Over the past year, most of us grappled with our mental health, more so than before, since the start of COVID-19 pandemic. Myself included. Despite the stigma surrounding mental health in Asian countries, conversations about it have peaked during the pandemic. Instagram pages are talking about pandemic fatigue or tips on staying connected with friends and family through the screen. Most of which just felt like fluff after a while as people are starting to feel lonelier by the minute. In all honesty I struggled with my mental health for the longest time. A friend taught me that a big part to unpacking mental health issues starts with practising vulnerability. How? Well, you’re exactly where you need to be. Welcome to a safe, judgement-free space where we de-stigmatise mental health by simply bringing the conversation to the table.
Mental Health Exists Even If You Can’t See It
I remember the first time I reached out to my friends about my depression. It was foreign to me, more so to them so no one really understood. Even now, most people still mistaken depression as being extra sad but it’s actually a ‘below neutral’ mental state. And as a disclaimer, I wasn’t clinically diagnosed but I knew that the sadness I felt was way past something I could easily get over with. At that age, I was going through body dysmorphia and was mildly suicidal. Social media especially Tumblr, glorified depression and self-harm as a personality trait. As you can imagine, there were a lot of things going on in a 13-year-old mind.
Growing up, I fervently advocate mental health because of my personal experience. Therapy wasn’t an option since I didn’t want my parents to find out so I spent most of my time in my head trying to understand myself. I can’t say I have the best coping mechanisms. Neither do I have great defence mechanisms but it’s a work in progress. I’m sure a lot of us can agree when I say that sometimes, words don’t justify our true feelings. It didn’t help that words were the only way for me to express myself, making it a bigger challenge for me to speak out what I was going through.
Vulnerability: More Than Just Being Courageous
So, what’s vulnerability? Brené Brown, a research professor on vulnerability and shame, defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”. Simply put, it’s the unstable feeling we get when we step out of our comfort zone or do something that forces us to loosen control. Talking about mental health is the same. The stigma and shame that surround it make it even harder to talk about. Which explains why most people still refuse to speak up because of the fear of judgement, of being seen as weak or even just afraid to admit it because of pride. Whatever you may believe, let me tell you that being vulnerable is a strength, putting your story out there and owning it takes courage.
Shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot tolerate having words wrapped around it. What it craves is secrecy, silence, and judgement. If you stay quiet, you stay in a lot of self-judgement.BReNé BROWN, research professor on shame, courage, vulnerability and empathy
Sit With It And Let The Healing Begin…
The heart to being vulnerable is acknowledging that your feelings are valid. When you validate yourself, you are able to shamelessly ask for help. When you’re able to accept that you have these feelings is when you can start to heal. An important part of the process many people overlook is that healing doesn’t mean the pain doesn’t exist. It just means we no longer let the pain control us. Healing is messy, it’s painful and regression happens. Don’t hate yourself throughout the process. Be gentle, be kind to yourself. You’re human after all, and you’re allowed to feel what you feel. But once you’ve moved past that fear, you’ll wonder why you even hesitated in the first place.
Being Vulnerable And Getting Naked With Your Feelings
Being vulnerable with ourselves starts with self-compassion, self-forgiveness and patience. It’s definitely not easy being comfortable with our discomfort. It’s common for us to avoid these uncomfortable feelings. That’s how we develop coping mechanisms that prevent us from fully experiencing our feelings. On that point, shame will also cease to exist within us when we’re truly comfortable with our deeper selves. When we practise compassion and forgiveness, we can learn to endure through the shame too. So go ahead, speak out your honest feelings. Liberate yourself from the thoughts that burden you over and over again. Something beautiful happens when you strip down the façades and be honest with those who are important to you.
Nude Art As A Symbolism Of Vulnerability
Over the past year, I’ve been helping my friend, Feri, create content for her Instagram page which advocates mental health through visual storytelling. What’s interesting and different about her page is the use of nude art as a form of visual storytelling. As someone who is open to talk about my mental health experiences, it didn’t occur to me that having that level of transparency meant I was subjecting myself to being vulnerable. And to be vulnerable is to subject yourself to judgement or worse. But surprisingly, it’s actually the opposite. People do value what you’re willing to put out there and be honest with both themselves and you.
If you’re looking for a safe place to be vulnerable, Sittin In The Nude (SITN) is definitely a page you can check out. Unlike other mental health pages, SITN shares contents such as trigger questions, nude art, as well as ways and how-tos on certain topics relevant to the climate of things. We recently also started hosting IG Live on vulnerable topics such as therapy and loneliness. We aren’t therapists, so the things we share on the page are just us being vulnerable in sharing our own experiences with those who are struggling.
Raise Awareness, Not Stigma
Mental health involves more than just depression, self-harm or being in a constant state of numbness. Let’s go forward to offer empathy, compassion and understanding to those who are still struggling to express themselves. It is nothing personal. May we go forth raising awareness about mental health rather than the stigma surrounding it.
Interested to learn more about toxic patterns? Check out this vulnerable article on gaslighting. Stay tuned for the next episode where we will explore perfectionism.