Being Vulnerable

January 11, 2013 Post Comment Uncategorised

Earlier this week I experienced my first ‘slap-in-the-face’ of the new year – and as a result I took a firm grip of the metaphorical scalpel, and wielded it with a degree of manic ferocity upon some ‘friends’ and groups on Facebook. In the end I deactivated my account for a period, in an attempt to feel the negative pleasure of throwing in the towel and just walking away to my own private little corner to lick the wounds.

So what caused it all?

As some may know, one of my daily roles is caring for my Dad who is in his 90s and has dementia. Now, although this is a very personal and dutiful role, I am only able to perform it due to ‘knowing what I know’ in terms of the workings of the mind – both his AND mine. Without this skillset I know for sure I would not be able to cope, both at an emotional and a functional level. By being able to detach from my personal feelings in this caring role I am able to approach and perform it in a professional manner. To put it another way, I am Working with Dementia – albeit with just one client.

Almost two years ago I was talking with a good friend about my encounters with my Dad’s condition and she said that I should really share some of these experiences and ‘learnings’ with others, as there are many who would find them a useful guide and encouragement in what is an often thankless and taxing undertaking. After due consideration I ‘took the plunge’ and discovered she was right in so many ways. I received nothing but positive feedback from many quarters both on a personal and professional level, and this bolstered my own resolve to “Keep Calm and Carry On“.
Now I share what I share about my Dad’s dementia purely on an objective level – or so I felt, until this week when I discovered how vulnerable I actually am in this particular area.

Someone in a ‘professionally’ oriented online group posted a query inviting comments from anyone who has had experience working with dementia. On the face of it, it sounded as though he was looking for a range of people’s findings and experiences. So, feeling duly qualified I responded, by stating nothing specific and yet illustrating the context and background thinking behind my response – ostensibly leaving the door open for them to come back to me for more information if they so wished.
The response I got rather left me in stunned numbness at first and, frankly, a “zero” response from them would have been better! On the face of it, it appeared as a “thanks but no thanks” comment to which was added “because I’ve already got a lot of experience of my own.” Curious, isn’t it, to ask for X and turn down the X that is offered because of … why?
However, my vulnerability rubbed its hands with glee and proceeded to amplify everything negative within the words, the presuppositions, and all the stuff hidden between the lines. Very soon the reply morphed into being disrespectful, personal, insensitive, and eventually just plain haughty and rude. Coming, as it did, from a fellow ‘professional’ I took it as being being both undermining and contemptuous.

Now, with my vulnerability having distorted this episode quite out of proportion, I had fewer options with regards to what to do next. “So what are you going to do?” demanded my internal dialogue, sounding as real as my imagination could make it. I could have responded taking the posture of standing up for myself – by asking the person “Why invite comments from people and then casually dismiss them?” The thing is – over the last couple of months on this (and similar ‘professional’ groups and forums) I’ve witnessed slanging matches between people who I hold in high regard. Slanging contests matched only by the worst form of Yah-Boo politics. So I declined from going down THAT road and just decided to remove my comment. This I did and my thinking/feeling outcomes followed this pattern …
Remove comment; still feel bad; unfollow the post; still feel bad; leave the group; still feel bad; leave other groups that contain the same people; unfriend a few people; still feel bad; Sod It – just quit Facebook; feel remarkably lighter!  Now THAT indeed was an interesting discovery.

So, now that I’ve calmed down, what have I learnt from all this?

*  No matter how objective I may act with regard to my Dad’s condition and his varied behaviour caused as a result of that condition, he is still MY Dad and therefore I do have a degree of emotional involvement in my (working, yet) caring role.

*  I am (or at least was) prepared to share some of my experiences and professional discoveries for the benefit of others, and that my judgement of those others needs to be tempered with a degree of realisation that occasionally people do express themselves with less than due consideration.
The meaning of any communication is the response it gets.

*  Being “visible” to the World leaves one exposed, vulnerable, open to whatever other people wish to do with that exposure. By becoming public one becomes public property, thus losing some of one’s precious private properties. Visibility is about having the courage to be brave, and realising that some thick-skinnedness is necessary to survive the ravages of that vulnerability.

Was this all a storm in a teacup?

Well I’m reminded of the England Rugby’s TCUP strategy in the 2003 World Cup, where the acronym for Thinking Clearly Under Pressure was a big psychological part of England’s succesful campaign in that competition.
Was my thinking Clear in response to that particular communication? – No it was emotional, and I was caught off balance because of emotional vulnerability. This wasn’t just a client that was being dismissed – it was my Dad!
My response led to my feeling Pressure, and did I think Clearly Under Pressure? – Again no.
My Teacup was well and truly Stormed – my ‘Bastille’ was ransacked!

Of course withdrawing to a place where I could take stock of everything and hit my personal ‘reset button’ was essential for a speedy return to normality – and my feeling of ‘lightness’ when drifting away from social media for a period of time was a clear physiological response that told me this was the right course to take.
It was tough going though, and I experienced some of the desperation that makes people turn back to their addictions for the illusion of comfort and solace – where you literally do want to cut off your nose to spite your face.
There is a thin line between being visible and being vulnerable and sometimes we have no idea which side of that line we might be on. We’ve got there by our own Mind and yes, it’s our thinking that’s made us vulnerable – but the solution is equally in our own Mind.

This situation is parallel to all others in life where we are Under Pressure. If we don’t feel we have adequate resources to be able to hit that ‘reset button’ – or if we don’t realise that the pressure is all of our own making – then we reach for ‘comfort’ which comes in a variety of guises.

A footballer ranting at a referee =  the ‘Early Bath’.
After a bad day at the office = cake, chocolate, wine.
The failed zero-tolerance dieter = Binge.
To the alcoholic =  Go on a Bender.
After personal attacks = Stay indoors at home.
Me, in this instance = Cut myself off, create personal space.

There are many others of course, and we each of us have our personal favourites.
At the end of the day, we are all vulnerable to something and knowing our ‘harder and softer’ areas can be useful information in helping us to pilot our ship through the shifting sands of daily life. We can then be more resourceful and make better choices when deciding where and how visible we allow ourselves to become.
I certainly discovered that talking about my personal encounters with dementia needs to be strictly off limits in certain areas, given my level of visibility and vulnerability.

This article was written early in 2013 and enabled me to learnt a lot about how I handle myself when communicating all sensitive topics and this one in particular. Our emotions often catch us off guard, and our level of grounding and understanding is the best and most recuperative safety net. It is, however, still best to be vulnerable rather than reclusive – which contradicts the ‘advice to self’ I wrote in the final paragraph of the article.