Make the most of life after illness – This was one of the biggest things I learned from having a serious illness and being a carer. Life is fragile. And short. Much shorter than we expected or intended.
For me, one way to make the most of life after illness has been to work for myself so I can work flexibly, create work that genuinely helps people and brings something good into our world. I often think about it as making my corner of the world a better place.
But then I discovered something.
To make the most of life after illness in the way I want to, I need to ‘put myself out there’
I need to put my head above the parapet.
If I am to grow the work I want to do, I need to get the word out there and show people what I am really about.
I need to make myself (even more) vulnerable
And here I thought life was going to be easy! I know what’s important to me, my strengths, passions and my work caters to all that. I thought I had it sorted and that I had been making myself vulnerable.
But I’m not quite there yet. And may never be if I’m honest. Having it ‘all sorted’ is a pipe dream destination. I have to remind myself that ‘good enough’ is great. But I digress.
I started to wonder why am I worried about making myself even more vulnerable?
Vulnerability can hold you back from making the most of your life after illness
I think it’s because how we interpret ‘vulnerability’ as a society. The English Oxford dictionary defines vulnerability as:
The quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.
You read that and think, ‘Whoa! Who wants to put themselves in that position?!’ That is something we actively avoid.
If you’ve been seriously ill or injured or in a caring role, you’ve already experienced enough physical and/or emotional ‘harm’. (I am using the word ‘harm’ loosely here although some of you may have felt genuinely harmed by your or your loved one’s illness or injury.) So why would you put yourself potentially through more?
And yet, making yourself vulnerable may enable you to make the most of life after illness
It will of course depend on what making the most of your life means to you now. And what you need to do and be to make that happen. Different things will be required for different people.
For me, making myself (even more) vulnerable is what I need to do.
On some level, I knew this. I’ve known that doing my own thing for work was very much about ‘putting myself out there’. Yet, intentionally making myself even more vulnerable as I ‘put myself out there’ has been reinforced in a different way through conversations I’ve had recently.
One conversation was with two women I’ve been working with. The second is with my therapist when we discussed perpetrator and victim dynamics in my family system.
In both conversations, we discussed the pros and cons of vulnerability. This is what vulnerability now means to me.
There are two kinds of vulnerability
It’s like two sides of the same coin.
The vulnerability of being a victim where you are (or feel you are) being on the receiving end of something not very nice from another person or event (like an illness or injury).
The other side of vulnerability is proactively expressing what we need or want to and sharing with others.
They have very different energies.
The vulnerability of being the victim can be a passive energy
When you place yourself in the victim role, you are not truly seen by others. Although this may feel like a safe place and/or meet a need of yours, others may be less aware of your needs and forget about you.
In this case, it is harder for you to get your needs met. You may have to do things by yourself to get your needs met. That can also be a lonely place at times. I know. I lived a good portion my life in that place of passivity.
When you express what you need or want to others or share something important, you are expressing a vulnerability, but the energy behind it is active
You are taking proactive action to meet your needs, wants or desires. It takes courage to display vulnerability in this way. Especially because whoever you are expressing your vulnerability to can say no. They may not be able to help you, to support you, to love you back in the way you want to be loved, or whatever it is you want.
I don’t think the English Oxford dictionary above fully recognises this proactive form of vulnerability. But the work of Brene Brown does. She defines vulnerability as ‘uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure’.
In her book Daring Greatly, she talks about “vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper or more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path. Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings.” (pg. 33)
This proactive form of vulnerability requires us to display more of who we are, not just the edited bits we show to the world. That is where the ‘uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure’ come in. Yet being and showing more of who we are is often required to make the most of life after illness.
You can sense check what form of vulnerability you’re displaying
The Empowerment Triangle (Karpman, 1968) is the flip side of the Drama Triangle (which I won’t go into today) and both are about power, responsibility and vulnerability. This model displays the proactive form of vulnerability.
For this form of proactive vulnerability to work well, you need the powerful and responsible aspects too.
So I’ll display my vulnerability (proactively)
I entered the UK Blog Awards as a way to share my thoughts, ideas and stories about rebuilding and renewing your life after a serious health issue more widely in the world. And to increase my and Return to Wellness’s visibility.
This is very much about me being proactive and putting myself and my work out there. I am putting my head above the parapet waiting for feedback whatever form that feedback takes.
This leads me to an ask I have. If you have enjoyed this blog (and maybe even others I have written), vote for Return to Wellness here.
What about you?
What do you need to do to make the most of life after illness? To what degree do you need to be vulnerable (as described here) to do that? Feel free to share below in the comments.
If you are living with a challenging health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to find non-medical ways to improve your sense of wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.
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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2018
Karpman, S. (1968). Fairy tales and script drama analysis. Transactional Analysis Bulletin, 7(26), 39-43.