Vulnerability & Courage

Feet hanging over cliff

If you have Netflix and you like watching inspirational shows that make you think, then I strongly recommend watching Brene Brown, in The Call To Courage. At the core of what she talks about is being vulnerable and courageous. For in order to be courageous, one must first be vulnerable. The two are not, as one might think at first glance, on opposite ends of the spectrum, she says. They are, in fact, intertwined. Her special resonated with me.

I believe that this is in part due to me being only two weeks into wearing “normal” shoes, after a three month recuperation period, post reconstructive foot surgery. So, I have recently been exposed to what it feels like to be at my most vulnerable. And again, out of that vulnerability, I took courageous steps to find my way through a very long period of recovery.

When the surgeon initially offered the surgery as an option, I remember him saying that once it was done, I couldn’t go back. I had to keep progressing slowly for what would be at minimum, three months. After being sent home, the day of surgery, I felt quite panicked at the long road that lay ahead and the realization that I could not change my mind. Although some people manage with crutches and other assistive devices, I found it exhausting trying to move from one area of my home to another, even with assistance, while not weight bearing. I knew that the safest place was in my bed, and that is where I remained for eight weeks, other than leaving for surgical appointments.

During the long eight weeks I was even more profoundly aware of my vulnerability. I couldn’t go downstairs to get something to eat. I couldn’t run out of the house in case of a fire. I couldn’t rescue my cat, trapped inside a closet and I couldn’t get in the car to drive to a family member or friend in need. As a psychologist, with a true passion for helping others, learning how to focus on self care was quite difficult.

My husband was very devoted and after the first few days of me learning how to use my one kneed scooter to get to the washroom, he returned to work. He would drop a tray of food off on our bed in the morning, so that I would have breakfast, lunch and snacks. He would lug the tub transfer bench in and out of the shower daily so that I sit on it to shower, and then remove it so that other family members could use the shower, too. He would help me pull the protective plastic covering over the cast each time I showered, just in case a few sprinkles of water landed on the leg, even though it was placed outside of the shower. In addition, he assumed all of my household responsibilities, as well as his own, while I was out of commission.

Truth be told, as the weeks wore on, I became more comfortable with allowing others to take care of me. However, I was intimately aware of how dependent I was on others for my wellbeing. Once, after an argument with my husband, I became acutely aware that if he wanted to, he could abandon me to take care of myself. I knew that he never would, but the thought crossed my mind. And in those moments of vulnerability, I became even more sensitive towards people who find themselves in a chronic state of needing to be taken care of by others, and how this reliance puts them in the position of having to be ‘nice’ and maintain peace, even when they’re feeling angry, perhaps.

As I emerged from the bedroom and gradually faced the outside world again, I was exposed to how others – mostly strangers – deal with those who are more vulnerable. When I was on a knee scooter, others would stand back to let me enter a door, even if it was wide enough for many to go through at the same time. When I was using crutches, the same was true. It was also eye opening to see how others perceived me when less able. One time, when out with my daughter at the airport, she stopped to ask a security person directions. After providing them, she pointed to me and asked my daughter “does she need assistance?” I was stunned to recognize that as a result of my physical vulnerability, she seemed to presume that I could not even talk for myself!

Later, as I graduated to using a cane, no one paid any attention to something that appears common place. I was no longer seen as being vulnerable, or in need of being stepped aside for. Although I was grateful to be moving forward and not needing special treatment, I was fascinated by the way in which people responded to my vulnerability along the way.

So, as I mentioned earlier, courage requires vulnerability first. No one likes to feel vulnerable, but there is a silver lining to feeling this way. For beyond the pain of vulnerability, there’s a beautiful rainbow of courage just waiting to emerge.