I’m not a very competitive person. I don’t play sports and don’t care who wins big events like the Super Bowl or the NBA finals. Over the years my competitive nature has dwindled and gone extinct for the most part. There is an exception, though.
I realized in the past year that I am a competitive person when it comes to storytelling. I would never have guessed it, but when I go to storytelling contests, I want to do very well. I want the judges and crowd to like me. I put a lot of practice into my stories and try and sculpt them to be perfect.
Last fall I told a serious story about how a friend helped draw me out of a suicidal situation. I told it for The Moth and this particular event happened at a comedy club. The crowd was greater than any of the StorySlams in which I’d participated. I’ve talked about mental health at storytelling events quite often and gotten a good response. But that was from people who were in a lounge environment. These folks expected humor, given that this event was at a comedy club. While the stories didn’t have to be funny, I could tell the crowd wasn’t going to be on my side as I shared about a personal, deep subject.
When I finished, the scores came in and they were nowhere near what I hoped. I wasn’t going to win. It stung to not do as well as I hoped, but even more so because I had made myself vulnerable. I spoke in front of a bunch of strangers who were not my usual audience. I put personal feelings out there—deep ones that tied to some of the lowest parts of my life. Once I saw those scores, I left the venue. I felt dejected and hurt. All that practice and self-exposure and all I got were a few laughs and a crummy score.
Yet, in some ways, this is what my life has become: making myself vulnerable. Recently, I watched Brené Brown’s special on Netflix, The Call to Courage. In it she speaks of the effort it takes to be vulnerable and asks us to take on that challenge.
Brown says that being vulnerable is scary to many people. Why? Because no one wants rejection. Yet every day when I share the stories I do on this blog, tell stories on stage, or speak with college students, I’m making myself vulnerable. Putting myself out there means the possibility of rejection.
It may seem easier to not share our stories. If we don’t expose ourselves, we don’t have to face rejection, which is a very primal, scary, and possibly devastating experience. But Brown states that vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, and joy. And we need love and belonging. It’s hard-wired into us as human beings. It helps make our lives complete. Getting rid of it is as difficult as trying to be a human and not breathe or have your heart pump blood.
To establish joy in our lives, we should practice gratitude. For myself, every day I’m trying to write in my journal one or two things for which I’m thankful.
We can’t control what will happen when we are vulnerable. Sometimes we’ll win the storytelling competition. Other times, we’ll get blank looks and some cursory handclaps. No matter what happens, though, vulnerability isn’t weakness. Instead, it’s that emotion that comes on us when we put ourselves out there, exposed, and unsure of what might happen.
It takes me a lot of courage to get up on stage. Sure, it gets easier over time and standing in front of the mic doesn’t seem as challenging as it once did. But even in the midst of sharing the tough stories, I find that there are always a few people to whom I can connect. I walked off that stage last fall and felt I hadn’t connected with others. But there was a guy who leaned over to me as I shuffled back to my seat with my head down and said, “Hey, great job!” I could tell he was sincere, and perhaps I connected with him.
I know not everyone is going to vocalize their feelings to me about my storytelling. But nowadays when I get up to tell my stories in front of a bunch of strangers, I do so with the hope that there is at least one person whose life I may impact. I need to at least try.
Because, as Brown comments in her special, it’s a lot scarier to get to the end of our lives and not show up. I want to use my experiences to help others, so the possibility of vulnerability pales in comparison to knowing I may give them a bit of hope.
Like what you read? Want to have Kurt come talk to your group about belonging, loneliness, and mental health? Click here to contact him about speaking at your event.
After any incident of suicide in our society, a common refrain is, “Get help.” But beyond calling a mental health hotline (800-273-TALK), what’s one to do?
It isn’t easy to find resources to help with mental health. Therapy is expensive and it’s become more frequent that therapists don’t take any insurance. That’s not always the case but it is alarming. Even when therapists work with sliding scale, it’s rare they will go down to levels that are affordable for many clients.
This is distressing in light of the many cases of mental illness playing out amongst celebrities and in crime statistics. Too, there is a great deal of reporting about how rates of depression and suicide are rising in the United States and many other parts of the world.
So say you can’t afford therapy and are in need of mental health help. What are some good resources to turn to?
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) – There are lots of groups out there working on mental health, but NAMI is the most well-known in the United States. Their website has all kinds of resources to guide you to find help and understand issues related to mental illness.
Mind Over Mood – This workbook helped me out a great deal during my beginning years of my depression. It teaches cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). At its’ root this form of therapy is about changing the way your mind works when confronted with unpleasant situations. If you’re dedicated to practicing CBT, this book can help.
Feeling Good – If Mind Over Mood doesn’t work for you, you may want to try this book by David Burns. It also deals with CBT, but is considered the classic on the subject.
The Mindful Way Through Depression – This book taught me a lot about mindfulness. Being aware of what’s going on around us (and in our head) can make a big difference on how we approach life and the struggles we face. For so long I tried to snap out of my depression and then felt guilt when I couldn’t. This book showed me there was another way to handle these situations.
Also, doing a search for the words “depression self-help books” (not as a quote) can yield some positive results. It may seem there are prohibitions that money may cause in our journey to better address our mental health. But, there are still options out there if we’re dedicated to finding them.
This blog is an exploration of the subjects of belonging and loneliness. I also look at mental health issues. I seek to provide content to my readers that is informative and helpful. If you don't want to miss anything, sign up for my email list.