My vulnerability and wellbeing talk

I’m halfway through illustrating my vulnerability and wellbeing presentation for a Sydney conference for online activists.

I decided to go with black ink and watercolor for this series. It’s starting to look beautiful.

I’ll be sharing about the challenges and opportunities that come from being vulnerable in public, and about understanding and navigating online abuse.

It’s been a little while since I’ve given a ‘peer work’ based talk and I’m excited to be in that space again. When I was starting out, it was hard to find resources about exposure stress or dealing with abuse that spilled over from online into your personal life. There was a lot of general advice that often didn’t fit me or my circumstances very well. It’s been great to gather a broader and more nuanced collection of strategies for people to explore.

It’s also been really interesting to spend time reflecting on my work and experiences, on writing this blog and the impact it’s had on my life. I’ve challenged myself to take a fresh look at why I share what I share and if anything has changed the picture. Poppy is part of that. I hope I’m leaving a legacy by which she could understand me better and understand how deeply she is loved and how much she is wanted. I sit on the intersections of many stereotypes and minorities who’s stories are often not told, or told for us from outsider perspectives. This has been a place for my voice, an opportunity to meet me as I really am. Not a recovery guru or an infallible expert, but someone who has learnt to be mindful, reflective, and deft about vulnerability and community. Both more different and strange to others, and much more similar and human than the stories about people like me would suggest. Just like the rest of the world.

I don’t believe in normal, I’ve never yet met anyone normal. Everyone in some way doesn’t fit the average. It might be about things that are very small and almost never come up in our lives or it might be the constant daily cause of threat to our existence.

I also understand the usefulness and limitations of labels, the way ‘validated diversity’ becomes a game of box ticking and pigeon holing, creating new hierarchies of recognition and invisibility, of the mainstream and the marginalised.

It’s given me space to explore – and forced me to find words for the way I don’t believe in one size fits all ‘good life,’ or success, and I don’t believe in standardised recovery. Off the shelf ‘treatment’ for emotional suffering needs to recognise that relationship is the context in which the wounds are both inflicted and healed.

This seems such a contradiction for someone who is currently loving studying population based health and disease in epidemiology. The mantra of individuality and diversity can liberate but they can also paralyse – if you can’t take an off the shelf treatment, how do you figure out what works? How do we tailor our own hope and healing?

Exploring self regulation in a world that starts by assuming people in pain are broken and should be fixed by submitting themselves to an external expert is a challenge indeed. And the alternative extreme – placing the burden on individuals to navigate the traumas and challenges of entire social power structures, the brutal inequity and rankisms of our world as if they are personal failings. There is no one path and no right answer for us all. But there is between us, the creation of relationship and connection in which we all are held. There is between us the opportunity to explore what freedom looks like in connection with responsibility, to listen for the things that resonate and reflect on the tiny experiments we all make of each day. What hurt? What helped? Where are we more alone and suffering, and what brings us closer together?

We are complex creatures with minds designed to do exactly this – to predict, to adjust, to explore, to listen and learn as we seek the best pathways. There are times and places others know better than us or can see past a block we can’t get through. But there’s no world in which our lives are better for surrendering them to someone else entirely and forever. We trade off the needs of the one and the many, we blunt this or hide that to be part of the group. But our attunement to ourselves remains the closest listening and best hope for what we seek, and our relationships with others are still the best medicine for the wounds of life.

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