And regardless of how well I can mask and function, the way my brain is made and how it works doesn't go away. I have to account for it every day. How many environments have I had to navigate today? Do I have the internal resources to make a phone call? Can I cope with a potential conflict? It's a calculus I do constantly.

Last Wednesday, I had to go to 3 unfamiliar grocery stores to buy food for Passover. It was exhausting. Not physically, precisely, but the sensory barrage and the anxiety of finding my way in a new physical space was utterly draining.

Sounds silly to be so flummoxed by grocery shopping. I've done so many difficult and challenging things in my life and done them well. Apparently, grocery shopping is not one of them.

But I did it because it needed to be done and I managed the emotional cost of it. Is that a kind of courage? Maybe. It feels more like stubbornness, but maybe that's what it has to be.

I am not looking for sympathy or answers. I'm not looking for anything from outside of myself. Maybe I just needed a place to be honest and vulnerable and even a little bit brave.




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